FOR THE CURIOUS CELLIST

Bach: Unaccompanied Violin Partita Nº 3 BWV 1006 (for cello)

Here is the free, downloadable sheet music of Bach’s Unaccompanied Violin Partita Nº 3 BWV1006, transcribed for cello.

The original source for these transcriptions is Bach’s autograph manuscript. In the “Literal Transcription” all of the notes have simply been transposed down into the new cello key (either A major or G major). All the bowings and other indications (articulations, dynamics etc) 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 allows us to eliminate all of the difficult double stops and chords for the cellist playing the melodic line.

Normally, when we transcribe Bach’s unaccompanied violin music for cello, we transpose it down a fifth, so that the four cello open strings coincide with those of the violin. This Partita is, however, extremely awkward to play in the key of A major, which would be our “normal” key in which to play it. There are just so many doublestops, and so many of them require extensions (or even double extensions). It is however possible to play it in this key, as the following video of Ditta Rohmann’s magnificent performance shows. Although she plays it on a 5-string cello in E-major, this is technically identical to playing it on a normal cello in A-major, with the only difference being that it sounds one fifth higher on the 5-stringer, on which there would normally be no need to ever use the C-string:

Ditta Rohmann: Bach E Major Partita (on the cello)

Curiously, for every movement of this Partita except for the Preludio, a transposition down by an extra tone into G major (hence a major sixth downwards transposition instead of our normal perfect fifth) is very advantageous. Suddenly, the doublestops and passagework are so much easier. Unfortunately, the Preludio not only doesn’t like G major: if we transpose it down by an additional tone into G major, it actually becomes physically impossible to play 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). For this Partita we therefore 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 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

In classical-music circles, we tend to be quite purist about key relations, especially within a Suite, Sonata or Song Cycle, but in the jazz and pop worlds – not to mention in operas and oratorios – the “songs” follow on from each other often in quite unrelated keys. There are many advantages to be had in choosing the key in which we will play a piece according to the register and peculiarities of the instrument which will play it. By allowing the performer a maximum of comfort, we are helping both the player and the music to sound their best, even if our chosen key is not the same as that of the composer. In the case of this Partita, A-major and G-major are not very far apart, yet the difference in the cellistic result is so great that we have no hesitancy in offering all the movements (apart from the Prelude) in both keys. In this way, each player can decide which version they prefer.

The Duo Versions have no need to be transposed into the easier key of G-major because, even in the less comfortable key of A major,  playing these movements as duos (and therefore dividing up all the double-stops between two players) makes them so much easier that there is no need to make them even easier still. We could even happily play them in the original violin key of E major, simply transposed down an octave, but this higher register is definitely not the Bachian cello register and can often sound a little strained and unnatural. Because of this, only the Loure (duo version) is offered in both the high (E major) and low (A major) keys.

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 G major version is an “Easier Version” but the A major “Duo Version” is the “Easiest Version” of this movement, as here most of the double-stops have been given to the second (lower) cello. We also offer a Duo Version of this movement in the original key: it is definitely playable but is unnecessarily high and I believe that the lower (A major) version is more successful.

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 these Duo Version to give a constant “walking bass” harmonisation.

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

 Duo Version (Low) in A Major     Literal Transcription in A Major     Duo Version (High) in E 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 in A major, much harder than it sounds, mainly due to the awkward double-stops and chords – especially those requiring thumbposition 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 in the same key. In G major, this movement becomes very much easier and can now be played quite successfully by one unaccompanied cellist.

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 in A major 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 chords/double-stops 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 either in the A major Duo Version or in the G major solo version. In the G major version, one note has had to be changed: the low note in bar 22 which, with our transposition down a sixth would now be a low “B”, out of range.

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 doublestops 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