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 Suite is not only jollier than the second, it has slightly less obligatory extensions (≈140 compared to 160) and almost 50% less 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but also actually unfortunate for anybody whose slurring ideas do not coincide with the heavy slurring found in these historical documents.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 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 you can write in your own (or Bach’s) slurring choices!

Manuscript Comparison       Duo Version with Walking Bass      Clean Version     Edited Version


This movement is written out with note values that seem to be half of what we would expect Bach to use. This 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). Its 204 semidemiquavers (32nd notes) with their three beams make the music very black and complicated-looking. 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 of 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. 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.

allemande III note values

Unlike for 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 syncopated 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.

allemande III rhythm change

Manuscript Comparison     Duo Version with Walking Bass        Clean Version      Edited Version

Notated in Doubletime: Clean Version      Notated in Doubletime: Edited Version


These movements are published together for page-layout reasons:

Courante: Manuscript Comparison    Courante: Duo Version with “Walking Bass”

Sarabande: Manuscript Comparison     Sarabande: Duo Version with “Walking Bass”

   Courante and Sarabande: Clean Version     Courante and Sarabande: Edited Version


These movements are published together for page-layout reasons:

In bars 5-6 and 21-26 of Bourée I, the assymetrical 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.

bouree I slurs

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).

bouree II fingering

Bourées: Manuscript Comparison       Bourées: Duo Version with “Walking Bass”

Gigue: Manuscript Comparison     Gigue: Duo Version with “Walking Bass”

Bourées and Gigue: Clean Version        Bourées and Gigue: Edited Version