FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Bach: Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord and/or Basso Continuo

On this page can be found free sheet music downloads of Bach’s Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord and/or Basso Continuo, transcribed here with the cello as the “melody” instrument instead of the violin. The harpsichord accompaniments are also available in “play-along” downloadable audio files.

In addition to his six famous Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo, Bach also wrote six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord BWV 1014-1019 (click here for more information). Another six works for Violin and Basso Continuo (figured bass) are attributed to him in the BWV catalogue (BWV 1021-1026: consisting of four sonatas, one suite, and a fugue), although at least two of these are now considered as probably not composed by Bach.

These accompanied violin sonatas are offered here with the cello as the “solo” instrument instead of the violin. Some are in the original key (simply transposed down an octave), while others have been transposed down anything up to a fifth in order to make them more playable. Normally when we transcribe Bach’s unaccompanied violin music for cello we transpose it down by a fifth to keep the equivalence between the four open strings of the cello with those of the violin. This not only makes the playing easier but is also often a vital component of many of the musical effects because Bach makes such idiomatic use of the open strings. But in the case of music in very “flattened keys” (such as the fourth and fifth sonatas with harpsichord) this principle is no longer valid. With all those flats in the key signature even the violin can’t use its top open strings and when we transpose the key down by a fifth this adds one more flat into the key signature, effectively neutralising the cello’s top open strings. Therefore those two sonatas have a smaller transposition which takes us into an easier key in which we can, unlike in the original violin version, use our open strings. The Sixth Sonata has also been transposed down by a fourth, simply because it lies very well for the cello in that key and keeps us in a slightly more melodic register (one tone higher) than in the transposition down a fifth.

Although the cello parts are always transposed initially downwards, many of the lowest notes and passages in the accompaniments have been transposed upwards (instead of downwards). This has been done in order to avoid going down into extremely low registers. The cello is already playing one octave plus a fifth lower than the violin, so keeping the accompaniments out of the deepest registers avoids this music sounding like sonatas for two elephants. To avoid this “elephant” register on the cello, occasionally some notes or passages of the cello part are also transposed up a fourth rather than down a fifth.

SONATAS FOR VIOLIN AND HARPSICHORD:

The first five of the six sonatas follow the typical Baroque Sonata pattern: each sonata starts with a slow movement and has a total of four movements, alternating between fast and slow (and therefore finishing with a fast one). The Sixth Sonata is the exception to this rule: not only does it start with a fast movement, it also has a solo harpsichord movement added among the other three movements. In all the sonatas the first, second and fourth movements tend to be in the same key with the second slow movement however (normally the third movement) of each sonata usually being in the relative major or minor key. The fast movements tend to be extraordinary demonstrations of mathematical (three-part counterpoint) and instrumental virtuosity. In extreme contrast to these are the slow movements which are, more often than not, extraordinary demonstrations of spiritual profundity and expressivity.

The manuscripts of only three movements (of the total of 37) are available in Bach’s handwriting. For all the other movements there are two main original source manuscripts, both of which are copies made by contemporaries of Bach (Altnikol and Schwanberger). These are both available at imslp.org. These two sources do however have many discrepancies in their bowings. These discrepancies have been used as a justification for the considerable liberties that have been taken in choosing bowings for our “Edited Performance Editions” The basis for our “Literal Transcriptions” is the Henle Urtext edition, which is itself based principally on the Altnikol manuscript.

Sonata Nº 1 in B minor BWV 1014     Sonata Nº 2 in A major BWV 1015      Sonata Nº 3 in E major BWV 1016

Sonata Nº 4 in C Minor BWV 1017     Sonata Nº 5 in F minor BWV 1018     Sonata Nº 6 in G major BWV 1019

SONATAS FOR VIOLIN AND BASSO CONTINUO:

Sonata in G Major BWV 1021        Sonata in E Minor BWV 1023