Thoughts on my *Three Keyboard Suites

*three? keyboard suites…three mature and decent-quality keyboard suites…

In this post, I discuss three of my suites for keyboard, which were written between the years of 2014 – 2018. Currently a new suite was recently composed but I don’t think I’ll be talking about it here. If you like, in a later post I can discuss the process of writing this suite…

In the spring of 2014, over spring break, I was experiencing my first week of ease in college. This was my first semester of college, actually. I remember spending one day in the practice room (and yes, a full day; I arrived after breakfast and left at dinner-time) and I tried my hand at writing a suite. It really wasn’t all that good, I think it’s safe to say…I had no knowing of pure form (perhaps I should specify: varying form, like allemande, courante, sarabande, etc), but perhaps it was a start. At the time of writing this little conception in G major, I had no experience with great forms of suite-music. Clearly most of my thought went into the gigue, which was great fun to compose.

Immediately after this suite, another one was composed in f minor; most movements were newly-written, and not at the keyboard, admittedly. Perhaps the only achievements of this suite was the fugue (my second fugue, I remember; written for a counterpoint class (my only counterpoint class) in college in 2015) as well as the sarabande, which was written one day (an unhappy day, if I recall?) in 2014. I knew nothing of writing a sarabande; only that they were in 3/4-time as well as slow and expressive. Keeping that in mind, the piece in F minor was conceived.

However in this f minor suite, the allemande is where I started to grow a little bit in terms of harmony and sequence. The courante is forgettable; I hadn’t studied any form until recently, with my learning of Bach’s second French suite (BWV 813). I still do not understand the form, honestly. The sarabande…more can be said about the sarabande later. The minuet is hardly a dance; more of cheeky counterpoint; what was I even thinking? I’ve written better minuets since then! The gigue too was…interesting to think of, although it’s obvious I didn’t write it at the keyboard. The sequences are interesting though, as is its overall subject. Perhaps one day I’ll revisit this atrocious work…

Ah yes, onto my three actual suites. I don’t know where to really begin; I suppose the later version of the f minor suite is the proper direction. In the version presented in my senior recital, there are five movements; in the later ‘final’ edition, the sarabande of 2014 was added as the beginning movement with a sequence. Of my three maturer suites, the f minor is clearly my favorite to record; it is suitable for grand piano or harpsichord. Or even a simple keyboard, for that matter.

Of its movements, I’m rather proud of the sarabande(s), the fugue, the allemande, and the gigue. To the fugue, additional measures containing a painful sequence were added at the suggestion of my instructor Daniel Sonenberg. The second sarabande was completed in early 2018, merely a manner of weeks before my senior recital. The gigue was composed in 2016, a summer if I recall, written entirely at my keyboard.

Further thoughts on the sarabande: if I knew nothing of form or expression or proper Baroque writing, then how did I write something like this? It’s nothing great, nothing special….but it was at the time. I don’t intend to get sappy or wishy-washy or talk about music in over-sentimental terms, but when you’re a fool trying to express themselves through music, sometimes all you have to do is write, regardless if it follows ‘rules.’ One influence was the c minor sarabande from Bach’s second partita in C minor, BWV 826. I really should learn the piece again.

Compare, if you will, the performances of these two suites (f minor and c major) from my senior recital in 2018 to my most recent recital in the fall of 2021. Three years of practice and progress certainly pays off! It is important to keep in mind that when you see a performance of music, you are seeing and hearing the finished product and not the days and hours and minutes spent practicing, perfecting, and honing the skills it takes to become good. That being said, when you pay for a performance or for a piece of music, you’re not just paying for the labor but also the time it takes to practice and write music. If someone plays poorly it shouldn’t be a reflection on their work ethic; musicians are allowed to have bad days too. Chances are, they beat themselves up about small mistakes more than a listener ever could.

In regards to the c major suite it is more mature than the f minor, with all movements save the fugue being written in early 2017. The suite is a gift, dedicated to my first harpsichord instructor in celebration of their retirement. In this suite are forms we had studied as well as a clear understanding of scales (which I, a stubborn student, failed to learn until college!). Well, not all scale, but just c major. I do at some point plan on writing other suites, all dedicated to my teachers–this will be completed before long. Suites in the following keys will be planned: d major, f major, a major, and either E flat major or B minor.

The prelude is short; composed at the organ of the current church I was serving in. The allemande I remember writing over spring break, and it caused me much hassle. The gavottes too were tricky to compose, but fun to play. The sarabande was modeled very much after that of Bach’s c minor (BWV 813), while the minuet was nothing too fancy. The gigue was composed at the keyboard as well; I wasn’t trying to best myself, but just come up with something I felt good enough.

My g minor suite is a collection of old music paired with newer music. If the previous version isn’t suitable for your ears, I do have a cleaner version available. Silly me, thinking I’m a grand harpsichordist in a ballroom with an elegant instrument; I was nothing more than a poor student using a school keyboard with Garageband reverberation….

In 2014, I began writing the overture; I did not know what I was doing at the time however. It is modeled loosely off the overture in B minor, BWV 831, of Sebastian Bach, but of course I developed my own voice and harmonies—expressing what I felt. It should be said also that, in therapy, I was tasked to write something about hardship, but over the hardship was victory…so, the overture was born.

The aria to the suite was begun in 2015 and yes, it is modeled after the aria in g major from the ‘Goldberg Variations’, BWV 988. Dark in mood, though; I remember holding my laptop on my lap, trying to capture my hands upon the keyboard. The aria was completed later on, making melancholy music, although this was before I delved too deeply into the Baroque style.

The allemande, for three voices, was written in 2018 at the computer, surprisingly. It fell under my finger-tips soon enough, and was much fun to play in concerts. Honestly I have not developed a strict ordering of the movements; ideally, overture, allemande, aria, minuet, air, and gigue should be proper. The air is nothing more than a simple duet; Bach wrote such short pieces with his suites. The gigue, however, was written when I had a little more flashy mastery at the keyboard (especially regarding the final measures) but it is still for two voices.

One of my goals as a composer and performer is to record a CD of my solo keyboard music at a grand harpsichord. But should I focus on presenting music of other, pure Baroque composers first? Ideally for my own CD, I’d present three suites as well as some other pieces for keyboard (an overture, a fugue, an air, perhaps…). In 2020 I attempted to try my hand at making a simple CD recording, armed with my music and iPhone, but of course due to the pandemic the college at which I attempted this was shut down. Hard to think that this was two years ago! Time flies.

Well wishes to you all! I hope you have enjoyed reading this post–and let me know if you would like more content such as this. I’m not sure if I’m really good at writing about music, or if I just think I’m good at writing about music…

*Your generous donation would be much appreciated! My goal is to write at least one post per week, and with your help I can meet that goal.*

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