As an instrumental genre, a suite is associated with dance music and consist of a multiple dances. Almost all the earliest specimens of instrumental music with which we are acquainted appear in the form of Dance Tunes. During the later Middle Ages, and the period which immediately followed them the most popular airs of this description were the Allemande, the Courante, the Minuet, the Sarabande, the Gavotte, the Bourrée, the Giga, the Loure, the Chaconne, the Passecaille , the Pavane, the Branle, and the Galliard.
The Allemande in its latest and most perfect form was a Movement in Common Time, consisting of two Strains, each of which usually begins with a short "Starting-Note." The first Strain generally ended with a Modulation to the Scale of the Dominant; the second, as a matter of course, on the Tonic Harmony, and both were repeated. It has been said that this particular form of the Allemande did not really originate in a Dance Tune, but it is difficult to support the assertion.
The Courante was a brisk Movement in Triple Time consisting, like the Allemande, of two Strains, each of which begins with a short "Starting-Note", the first generally ending with the usual modulation to the scale of the Dominant.
The Minuet was a low Movement in 3/4 time consisting of two strains, generally, though not always, beginning with an odd Crotchet. The Minuets in Samson, and Don Giovanni, (each starting with a full bar), are among the finest in existence.
The Sarabande was an Air, of Spanish origin, slower and more stable than the Minuet, and almost always written in 3/2 time. Handel's delightful air, Lascia ch'io pianga, in Rinaldo, originally appeared, as an instrumental Sarabande, in his earlier opera Almira.
The Gavotte was a spirited Dance in Alla breve time with two minim beats in the bar. Like the Allemande and Minuet, it considered of two strains, the first of which usually terminated in the Scale of the Dominant, while both invariably began and ended at the half-bar. The "Gavotte and Rondo" from Bach's Sixth Violin Sonata exhibits the movement in a strictly beautiful and highly-developed form.
The Bourrée different from the Gavotte, in that it was written in simple common time C with four Crotchet Beats in the Bar; each of its two parts beginning at the fourth Beat, and ending at the third. The Bourrée from Bach's Violoncello Sonata in Es, is a remarkably interesting example of the style.
The Giga was a rapid Dance Movement, in 12/8 time and in two parts, each of which began with an odd quaver, by way of a starting-note. Corelli sometimes wrote his gigas in 6/8 time.
The Loure was a lower kind of Giga, usually written in 6/4 time, though some late examples may be found in 3/4.
The Chaconns was a Basque or Spanish Dance, the Music to which took the form of Variations, on a Ground-Bass, consisting of a single Strain, of four or eight Bars, in 3/4 time beginning always upon the first Beat of the Bar. The finest Chaconnes extant are by Handel and Bach.
The Passecaille different from the Chaconne, only in being a little slower, and in beginning always on the third Beat of the Bar, instead of the first.
The Pavane (from the Latin, Pavo, a Peacock) was a very slow and sturdy Movement, in common time, consisting, generally, of three Strains, each of which began and ended with a half-bar.
The Branle was an old French Dance, in Common Time, written in two Strains, of which the first was sometimes longer than the second, both beginning always up the first Beat of the Bar.
The Galliard was a somewhat rolling dance, in 3/4 time, beginning on the third Beat of the Bar.
It was a favorite custom with Composers of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, to string together some five or six of these quaint old Dance Tunes into a continuous piece, called a Suite. As a general rule, the Suite began with a more or less ornate Prelude in common time C and ended with a Giga; the second place being occupied by an Allemande, and the third by a Courante. But this law was by no means a strict one. Sometimes a Gavotte was substituted for the final Giga. Sometimes its place was supplied by an Air et Doubles, or an Air with Variations. The finest examples are six Suites Anglaises, and as many Suites Françoises by Sebastian Bach, and sixteen grand Suites by Handel.