Bach: Cello Suite Nº 1 in G BWV 1007
This is the “easiest” of the six Bach Cello Suites. It has the least number of double stops and chords, and also the least number of extensions. The low number of extensions is thanks largely to the fact that this Suite is in the very comfortable key of G major.
This ever-so-gentle movement has many passages that benefit from being played in the upper half of the bow. Because of the difficulties in choosing bowings and phrasings, two different Edited Versions are offered here. Version Nº 1 – my favorite – uses more 2-slurred groupings and favours diminuendos between phrases while Version Nº 1 makes more use of the 3-slurred bowing groupings and favours crescendos between phrases. Version 2 is the gentler version and also has the most stylistic unity in its use of bowings. Bars 9-14 and 19-39 are identical in the two versions.
Both of the cellofun Edited Versions ignore the original non-slurred bowing indications for the oscillating 2-string crossing passages (of which there are a total of 169), preferring instead to use slurred pairs of notes and thus exploring the possibilities of blurred, overlapping string crossings. In other words, for each of the string crossings in the green enclosures, we can maintain the first note a little longer than it is notated, thus creating a moment in which the doublestop sounds (see also String Crossings Across Two Strings: Blurred Crossings)
Even though this slurred pairing of notes was definitely not Bach’s conception and does not appear in any of the manuscript sources, the resonance effect of the blurred crossings is so pleasing that we have used these bowings very much in the cellofun editions of this Prelude. Probably the best way to get our ears and our arms to understand this principle of overlapping crossings is to exaggerate the overlap. To practice these crossings with maximum overlap, we could notate them in the following way:
In performance, we would be unlikely to make this effect so pronounced but if we were to exactly notate a less overlapped version, it would look almost insanely complex so we are better off just dosing our overlap according to our ears rather than trying to read or notate it.
In the Edited Version 1, the following unusual bowing notation has been used in order to ensure that we don’t play the first and third beats of each bar with the standard Baroque articulation in which the second note of a slur is shortened (see Minuets below). The second note of these slurs is, on the contrary, long and completely connected to the next note, as though it were actually the 3-slurred figure that is indicated in at least two of the original manuscript sources. On the second and fourth beats of each bar, however, the two-note slurs are played in the standard Baroque way, with the second note shortened.
This movement, like the Prelude, also seems to have a very gentle character and to achieve this we can make very good use of the upper half of the bow.
The cellofun Edited Version uses quite a lot more slurring than is indicated in the four contemporary manuscript sources and in this version approximately 90% of the 16th notes are slurred to at least one other, making it one of the most legato (slurred) of all the movements of the six cello suites. Because of all these slurs, it will benefit from a lot of lefthand pizzicatos (indicated with a “+” sign) to help the lower fingers and the open strings to sound cleanly and clearly:
The long upbeat and the string crossing leaps make this movement an excellent example of a piece that benefits from “reverse bowings” (with downbows on upbeats, and upbows on downbeats).
It is also very interesting from a bowing point of view because of the frequency of asymmetrical, unbalanced figures requiring carefully planned bowings to ensure that the asymmetries do not drive us out to an unwanted part of the bow.
It is said that Sarabandes tend to lean on the second beat of each bar and this is certainly very much the case in this Sarabande. There is only in fact one bar (bar 15) that doesn’t seem to ask for a crescendo to its second beat.
There are many unwritten rules of how to play Pre-Romantic music in an authentic, appropriate style (see Baroque Style and Interpretation). One of these “rules” is that longer notes often should not be sustained for their full notated duration and should in fact be separated from the following note. We do however need to be well aware that this separation, rather than being a “silence”, is in fact full of the resonance of the previous note. Another of these “rules” is that when we encounter short slurs (especially 2 and 3-note slurs) in Baroque and Classical period music, we very often need to shorten the last note of the slur. This movement gives us many excellent examples of both of these stylistic customs.
As usual, it is “the exception that proves the rule” and when those two slurred notes lead into a cadence (as at the end of bar 3) we will probably want to play the last note of the slur totally legato into the following chord.
This little movement has some interesting curiosities with regard to the bow. Firstly, the following passage is a good illustration of the benefits of doing our string crossings (especially the leaps) using the advantageous, clockwise wrist circle direction in which the lower string falls on the upbow and the higher string comes on the downbow. It also shows how sometimes, in unbalanced, asymmetrical passages, it is easier to do the shorter notes on the upbow, even if they fall on the downbeats.
The next excerpt gives a nice example of bow division in which the passage “plays itself” in the sense that we don’t need to do any uncomfortable compensations with bowspeed in order to be in the most favourable part of the bow: