Bach: Cello Suite Nº 3 BWV 1009 in C Major

After the ponderous wintery depths of the Second Suite in D minor, the sun comes out once again in this C major celebration. The Third Bach Suite is not only jollier than the second, it has slightly fewer obligatory extensions (≈140 compared to 160) and almost 50% fewer chords/doublestops (≈60 compared to 110). Thanks largely to these factors – and the use of the key of C major – for most cellists this Suite will feel “easier” than the Second Suite.


Often, the discrepancies between the different manuscript copies of Bach’s Cello Suites are quite welcome, because they permit us great freedom to choose our own bowings. In this movement however, the four manuscripts are often in unanimous agreement, which is not only unusual but also actually unfortunate for anybody whose slurring ideas do not coincide with the heavy slurring found in these historical documents. With respect to slurs therefore, the Edited Version found here is much more the “cellofun” version than it is Bach’s version in the sense that here no slur is longer than two notes. This gives this version a certain stylistic unity as well as encouraging a faster, more articulated, “keyboard-type” approach rather than the lyrical slower legato version that tends to be favoured by heavy slurring. This is a very personal deviation from Bach’s idea but fortunately, there are always the “Manuscript Comparisons” to consult, and the “Clean Versions” in which we can write in our own (or Bach’s) slurring choices!

  1.   Prelude: EDITED
  2.   Prelude: CLEAN
  3.   Prelude: Manuscript Comparison
  4.   Prelude: Duo Version with Walking Bass


These two movements are published together for page layout reasons.


This movement is written out with note values that seem to be half of what we might expect Bach (or any other composer) to use.

Its 204 semidemiquavers (32nd notes) with their three beams make the music somewhat more complicated to read and also make the page very black with all the thick beaming. This notation almost certainly means that the intended tempo for the movement is actually quite slow, as Bach only ever uses this notation in his slowest movements (see Bach: Rhythmic Curiosities). Apart from its use as an indicator of a slow tempo, Bach’s use of these tiny note values becomes easier to understand when we look at the harmonic rhythm in the Duo Version. When we do this, we soon realise that the harmonic rhythm of this movement is twice as slow as for his other Allemandes, thus explaining the note values used. This seemingly strange choice of notation makes even more sense when we realise that it ensures that the tempi of all of the Allemandes of the first five suites are more or less the same (quarter note = 60-70 bpm).

For curiosity – and ease of reading – this movement is offered here also in a version notated with notes twice as long as in the original.

Unlike the Prelude, in the Allemande, the bowings suggested in the manuscript copies have basically been followed all the time. However, on the first beat of bar 22, Bach’s rhythm has been intentionally – and perhaps erroneously – altered to give a little agogic sparkle on the Bb. I hope Bach wouldn’t take too much offence at this editorial license and like to think instead that he might find it quite amusing.

  1.   Allemande: Manuscript Comparison
  2.   Allemande: Duo Version with Walking Bass
  3.   Allemande + Courante: EDITED
  4.   Allemande + Courante: CLEAN
  5.   Allemande (Doubletime) + Courante: EDITED
  6.   Allemande (Doubletime) + Courante: CLEAN


When we look at the score, this Courante, like the Prelude of the same suite, looks a lot like a “Moto Perpetuo”. Fortunately, the cadences, the frequent leaping across the strings, the great variety of slurring, and the need for rubato between and within the different phrases mean that we can play it in such a way that it sounds much less “driven” than a Moto Perpetuo and much more like the dance that it is. The Courante is printed together with the Allemande for page-layout reasons.

  1.   Courante: Manuscript Comparison
  2.   Courante: Duo Version with “Walking Bass”


  1.   Sarabande: Manuscript Comparison
  2.   Sarabande: Duo Version with “Walking Bass”
  3.   Sarabande: EDITED
  4.   Sarabande: CLEAN


In bars 5-6 and 21-26 of Bourée I, the asymmetrical bowing (3+1) suggested at times in the manuscript copies has been discarded in favour of a symmetrical (2+2) bowing. This is a less interesting articulation but it is easier to play and sounds cleaner.

In the second Bourée, the fingerings used in the Edited Version are totally unauthentic in the sense that they sometimes go up and down the same (lower) string instead of crossing backwards and forwards to and from the higher string at every possible opportunity (as would have been done in Bach’s time).

  1.    Bourées: Manuscript Comparison
  2.    Bourées: Duo Version with “Walking Bass”
  3.    Bourées: EDITED
  4.    Bourées: CLEAN


  1.   Gigue: Manuscript Comparison
  2.   Gigue: Duo Version with “Walking Bass”
  3.   Gigue: EDITED
  4.   Gigue: CLEAN