Bach: Unaccompanied Violin Partita Nº 1 BWV 1002: Transcribed For Cello
The source for these transcriptions is Bach’s 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.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of this Partita is the fact that it has four “Doubles”. If we try to find out what sort of Baroque dance was the “Double”, then we will be disappointed because no such dance exists! In fact, the “Double” is just a variation on the preceding dance. In this Partita, each of the four principal movements of this partita (Allemande, Courante, Sarabande and Bourrée) is followed by its “Double” which has the same number of measures and follows the same melodic and harmonic structure, as its “parent” movement. These Doubles do however share some very distinct stylistic characteristics, being somewhat minimalist versions (from the point of view of rhythm and articulation) of the “parent” movements. This gives them a definite sort of “fiddler” style.
Each pair of related movements is offered on this page in a “Comparative Edition” in which the two movements are laid out as though they were a duo, for easy comparison between them. Unfortunately, they don’t work as duos (i.e. they are not designed to be played together simultaneously), which is why a “Duo Version” for each movement is also offered, with a “Walking Bass” accompaniment line for a second cello (or any bass instrument). In order to conserve (and show) the intimate relationship between each Double and its preceding “parent” movement, both movements would probably be played at a similar tempo.
We could perhaps call this Partita the “Tenth Partita”, not because it was Bach’s tenth one but rather because of the regular recurrence of the interval of a tenth (sometimes pure, sometimes broken) throughout its different movements.
This movement is in the style of a slow, stately french overture, with its abundance of dotted rhythms. Typically, in a french overture, those dotted figures might well be double-dotted by the performer, but this is perhaps not appropriate here because Bach actually makes a very clear distinction in his notation, writing out clearly the double-dotted rhythms when he wants them. We can only assume, therefore, that when he writes a normal dotted rhythm, then that also is what he actually wanted.
This Allemande is one of the several slow movements in which Bach uses very tiny rhythmic note values (see Bach: Rhythmic Curiosities). We will find, in the original notation of this movement, 107 semidemiquavers (32nd notes/3 beams) and even 35 hemidemisemiquavers (64th notes/4 beams). This makes the music hard to read for two reasons: firstly because it makes the score very black with all the beams, and secondly because we are simply not used to deciphering rhythms that are written out using such small notes! To avoid these “decoding” problems, the “Performance Versions” offered here are written out in “double-time”, in which each note has double its original rhythmic duration, and the piece has twice its original number of bars. To maintain the validity of the original bar numbering and length, each second bar in this version has only a dotted barline.
Each bar in Bach’s original notation has 8 quaver beats at a speed of approximately 60/minute. This means that each bar lasts around 8 seconds, which has to be a world record for bar-length! Once we have internalised the rhythms, it doesn’t really matter anymore which part (notation) we are reading from, but it is certainly easier to learn this movement from the “double-time” version. We just need to be aware that the pulse is definitely two beats to the bar, rather than four, which is why this “double-time” version is notated with a 2/2 time signature.
THE DOUBLE OF THE ALLEMANDE
From the perspectives of both rhythm and articulation, this movement is “minimalist” music: all but two of its 380 notes are semiquavers (16th notes) and most of the notes are slurred in uniform pairs (see Bach and the Sewing Machine). These minimalist tendencies are however contrasted by its great harmonic and melodic richness, wandering from one key to the next and gliding gently all over the Neck Region register.
We need to decide at what tempo to play it and even amongst violinists, this is by no means a unanimous decision. When we see all those uninterrupted semiquavers we are tempted to immediately think that this is a “fast” movement, but as the “twin” of the previous Allemande we could well play it at a similar slow speed, which would make greater sense of the gentle, lilting two-slurred articulations. To maintain the equivalence of bar numbers between the two related movements, Bach was obliged to write this Double in semiquavers (rather than quavers) because its “parent” (the previous Allemande) is written with such tiny note values. In the same way that the Allemande becomes more easily understood when written out in “double-time”, its Double also becomes easier to understand (but this time from an interpretative point of view) when written out with note values twice as long as in Bach’s original notation. This Double is therefore presented here in both rhythmic notations: “original-time” and “double-time”.
Unfortunately, just when we think that we have infallible reasons to play this movement rather slowly, we discover that Bach used for this movement (and not for the Allemande) a cut-time time signature, which would imply on the contrary a rapid tempo (with only two main pulses per bar). Does this mean that the Double should go at twice the speed of its parent Allemande then?? The question of tempo for this movement is definitely not resolved!
Bach writes 171 slurs in his manuscript for this movement, and in fact only 30 notes (less than 10% of the total) are not found under a slur. Of these slurs, more than 95% are two-note slurs (connecting two notes), and the others always connect three notes. No notes have needed to be changed from the original for the adaptation to the cello.
- Allemande and its Double: COMPARISON (original time)
- Allemande and its Double: COMPARISON (double-time)
This Courante is surprisingly similar to the Double that precedes it. Not only is it melodically similar but it also has the same minimalist “Moto Perpetuo” character: of its 476 notes, only two (the final cadences) are not uninterrupted quavers (8th notes). The fact that Bach (along with most composers) rarely juxtaposes two similar movements together leads us to believe that there must be a significant tempo difference between the two. Normally a “Courante” (which means “running”) is a fast movement, so this leads us to believe that the preceding Double is actually a quite leisurely movement, in the tempo of its Allemande parent.
No notes have needed to be changed for this adaptation to the cello but many small slurs have been added to break up the mechanical separate-bow monotony. Perhaps, to differentiate the two movements via the articulations, we should in fact play every one of the many original slurs in the preceding Double, and every original separate bow of this Courante rather than changing so many of Bach’s original bowings to the “two slurred + two separate” bowings that have been used so frequently in the “Edited Versions” of both movements?
THE DOUBLE OF THE COURANTE
When we play this Double we might wonder if the name “Double”, is in some way derived from the word for “devil” [diable (fr), diabolo (sp), diavolo (it)]. Certainly, this movement is particularly diabolical! Of its 955 notes, only 4 (at the beginning and end of each of its two sections) are not uninterrupted semiquavers (16th notes). With respect to the articulations, unlike the first Double, which had 171 slurs over its 380 notes, this second Double has not one single slur in all of its 955 notes, making it the perfect musical accompaniment to an advertisement for sewing machines! To break the monotony, to limit the scratching of the cello’s bow-and-string changes, and to give a little swing to the movement, quite a few (190 to be exact) small slurs have been added to the Edited Version, almost all of them over just two notes, and always on the first notes of the ever-repeating groups of four.
The minimalist tendencies of this “Moto Perpetuo” are however contrasted by its great harmonic and melodic richness, racing from one key to the next and leaping all over the Neck Region register like a fast-flowing, bubbling mountain stream (“Bach” in German actually means exactly that). The parent movement (Courante) of this Double is already a fast movement, but the Double is in semiquavers whereas the Courante is in quavers. This means that if we play the two movements with the same crotchet (quarter-note) pulse, then the notes change in the Double at twice the speed of the Courante, which makes absolute sense of Bach’s tempo marking of “Presto”. This is obviously a very fast movement and if we thought that Bach was a “serious, profound” composer then we are in for a surprise: here he is a demonic Irish (or German) fiddler, anticipating Paganini’s breathless virtuosity!
Another difference with the first Double is that this (second) one moves mostly stepwise, whereas the first Double moved mostly by arpeggio intervals. In the first Double less than 25% of the intervals are stepwise (scalic) whereas in this second Double these proportions are almost exactly reversed. Here, an analysis of the first repeated section reveals that almost 70% of the intervals are stepwise, and of the non-stepwise intervals, more than 60% are thirds (i.e. the smallest possible non-scalic intervals). So whereas we could compare the first Double perhaps to a bird gently riding the wind gusts, this one is more like a mouse scurrying along at top speed on its short legs (just imagine how Disney might have animated them both in “Fantasia”).
This movement poses an interesting layout question. If we put 4 bars in each line of music then the notation is too cramped. But if we place only 3 bars in each line then we have too many lines to fit onto two pages. So we obviously need to break some bars across the lines of music. But the bars are 3/4 so we can’t break them in half, but rather have to decide whether to break them after one or two beats. In a lot of music, this type of “broken-bar” asymmetrical layout might be confusing, but because of the “moto perpetuo” style of this movement the barlines are often quite insignificant and this layout seems to work perfectly well.
No notes have been changed for the adaptation of this movement to the cello. This, together with the fact that there are no slurs in Bach’s manuscript means that the “Literal Transcription” is identical to the “Clean Version”.
Like most of Bach’s Sarabandes, this is very chordal music: more than 80% of the notes are part of a chord or a doublestop, and more than 80% of the crotchet beats have at least one chord or doublestop on them. Many of the chords have needed to be revoiced in this Sarabande. Sometimes, rather than eliminating an important note from a chord, we just play the bass note as a grace note before the top two notes. Small-handed pianists do that all the time …… but they have a pedal to help them! The Sarabandes, more than any other movements in Bach’s unaccompanied string music, really need a resonant church-type acoustic to help the chords to ring on.
THE DOUBLE OF THE SARABANDE
The “Double”, like all the other Doubles in this Partita, is once again a minimalist movement from the point of view of rhythm, articulation and monophony. All but two of its 299 notes are uninterrupted triplet quavers, there are no doublestops, and there is not one single slur in Bach’s manuscript. All this, together with the fact that no notes have needed to be changed for the cello transcription, means that the “Literal” and “Clean Performance” Versions are identical, as is also the case with the Double of the Courante.
TEMPO DI BOURRÉE AND ITS DOUBLE
These two movements are published together for layout reasons, each movement being too cramped if laid out on only one page.
Unlike the Doubles of this Partita, the “Tempo di Bourrée” movement is very rich in polyphony (like the Sarabande) and also in its variety of both rhythm and articulation. Of its 272 crotchet (quarter-note) beats, 102 of them (almost 40%) have at least one chord or doublestop (and sometimes even two of them), which is why this Bourrée is offered here also in a “Duo Version”. Giving the lower notes of the chords and doublestops to a second player makes this “Duo Version” also an “Easier Version” of this movement. The non-polyphonic passages have been harmonised (filled out) to avoid “holes” in the walking-bass line (see Duo Versions).