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Thread: Bach Cello Suites

  1. #1

    Default Bach Cello Suites

    I've been working on the first Cello suite and have finally gotten it to a place where I'm at least comfortable moving on. While I doubt I'll ever be done polishing it, I'm curious if anyone has any experience with the suites and be willing to offer any advice.

    I'm trying to decide which suite to work on next and also how to tackle it.For the first suite I started with the prelude and went in order through each movement to the gigue. Though in retrospect, I'm curious if that was the most effective way to do it.

    Do you have any tips or suggestions? I'd love to hear your experiences.

  2. #2
    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bach Cello Suites

    Good stuff! You're playing from a violin edition, with each suite transposed up a fifth? (So Ste. #1 goes to D from G.) I've performed several of the dances from Ste. #3 (in G on mandolin), and they're not too hard, and work very well. The last two suites would be the killers; leave them for last.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Bach Cello Suites

    Actually working from the cello scores on an octave mandolin and transposing on the fly. Or more appropriately pretending it's a mandocello, CGDA.

    I'll take a look at the 3rd suite, thanks for the advice.
    Last edited by onswah; Mar-06-2019 at 7:16pm.

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    Default Re: Bach Cello Suites

    Sounds familiar. After "mastering" (in major air quotes) the first suite, I was crazy enough to jump to the sixth. But I started with the Gavottes, which are pretty straightforward. Then I went to the Prelude of VI, which is a beast, lotsa technical challenges, but just took it slow and easy and eventually got more or less of a handle on it. Then I went to the Prelude of the second suite, which wasn't bad, nice and slow, and lately have been working on the Courante of the sixth, but taking it very slowly. Guess I'm saying I've jumped all over the place! Have more or less kept them all in short term memory. Have been working from the Daniel Sellman transcriptions, trying to keep my eyes off the damn TABs!

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    Registered User Jonathan K's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bach Cello Suites

    Quote Originally Posted by onswah View Post
    Actually working from the cello scores on an octave mandolin and transposing on the fly. Or more appropriately pretending it's a mandocello, CGDA.

    I'll take a look at the 3rd suite, thanks for the advice.
    My advice would be not to do this. You can get the scores transposed for violin for free on IMSLP. Transposing on the fly may mess with your reading abilities!

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    Default Re: Bach Cello Suites

    "My advice would be not to do this. You can get the scores transposed for violin for free on IMSLP. Transposing on the fly may mess with your reading abilities!"

    On the contrary it is a perfectly useful skill to have and I commend the OP for working on this. In the early 20th century players of the mandola in C (i.e. tuned CGDA) would play solo mandolin works directly from the original scores as if their instruments were mandolins, transposing on the fly. I've also played various movements of the Bach cello suites on the mandola in G (tuned GDAE, aka octave mandolin) directly from the cello music, transposing on the fly. Not really any more difficult than playing the cellos suites from the violin transposition (which, of course, sounds an octave below where written). One reason for doing this is that there is no urtext for the cello suites; cellists have to make decisions about which notes to play. A serious player of these works on a plucked instrument would want to be aware of the divergent views in the cello world.

    That said, it is also a very useful skill to learn to read bass clef on the mandola in G. There are many baroque pieces for treble instrument + continuo, where the continuo part does not venture below the low G on the GDAE mandola.
    Robert A. Margo

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  8. #7

    Default Re: Bach Cello Suites

    Thank you both for the responses.

    I started working on the suites by detuning the bottom 4 strings on the guitar, and just stayed in that thinking once I got an octave mandolin. I'm reasonably comfortable in my ability to compartmentalize all the different tunings and transpositions on the fly.After having to adjust to keeping both a guitar fretboard as well as a mandolin fretboard in my head, additional mappings seem to be less effort.

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    Default Re: Bach Cello Suites

    Bob is correct in that there is no "urtext" edition in the sense of "from the composer's own hand." There is however the Barenreiter edition, which is as close as we can get. These are based on the Neue Ausgabe, an extremely carefully edited collection of the complete works of Bach. Working with conductor and Bach specialist Helmut Rilling in the Oregon Bach Festival as part of my doctoral program, I was told "always the Barenreiter." There are other good editions, based on the older Bach Gesellschaft, an earlier attempt at clean editions of the complete works.
    The Barenreiter edition of the Cello Suites indicates the bowing and other markings (very limited, as they would be in a baroque printing) as recorded by Anna Magdalena Bach ("somewhat careless" in the editor's opinion) and another by J.P. Kellner, an organist friend of Bach. Kellner's edition is lost but served as the basis for the Gesellschaft edition. The editor, August Wenzinger, has minimal markings based on these two sources. But I do not think there are too many questions about "which notes to play," just the bowings.
    This all might seem esoteric scholarly stuff, but for some of us this music has near sacred status, and deserves the respect that might not be found in the many scores available on the internet.
    If you see a copy of the cello suites (or any of Bach's music) with extensive, Romantic dynamic and expressive markings--and there are many on the shelves--they are bogus and unreliable. I also agree with Bob that reading clefs and transposing, while a struggle at first, becomes a skill worth learning, especially in the GDAE-CGDA world of mandolins!
    One last word of advice, totally unsolicited: if you really wanna dig in, get yourself a mandocello!

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    Registered User Bob Visentin's Avatar
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    Default Re: Bach Cello Suites

    My wife played cello in high school and she says after the first suite most people go to the third.

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