is a 17th- and 18th-century dance that originated in Brittany. The term can also be used to describe the music to which a passepied is set. The music is an example of a dance movement in Baroque music and is almost always a movement in binary form with a fast tempo and a time signature of three quavers (eighth notes) per bar, each section beginning with an upbeat of a single quaver. Passepieds occasionally appear in suites such as Handel’s Water Music (Suite No. 1 in F) or J.S. Bach’s Overture in the French Style for harpsichord where there are two Passepieds in minor and major keys respectively, to be played alternativement in the order I, II, I.
These six suites for keyboard are thought to be the earliest set that Bach composed. Originally, their date of composition was thought to have been between 1718 and 1720, but more recent research suggests that the composition was likely earlier, around 1715, while the composer was living in Weimar
Bach’s English Suites display less affinity with Baroque English keyboard style than the French Suites do to French Baroque keyboard style; the name «English» is thought to date back to a claim made by the nineteenth-century Bach biographer Johann Nikolaus Forkel that these works might have been composed for an English nobleman. No evidence has emerged to substantiate this claim. It has also been suggested that the name is a tribute to Charles Dieupart, whose fame was greatest in England, and on whose Six Suittes de clavessin Bach’s English Suites were in part based.
Surface characteristics of the English Suites strongly resemble those of Bach’s French Suites and Partitas, particularly in the sequential dance-movement structural organization and treatment of ornamentation. These suites also resemble the Baroque French keyboard suite typified by the generation of composers including Jean-Henri d’Anglebert, and the dance-suite tradition of French lutenists that preceded it.
In the English Suites especially, Bach’s affinity with French lute music is demonstrated by his inclusion of a prelude for each suite, departing from an earlier tradition of German derivations of French suite (those of Johann Jakob Froberger and Georg Boehm are examples), which saw a relatively strict progression of the dance movements (Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Gigue) and which did not typically feature a Prelude. Unlike the unmeasured preludes of French lute or keyboard style, however, Bach’s preludes in the English Suites are composed in strict meter.