Skip to page content


Orchestration: 2 oboes, 3 trumpets, timpani, continuo, and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: August 14, 1931, Pierre Monteux conducting

About this Piece

Whereas Bach wrote the Brandenburg Concertos for a prince, he composed his four Orchestral Suites for the wealthy burghers of Leipzig. The Suite No. 3 in D major most likely premiered at Zimmermann’s Coffee House either in 1730 or 1731 at one of the composer’s Collegium Musicum concerts there. Bach had assumed responsibility for the concerts in 1729, and the programs required him to renew his efforts in the field of instrumental composition. (Since taking up his position at St. Thomas’ in 1723, Bach had been responsible primarily for vocal religious music for services there and in Leipzig's other churches.) 

The Suite No. 3 opens with an imposing French overture, so called because of its slow–fast–slow structure and the rhythm of its opening. What follows is perhaps one of Bach’s best-loved instrumental works, the glorious and serene Air. A group of dances—the French gavotte and bourrée followed by the gigue, a dance derived from the late 16th-century Irish jig—brings the Suite to a spirited close. —John Mangum