Stately processional dance in triple metre popular in the French court and throughout Europe in the 17th–18th century. Of Spanish or Mexican origin, it began as a vigorous dance, set to lively music and castanets, for a double line of couples. At first considered improper, it was forbidden in Spain in 1583. In the early 17th century it was modified to its slow, dignified court version in France and Italy. The slow sarabande, usually with an accented dotted note on the second beat, became a standard movement of the baroque suite.
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The sarabande is first mentioned in Central America: in 1539, a dance called a zarabanda is mentioned in a poem written in Panama by Fernando Guzmán Mexía. Apparently the dance became popular in the Spanish colonies before moving back across the Atlantic to Spain. While it was banned in Spain in 1583 for its obscenity, it was frequently cited in literature of the period (for instance in works by Cervantes and Lope de Vega).
Later, it became a traditional movement of the suite during the baroque period, usually coming directly after the Courante. The baroque sarabande is commonly a slow triple rather than the much faster Spanish original, consistent with the courtly European interpretations of many Latin dances. This slower, less spirited interpretation of the dance form was codified in the writings of various 18th century musicologists; Johann Gottfried Walther wrote in his Musicalisches Lexicon (Leipzig, 1723) that the sarabande is "a grave,...somewhat short melody," and Johann Mattheson likewise wrote in Der Vollkommene Capellmeister (Hamburg, 1739) that the sarabande "expresses no passion other than reverence" .
In 1976 ex-Deep Purple organist Jon Lord based his album Sarabande entirely on the concept of a baroque dance suite. Performed by the Philharmonia Hungarica and a selection of rock musicians (including Andy Summers on guitar, who would later join The Police), the album mixes classical and rock influences.
It also has made an appearance on the 2008 HBO Series John Adams, about the life of the second president of the United States.
The sarabande inspired the title of Ingmar Bergman's last film Saraband (2003). Each of Bach's cello suites contains a sarabande, and the film uses the sarabande from his fifth suite, which Bergman had also used in Cries and Whispers (1971). The sarabande from the second suite serves as the primary theme in "Through a Glass Darkly" (1961).