DAD WEEK! Throwback Thursday: “Orchestra Suite No. 3, 3rd Movement,” J.S. Bach


We Americans have rights. One of them is the right to decide which piece of music sounds like pure joy. This is mine. The 3rd movement of this 20 minute orchestral work by JS Bach is the first sound my wife and I heard as we walked down the aisle as a newly married couple. (Note to wedding planners: asking even a talented organist to play this gavotte as a processional is a dumb idea that can only lead to disappointment. Process instead to “Green Onions” and save tis piece for the reception).

“But father of Yankette,” I hear you ask, “sure, ok. I’ll give you Bach. I like Bach too. But of all of Bach’s innumerable pieces, every single one of which is a miracle, why this movement from this suite? And oh, by the way, what the heck is an orchestral suite anyway?”


1: An Orchestral Suite (the baroque forerunner of the symphony) is simply a series of dances. And
2: the long and short answer to your rather nosy question about my musical tastes is that this third movement, a gavotte, makes even a large lumbering male like me want to dance. (Learning that there’s something called a gavotte is appealing in its own way too, of course. But it doesn’t actually make me want to dance.)

But let’s back up.

The 2nd movement of this suite (timer 7:41; you’ll recognize it), the very familiar “air in g,” is lovely and all. But does make me dance? Umm, no.

On its own the 3rd movement is wonderful. But a least part of the magic of this piece is the sudden and opening explosion of energy–wonderfully captured by opening octave leap played by the violins–as the calm of the 2nd movement yields to the inexpressible joy of the 3rd.

Picture yourself in a bar in Brazil this month the moment a sudden goal breaks a nil-nil tie late in a death-round game. People at sporting events tend to clap and cheer whenever the scoreboard orders them to. But at a moment like this even a casual fans fly unbidden to their feet and scream. And so it (in my mind’s ear) when a competent orchestra (and not a church organ) rips into the gavotte from Bach’s 3rd Orchestral Suite.

A quick word about live performance that you can pass over or read at your leisure, perhaps while watching the video and listening to the piece:

Performing great music with a skillful ensemble in front of an appreciative audience is as gratifying as you think it is. The Yankette has been doing this for years. But bear in mind that every musician on this video spent thousands of childhood hours learning to play–absolutely alone. As they practiced hour after tedious hour they didn’t hear the entire piece, as we do. The only heard themselves playing their own part–probably for 10,000 hours, the investment Malcolm Gladwell claims is the entry price of great achievement.

Let that sink in: 4 hours every day of not playing video games, of not checking Twitter, of not chasing girls (or boys), of not sneaking off to do something wicked. When you were a teenager were you up for playing scales and difficult passages of music for four hours totally alone, without a single day, off for nearly seven years? God almighty.

And the point of all this?

These people know how to play, they know this piece, and they surely have no trouble with it. So why do some of them sneak a peak at another player now and then (12:50; 16:41)?

Who really knows. But I like to think that even professional professionals hear the glorious sound they’re making once in a while, even as they’re performing. And that they experience a fleeting moment of “Damn this is fun! Maybe all those afternoon and evenings are worth it after all. In fact, I’m pretty sure they are. How about you?”

Note: Here is the timer entry for each of the movements in this suite:

0:30 Overture
7:41: Air
12:38 Gavotte 1 and 2
16:14: Bouree
17:30: Gigue


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