FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Solo Bach: Chords and Double Stops

Rather than lyrical, vocal, melodic music played up and down one string, Bach’s unaccompanied string music tends to be more “harmonic”. On this page we will look at the Cello Suites from the point of view of their use of chords and double stops, but apart from these “official” chords and doublestops, there are enormous numbers of arpeggio intervals that can be played across the strings and that could be considered as “broken double stops” (see Bach: Bowings and Articulations and Doublestops).

The following tables compare the frequency and density of doublestops and chords in the different movements of the Bach Cello Suites:

NUMBER OF CHORDS AND/OR DOUBLE STOPS IN THE DIFFERENT MOVEMENTS OF THE BACH SOLO SUITES

(excluding drones and repeated double stops)

Prelude

Allemande

Courante

Sarabande

Minuets

Gigue

TOTAL

Suite I

1

7

2

11

2

1

0

24

Suite II

6

16

5

26

34

0

20

107

Bourees

Suite III

11

11

1

25

4

1

7

60

Suite IV

6

3

11

44

1

20

0

85

Gavottes

Suite V

26

31

35

65

0

48

0

0

205

Suite VI

6

24

0

69

42

45

33

229

 

We can see from the above table that the Suites become progressively richer in chordal writing. This progression is not smooth however: Suite II is much more chordal than any of the other first four suites, and the 5th and 6th suites are suddenly twice as chordal as even the 2nd suite. In fact each of the last two suites has more chords and double stops than suites 1, 3 and 4 combined.

Let’s now look to see which individual movements have not just the greatest number of chords and double stops, but also the highest density of them:

WHICH MOVEMENTS OF THE BACH CELLO SUITES HAVE THE HIGHEST FREQUENCY OF CHORDS AND DOUBLE STOPS ?

Beats with New Chord

Total Nº of Beats

% of Beats with New Chord

Duration of Movement

(no repeats)

New Chords per Minute

Allemande II

16

96

17%

96s

10

Sarabande I

11

48

23%

60s

11

Prelude V Introduction

26

104

24%

130s

12

Sarabande III

25

72

25%

88s

17

Sarabande II

26

84

31%

92s

17

Allemande V

35

144

31%

91s

23

Sarabande IV

42

96

33%

97s

26

Courante V

44

144

35%

66s

40

Sarabande VI

69

192

36%

101s

41

Gavotte 1 V

48

144

38%

65s

44

Gavotte 1 VI

42

112

44%

47s

54

Minuet 1 II

34

72

47%

36s

57

Gavotte 2 VI

45

64

(96 with drone)

70%

28s

96

 

If we want to practice our chordal reading and playing (see Doublestops and Left Hand String Crossings), we can see here which movements to practice.

One final table, shows the gradual increase in frequency of the use of chordal writing in the Sarabandes (with the notable exception of the Fifth Suite).

EVOLUTION OF CHORDAL WRITING IN THE CELLO SUITE SARABANDES

Beats with Chord/Doublestop

Beats without Chord/Doublestop

Total Beats in Movt

% of Beats with Chord/Doublestop

Sarabande I

13

35

48

27%

Sarabande II

26

58

84

31%

Sarabande III

28

44

72

39%

Sarabande IV

44

52

96

46%

Sarabande V

0

60

0%

Sarabande VI

132

61

193

68%