View Full Version : Courante from 1st Cello Suite

Jack Roberts
Apr-05-2004, 10:45pm
Some of the fingering it tough on my old bones, but it is somewhat easier to play than the Allemande, although I am playing it at only about 2/3 of the tempo on the sheet music (88).

John Zimm
Apr-08-2004, 9:37am
That's funny, I just started playing this last night. I printed off the whole score for the suite at icking-music-archive.org and have been trying to learn it. I really like the Allemande, although like you say, it is tricky. For some reason the timing on the courante throws me off a little in the beginning.


Jack Roberts
Apr-08-2004, 11:15am

In the second part of the Courante there is an arpeggio that I have already "swung up" and played at a blue grass jam. #I like the Allemande, but it just took me too long to learn. #Perhaps I started learning something that is too beyond my capability. #After the Prelude and the Allemande, I am glad to be playing the Courante, which for some reason seems more intuitive, although the mixture of 8th and 16th notes spread out over a 3/4 time singature took some getting used to. #I could not seem to get the hang of counting it out "1-2-3-1-2-3" #It was like rubbing my belly and patting my head... #I started to get it when Victor clued me into the "running" idea. #I just imagine a child skipping and running, and I tap my foot without trying to count. #I get a lot of help from listening to the Rostropovitch cello recordings.

I'm glad someone else is sharing the joy of these pieces.


John Zimm
Apr-08-2004, 1:01pm
Hey Jack,

Thanks for the tip with the Rostropovitch recordings. I just placed a hold at the local library. I look forward to hearing how a professional plays this.

I really love how Back sounds on the mandolin, and this suite seems really great for people like me who want to learn solo mandolin pieces. I remember when I was learning French that when I learned the verb courir I though "I wonder if that is like the musical term." Funny.

Happy playing. I'm glad you have worked some Bach into the bluegrass. It is good for classical music to expand its borders a little.


Jack Roberts
Apr-10-2004, 2:31pm
I just downloaded Pablo Casal's version from i-Tunes (19.95 for the whole 6 suites) and found he plays it quite a bit differenly from Rostropovitch and Ma.

John Zimm
Apr-10-2004, 6:48pm
I am starting to make some progress on this Courant. I almost want to get it to the point where I am happy with it, and then hear someone else play it. It is really a great and fun adventure finding something appealing in a piece and then bringing it to life in your own way. As long as it doesn't suck I guess. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif


Apr-11-2004, 11:38am
When listening to recordings of the suites it's a good idea to get some variety. Casals version was the first and many still consider it the standard, but I don't like his interpretation at all. A lot of Cellists (starting with Casals) play these pieces like they're 19th century concerti. They're not at all. For a much different (and I feel more appropriate) interpretation, check out Edgar Meyer's recording of 1, 2 and 5 on bass, and, my personal favorite, Patricia McCarty's recordings of all 6 on viola.

I think someone should make a Mandocello recording of the suites! They sound nice enough on mandolin, but they're really meant for a much deeper and richer tone. I love playing them on mandola or mandocello, although I don't think I'm ready to start recording myself!


Jim Garber
Apr-11-2004, 11:50am
When I played in the New York Mandolin Orchestra (years ago) one player borught in a Lyon & Healy mandocello and one of the older players took it and played one of the Suites on it. Amazing!


John Zimm
Apr-11-2004, 1:46pm
I have just started experimenting with tuning one of my spare guitars to octave mandolin tuning, so I may just try playing the Courante on it for fun. I have made a lot of progress over the past day or two getting the Courante down on mandolin and I can't wait to memorize it and be able to spend more time interpreting rather than reading the music. I would be interested in hearing this on a lower voiced instrument, because as it is I love it on the mandolin. It is very playful, much like a child skipping and running. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif


Jack Roberts
Apr-11-2004, 3:32pm
When I played in the New York Mandolin Orchestra (years ago) one player borught in a Lyon & Healy mandocello and one of the older players took it and played one of the Suites on it. Amazing!

I've tried the prelude on Mandolas in the music store. Beautiful. I am saving my pennies for a mandola myself now. I couldn't quite make the reach with an octive mandolin, and I have never even seen a mandocello up close.

I'm on the Sarabande now. What a fantastic sounding piece! To my ear, it sounds better on the mandolin than it does on the Cello.

I have a technical question. The opening chords on the Sarabande are played on a cello "broken" (you can't bow more than two strings). In Mandolin, would you tend to play them broken or as a single strum. I have been playing them broken in imitation of the way it is played on bowed instruments, but I am just guessing that that is the convention. How to you play them?


Apr-11-2004, 5:30pm
I find this suite, and in particular the Courante which is the topic of this thread, actually easier to play on mandolas than mandolins. The extra tension of the higher instrument is much more strenuous to cope with than the longer reaches of the lower, despite my smaller female hands (haha!) which results in a far more cramped hand from playing them on the mandolin! Just another reason why I prefer mandolas over mandolins. And then there is the sound, of course. ;-) The Courante is one of my favorite movements.

I have not listened any recordings of these cello suites, unless it was on the radio at some past time, as my financial situation kind of prohibits me from acquiring very many recordings. However, Ken's hearty endorsement of Patricia McCarty's viola recordings makes me want to look for them anew (I almost won them on eBay once a few years back, but was outbid at the last second.) So all my efforts at interpretation have been... well, my own! And I'm happy to say I have finally committed this entire First Suite to memory, so that it is always with me now. ;)

Jack, as far as your question about the Sarabande, I play the opening chords as plain strums. Were you here when we discussed the Sarabande before? I posted a link to a very crude recording I had made of it. (I wish I had access to decent recording equipment.) Anyway, I've always (personally) thought that the "broken chord" sounded awkward in this context, sort of a poor compromise that a bowed instrument player often has no choice but to use. Perhaps a baroque-style bow could have been used to get a more rounded chord sound? (Just guessing, I'm no baroque expert!) In any event, I did not wish to imitate that sound when I didn't have to, and I don't break any chords in the Bach Chaconne for violin either when plucking them on my mandokin instruments. I think they all sound much nicer just strummed. JMHO.


Jack Roberts
Apr-11-2004, 8:47pm

Thanks for your input. #No, I was not here when you discussed the Sarabande before. #I would like to hear your recording. #I expect to have the first suite memorized by the end of the year.

As I said before, I am playing the opening chords "broken" but I'll try it strummed. #

Could I make a movie recommendation? #I saw "Elle Enchanted" last night. #This is the funniest thing to come out since the three stooges... #In one part, Ella is trying to play a mandolin with a bow. #

Best movie I've seen since "Young Frankenstein" and twice as silly.


Jim Garber
Apr-11-2004, 8:52pm
Could I make a movie recommendation? #I saw "Elle Enchanted" last night. #This is the funniest thing to come out since the three stooges... #In one part, Ella is trying to play a mandolin with a bow.
I saw trhat movie with my kids Friday and comment on that scene in a new thread (http://www.mandolincafe.net/cgi-bin/ikonboard.cgi?act=ST;f=12;t=14528).

I couldn't figure out whether folks outside of our mando-universe would think it was funny or not even notice.


Jack Roberts
Apr-12-2004, 5:26pm
As an update, I am up to a tempo of 70, but the 88 is eluding me. (Maybe I should get a bow...) Still, I stand by my statement that the courante is more fun to play than anything I've done yet.


John Zimm
Apr-12-2004, 10:06pm
I have to agree with you Jack, the Courante is a lot of fun to play. I have to say, that word of advice from Victor-imagine a child running and skipping-has strangely added a lot of character to the piece for me. I like to play it playfully, and that has made a lot of difference. I'd like to hear a recording of how one of you out there plays it. Anyone game? I'll record it once I have it down, which should be in the near future.


Jack Roberts
Apr-13-2004, 4:08pm
John, I wouldn't want to record it until I can play it through without missing something. #Right now, as I said, I have trouble keeping the tempo even. But I am still a relatively new player. #I listened to a Pablo Casals cello version, and it seems to me that he varies the tempo for effect, but on the mandolin I think an even tempo is key to making this piece delightful on the mandolin. #The running and skipping effect seems to come from the alternating of the eigth and sixteenth notes. #And I play with the dynamics more than the tempo.#Victor's advice on this piece and on the Allemande has made all the difference once I could hear what he was talking about in the music. #I had almost given up on this suite, but posting here and reading all of your advice has helped me greatly. #

Another recommendation: I'm listening now to a on line radio version of the Courante played on the cello by Ralph Kirschbaum. It's from the DG recording: "The Best Cello Album in the World..Ever!" Kirschbaum has the skipping and running just about right.

I'd actually like to here Bratsche's version on the Mandola.

Apr-13-2004, 11:00pm
Well, Jack, I'd love to record it, but I can't seem to play it as well when the recorder is going... there's the usual mind trips a recorder plays on me, plus the fact that I have to play while sitting in a very uncomfortable position, hunched over the edge of my computer desk with the soundhole no more than 2.5 inches from the cheap mic. Which, in addition, is tough to do without accidentally hitting the mic! I'd be embarrassed to admit how many "takes" it took to get this recording of the Sarabande (http://bellsouthpwp.net/b/r/bratsche2/dir_1/Bach_Sarabande.MP3) down (I stopped counting, actually) - and the Courante is a lot technically harder to play! I know - "excuses, excuses" - but, perhaps, some day...


(there's a movie "twice as silly" as Young Frankenstein? http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif )

Ted Eschliman
Apr-14-2004, 6:10am
Suggested technique for learning Bach, or any other "pattern" based composition...
I love Bach because of his marvelous blend of pattern/motive with variation--taking the "familiar" to a new level. By now, Jack, you've probably isolated the tricky measures, and distinquished them from the more comfortable terrain of the piece.
The obvious wrong thing to do is just rehearse the whole thing straight down, over and over, top to bottom. Pencilling these in brackets two of or three "bite-sized" measures is an appropriate start.
Take each section, say for example, it's 8 beats (of 16th or 32nd notes)--play the 8th beat until comfortable. Play the 7th and 8th beat until it's in the fingers, and you aren't "thinking" it. Play 6, 7, and 8, same approach, adding measures, but slowly backwards, 5, 6, 7, 8, etc.. Keep doing this, but don't play the preceding beat until you're ready. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
What happens in this approach is you make the end of the passage "autopilot," as you progress in studying the piece. You might have to repeat the process again the next time you rehearse, but eventually, you digest the music, paying particular attention to the more difficult areas.
You could have three sections, or twenty, but the point is, one learns them, rather than just speeding through, and bemoaning one's inability.
This was a technique taught to me by my college trombone teacher, and it's yet to fail me in learning difficult new music.

Jack Roberts
Apr-14-2004, 10:46am
Mandohack wrote:
The obvious wrong thing to do is just rehearse the whole thing straight down, over and over, top to bottom.

Man...That's exactly what I'm doing wrong! #I know it is wrong, but I just love this piece so much, everytime I play it I just want to hear what comes next. #

I had to break the allemande down into little bits, and the prelude! That still takes work and often just have to practice individual measures separately. #I wish I had paid attention to my music teachers. #

I'll try the practice technique you suggest. #

I hadn't thought about the blend of pattern and variation. #Your explanation is very helpful. #I was complaining about Bach because the variations are often not obvious. #What I want to play is not what Bach wrote. #But once I learn it, I realize the genius of organization behind it all.

Bratcshe, maybe I'm wrong to say "twice as silly" but when Elle is playing the Mandolin with a bow, it is almost as silly as Cloris Leachman playing the violin and between notes saying "yes..Yes!..He was my...boyfriend!"

Bratchse: Your Sarabande is wonderful. What instrument are you playing that on?

Apr-14-2004, 10:54am
bratsche's rendition of the Sarabande is sparse and tasteful. I heartily applaud and recommend. The mood is calm and meditative but never degenerates to spineless (a common occurrence, when performers feel the need to distort rhythms beyond recognition in pursuit of "expression"). Notice how evenly she keeps the underlying harmonic rhythm going!

These slow movements suffer the most in the hands of, errr... the overly ambitious #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif #Sometimes the foliage makes one lose the tree. I grew up with the notion that the Sarabande was originally a lively, Spanish dance, that subsequently was "stylized" by the French into the stately, often statuesque character it is currently presumed to possess. More recent scholarship points at a Mexican origin for the Zarabanda. Hmmm... some more spice, perhaps? #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wink.gif

I would, however, in light of the mandolin's shorter scale and sustain, suggest at least experimentation with more ornaments— not profuse, just generous: for one possibility, mordents could be double (and, of course, picked, not with the left hand alone). Ultimately, of course, that adds to the plurality of interpretations: MY "add salt and pepper to taste" is not anyone else's; it is presumed and welcomed that Jack, and bratsche, and Daniel, and Eugene, et al, et al, will flavor their dish to THEIR taste. All is good.

Apr-14-2004, 11:59am
I play the Bach on this (http://bellsouthpwp.net/b/r/bratsche2/dir_1/Sawchyn_dola_1.jpg) instrument, my Sawchyn Beaver Tail 'dola. It sounds much better "in person", but I'm glad you like it!

bratsche http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif