FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Bach: Unaccompanied Violin Partita Nº 3 (for cello)

The original source for these transcriptions is Bach’s autograph 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. Three of the movements have so many awkward (if not impossible) double-stops that they are also offered in versions for cello duo, which avoids all double stops and chords for the cellist playing the melodic line.

Curiously, for every movement of this Partita, except for the Preludio, the transposition down by an extra tone into G major is very advantageous. Suddenly, the double-stops and passagework are so much easier. Unfortunately, the Preludio not only doesn’t like G major: when we transpose it down an additional tone it is actually impossible to play it because of the numerous pedal effects requiring the open strings (not to mention the use of eight low C#’s which become out-of-range). What a shame! In all the other movements there is only ever one note that becomes out-of-range (in bar 22 of Minuet I). We thus have a choice between:

  • playing the entire Partita in our standard transposition down a fifth (in A major) and perhaps playing the more polyphonic movements as duos with a friend
  • paying only the Preludio in our standard A major, followed by all the rest of the movements transposed one tone lower into G major. This is perhaps shocking to purists but probably not even noticeable to 99% of the listening public

The Duo Versions have no need to be transposed into G major because the fact of dividing up all the double-stops between two players makes them the easiest version of all. We could evem happily play them in the original violin key of E major, simply transposed down an octave.

PRELUDIO

No notes have been changed in the adaptation for solo cello, however many bowings have been slightly modified. The most common bowing modification is the simple addition of short slurs in passages that, for the violin, are played entirely with separate bows. This is because bow changes (especially in string crossings) are more laboured on the cello than on the violin, so these slurs have been added to avoid scratching and to increase the musical fluidity (see Adapting Bach’s Violin Music to the Cello).

Making an “Easier Version” of this movement would be a difficult job because almost none of the notes in this almost totally monophonic “Moto Perpetuo” can be eliminated or rewritten without seriously denaturing the musical line (of its total of 1640 notes, there are only two chords and one doublestop in the entire movement). The only difficult passage that could be simplified without too much noticeable effect on the music are the two identical bars 44 and 46:

easier bars

Edited Performance Version     Clean Performance Version     Literal Transcription

LOURE

This gentle slow dance in 3/4 time substitutes for the “Sarabande” that constitutes the “slow movement” of all Bach’s other Partitas for Solo Violin as well as in all his Suites for Solo Cello.

No notes have needed to be modified for the unaccompanied cello versions. The “Duo Version” is also the “Easier Version” of this movement, as in this version most of the double-stops have been given to the second (low) cello. While Bach’s double-stops and chords provide the basis for the second cello voice, they do not provide a constant accompaniment. Therefore the “gaps” in Bach’s bass line have been “completed” (filled out) in this Duo Version to give a constant “walking bass” harmonisation.

   Edited Performance Version in A Major    Clean Performance Version in A Major

Literal Transcription in A Major     Duo Version in A Major

 Edited Performance Version in G Major    Clean Performance Version in G Major

Literal Transcription in G Major

GAVOTTE EN RONDEAU

This charming Gavotte is, when played on the cello, much harder than it sounds, mainly due to the awkward double-stops and chords – especially those requiring Thumb Position in the lower Neck Region. No notes have been modified for this adaptation for cello, but the Duo Version is considerably easier (and sounds a lot better) than the solo version.

  Edited Performance Version in A major       Clean Performance Version in A Major

Literal Transcription in A Major   Duo Version in A Major

 Edited Performance Version in G Major   Clean Performance Version in G Major

 Literal Transcription in G Major

MINUETS

When played on the violin these two Minuets are simple and delightful “galanteries”. When played on the cello however, they are actually quite awkward little beasts, much more complicated to play than they sound, due to the abundance of uncomfortable double-stops and chords. Several of these have needed to be revoiced in order to make them playable on the cello. In other places, faced with the impossibility of revoicing, we are obliged to use Thumb Position in the Neck Region. Definitely, the easiest and most successful way to play these Minuets on the cello is in the Duo Version.

Edited Performance Version in A Major    Clean Performance Version in A Major

Literal Transcription in A Major    Duo Version in A Major

 Edited Performance Version in G Major    Clean Performance Version in G Major

Literal Transcription in G Major

BOURRÉE

No notes have needed to be changed for the cello adaptation of this Bourrée. Some mordents and slurs have however been added in the “Edited Version”. We need to be careful, at the beginning of the movement especially, to avoid that it sounds as though it were in 3/4 time (as occurs in many recordings). We can do this by placing a slight accent on the third beat of the first bar.

  Edited Performance Version in A Major    Clean Performance Version in A Major

 Literal Transcription in A Major

Edited Performance Version in G Major   Clean Performance Version in G Major

Literal Transcription in G Major

GIGUE

No notes have needed to be changed for the cello adaptation of this Gigue. Many mordents and slurs have however been added: the slurs, in order to avoid the “scratchy sewing-machine effect“, and the mordents, to give a little more decorative sparkle to this lively dance. There are no double-stops or chords in this movement. The only way to make an “Easier Version” without massacring the music would be to play it a little slower and remove all the mordents.

Edited Performance Version in A Major      Clean Performance Version in A Major

Literal Transcription in A Major

 Edited Performance Version in G Major   Clean Performance Version in G Major

 Literal Transcription in G Major