Bach: Unaccompanied Violin Sonata Nº 2 BWV 1003: Transcribed For Cello

The source for the cellofun transcriptions of Bach’s Unaccompanied Violin Partitas and Sonatas is his own autographed manuscript. In the “Literal Transcription” this manuscript has simply been copied and transposed down a fifth (plus an octave). All the bowings in the “Literal Transcriptions” are Bach’s. In the “Edited Concert Versions” however, Bach’s bowings have very often been changed.


There are a total of 280 semidemiquavers (32nd notes, with 3 beams) and almost 60 hemidemisemiquavers (64th notes, with 4 beams) used in this movement. This peculiar notation using such tiny note values is discussed in the article “Bach: Rhythmic Curiosities“. Not only do these little, heavily-beamed notes make the sheet-music very black, this choice of notation also makes the frequently complex rhythms even more complicated to disentangle. We almost need a doctorate in maths to be able to read it accurately and quickly. We therefore offer a “Doubletime” version along with the standard “Bachtime” version for all of the downloadable editions of this Grave (Edited, Clean and Literal). In the “Doubletime” versions, all the rhythmic values are doubled in relation to Bach’s original notation. Each bar is an 8/4 but with a dotted barline in the middle. This is so much easier to read than the original notation.

  1.   Edited Performance Version (doubletime)
  2.   Clean Performance Version (doubletime)
  3.   Literal Transcription (doubletime)
  4.   Literal Transcription (normal time)


This Fugue is longer than the fugue of the G minor solo sonata (Nº 1) but shorter than that of the C major sonata (Nº 3). Its 2150 notes are uninterrupted, which means that we have no possibility for page-turns during the four pages of music on which it lies. Some people nowadays play from a computer screen, on which the page turns can be made with a foot pedal, but for those of us who haven’t become quite so modern, we will need to lay the music across two stands (or else memorise it).

Surprisingly, very few notes have needed to be modified or eliminated for the solo-cello adaptation. All of these notes are/were components of chords. When deciding whether or not to eliminate a note from a chord, priority has always been given to achieving ease of playing rather than to authenticity or harmonic fullness. Notes have only been removed from chords in those places where the removed note is not essential for the understanding of the harmony or voice-leading.

There are two “Duo Versions” offered here: a Low Version (transposed down a fifth, like the solo cello version) and a High Version (in the original violin key). In both “Duo Versions” the music is divided into a high voice and a low voice. The high voice is the “solo” voice and has most of the thematic, melodic material, while the low voice is the much simpler harmonic accompaniment with the occasional low register thematic material. The Low Duo Version is definitely the “Easier Version” of this fugue on the cello. The “High Duo Version” is probably even harder than the solo version, because of the problems associated with the higher register. In both duo versions it may be interesting for the second cello to try and reproduce the effect of the spread (arpeggiated) chords that are so characteristic of this music when played by only one solo instrument. When the second cello plays the lower notes of the chords together and strictly in time (on the beat) this arpeggiated effect is sadly lost.

  1.   Literal Transcription
  2.   Clean Performance Version
  3.   Edited Performance Version
  4.   Duo Version: Cello 1
  5.   Duo Version: Cello 2
  6.   Duo Version: Score
  7.   Original Key (high) Duo Version: Cello 1
  8.   Original Key Duo Version: Cello 2
  9.   Original Key Duo Version: SCORE


This movement, perhaps one of Bach’s most beautiful compositions, is one of the most densely polyphonic of all Bach’s unaccompanied string music: almost 90% of all its notes are part of either a doublestop or a chord. This, combined with its frequent use of the low register makes it quite difficult for one unaccompanied cellist to play it successfully. Playing it as a cello duo however, allows us to instantly overcome both these two problems simultaneously. Firstly because we can now give all the double stops to the lower voice, thus liberating the melodic singing voice, and secondly because we can also now play it a fifth higher, in the original key, which brings it out of the cello’s elephant register into its singing register. Some of the bass notes have been lengthened and one optional harmony note (shown in parenthesis) has been added to the 2nd cello in bar 13.

This same duo version is also offered here as a duo for cello and viola, or for cello and violin, with the violin/viola playing always the higher, melodic voice. In the duo with violin, the higher voice is one octave higher than in the other two duo versions and could also possibly be played by the viola.

For the sake of curiosity, for the adventurous, and for those of us who may have a 5-string cello, an edition for unaccompanied cello in the original key is also presented here. Unless we play this on a 5-string cello, it lies unfortunately too high up the fingerboard for many of the chords, which become uncomfortable (if not impossible) up in the Intermediate Region, even if we use the thumb.

  1.   Literal Transcription
  2.   Clean Performance Version
  3.   Edited Performance Version
  4.   Original Key Version
  5.   Cello Duo Version (Original Key): Edited
  6.   Cello Duo Version (Original Key): Clean
  7.   Cello and Viola Duo Version (Original Key)
  8.   Cello and Violin Duo Version (Original Key)


No notes have been changed for the adaptation of this movement to the cello, but many bowings have been changed from Bach’s original suggestions.

  1.   Literal Transcription
  2.   Clean Performance Version
  3.   Edited Performance Version