Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor for Flute and Strings

NTU Alumni Chamber Ensemble (NTU Chamber) returns to the regular Sunday night gathering for practice. The Ensemble consists of one flute, one first violin, two second violins, one viola, one bass clarinet and one piano. As for the music, we selected Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor for flute and strings. The cello score was transposed for bass clarinet. We are welcoming musicians to join us, including those play viola, cello and woodwinds.

Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor BWV 1067 is scored for strings, bass continuo (usually harpsichord and cello), and solo flute. It has eight movements beginning with a long Overture and followed with seven shorter dance forms – rondeau, sarabande, bourrées I & II, polonaise and double, minuet and badinerie. Of these dance forms, bourrée and minuet were from local French folk traditions; polonaise was Polish-inspired and sarabande was originated from Spain. French music and culture has a strong influence in Bach’s time for much of Germany and other European countries.

The solo flute plays a center role, particularly in the Overture, the contrasting Double section of the Polonaise, and the final Badinerie. Unlike the more common vertical flute, flauto, used in Bach’s compositions, this Suite used a flauto traverso or transverse flute, held sideways like today’s flutes. The flute part requires great agility and breath control, and the Badinerie is a favorite showpiece for flute virtuosos. This Suite is a vibrant and fast-paced music work with entertaining flavor.


The long Overture begins in a broad tempo with the trademark dotted rhythms of the French style; it then moves to a faster fugal section with substantial length before returning to a short section having the opening style.

The Rondeau is suggesting the returns of the themes and mimics a Gavotte dance with two strong up-beats. This form later developed into the Rondo, so popular in the time of Mozart.

The Sarabande is both refined and elegant. It is a slow, dignified dance in triple meter, an adaptation of the fast triple-meter dance by Spanish guitarists, perhaps coming to Spain from Mexico in the 16th century. Throughout this movement, the flute doubles the first violin part, and makes this movement to four-part texture.

There are two related Bourrée movements. The Bourrée was a French dance in quick duple meter, usually with a single upbeat.

The Polonaise is a stately, festive dance in triple meter. Often, the Polonaise employed repeated rhythmic figures, as Bach does here with many dotted rhythms in each measure. The Polonaise has a stern character driven by a walking bass line, while the intervening Double strips down to a bare chamber music texture of flute and basso continuo.

The short Minuet prepares the brisk finale, the Badinerie. The Minuet is a triple-meter movement, graceful, moderate in tempo, and simple in texture. The Badinerie is a relatively rare dance movement. It rarely appears outside 18th-century suites, and is generally defined merely as a “dancelike piece of jocose character.” (Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music)

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