Telemann Violin Fantasias Transcribed for Cello

Here below, you will find free sheet music downloads for the 12 Telemann Fantasias for Unaccompanied Violin, transcribed for cello.

Compared to the violin, the Baroque repertoire for unaccompanied cello is quite limited. Fortunately, Bach left us six cello suites, but unfortunately his almost exact contemporary – the magnificent and hugely prolific composer Georg Telemann (1681-1757) – wrote very little for the cello as a “protagonist” instrument. He did however write twelve wonderful unaccompanied Fantasias for violin, all of which are transcribed below for cello. He also wrote another twelve sonatas for viola da gamba, discovered only in 2015 which may be for a future transcription project.

These violin Fantasias are such a pleasure to play on the cello!  Although they sound rich and interesting (and therefore “difficult”) they are actually easier to play than Bach’s cello suites, and very much easier than playing Bach’s Unaccompanied Violin music on the cello. The phrases are shorter and the music breathes more often. The long Bachian lines – and slurs – are absent. Telemann was a self-taught violinist and probably not as accomplished at the instrument as Bach was. This means that he exploits to a maximum his musical invention rather than the technical capacities of the player, and he really achieves musical miracles without needing to be a first-class virtuoso. This is especially advantageous for us cellists when playing violin music on the cello.

Telemann is a little like a cross (morph) between Bach and Vivaldi, and this wonderful mixture can be seen in these Fantasias, which seem to be divided up into two contrasting groups. In the first six, Telemann shows his “Bachian” side: these sonatas are quite “Germanic” in the sense that they are strongly polyphonic, containing contrapuntal figures and an abundance of double stops. In sonatas 7 to 12 however Telemann shows his “Vivaldiesque” side: these are in a very different, “Galante” Italian style, more melodic and flowing, with much fewer double stops. This difference is made clear in the following table. This division into two groups is curiously similar to the stylistic differences between Bach’s Sonatas (germanic) and Partitas (more “galante”) for Unaccompanied Violin.

Fantasia Nº123456
Nº Dblestops160220200250240380
Fantasia Nº789101112
Nº Dblestops202015407080

Even in the first six, in spite of all the polyphony, this music never sounds heavy or academic. The mood is still of lightness, pleasure and …… fantasy. The double-stops very often use an open string, which means that not only are they easier to play but also that they really ring out vibrantly.

For most of these Fantasias, it is very helpful to play them transposed down a fifth, in order to be able to make use of all the intended open strings and to avoid the higher fingerboard regions. This is especially important for the double-stops and chords in the first six (the polyphonic ones). For those of us who might like to have a try in the original key, the first Fantasia is shown here untransposed (just an octave down from the original). Unfortunately, when we transpose down a fifth, we go into a “flatter” key with one more flat (or one less sharp) in the key signature. So, for example, Fantasia Nº 1 which is originally in Bb major for the violin, is now in Eb major for the cello, which means we can no longer use the open A string. This complicates matters considerably for our left hand. Even worse is the situation of Fantasias 3 and 7 which have three flats in their key signature. After transposition down a fifth, they would have four flats, which would mean that we are unable to make use of either of the two top open strings. For this reason, we have searched for an “easier” (more ergonomic) key for these two Fantasias.

Whereas the Bach Cello Suites are each made up of 6 dance movements, each of these Fantasias consists of three (or occasionally four) movements, none of which are derived particularly from dances, in an alternation of fast and slow tempi. This gives us a total of 39 movements, which is, curiously once again, almost the same as the total number of movements in the six Bach suites (36). Perhaps these Fantasias were Telemann’s “answer” to Bach’s solo cello and violin music? They are however very different in style and expressivity to the Bach Suites, and also considerably shorter, ranging in length from around four to seven minutes each. But each is like an entire concert – or even like a mini-opera – with its three (or occasionally four) movements taking us through the entire expressive range from the most profound Adagios to high-speed Prestos and Vivaces, making them very effective and concentrated concert-pieces. Playing the entire collection of Fantasias gives us a little over one hour of music, whereas the six Bach cello suites give us nearly two and a half hours, more if we do all the repeats.

As well as being (hopefully) a welcome addition to the solo cello performance repertoire, they also provide some uniquely pleasant musical study material. While the first six are magnificent for improving our comfort with double-stops and polyphonic solo playing, the last six are good for developing our flashy Baroque virtuosity in the Neck Region. These last six – the “Italian” ones – might remind us at times of Vivaldi’s sonatas. Please don’t play them with the sustained tenuto style (bowstrokes) that we use in the Romantic repertoire. This is light, gentle (but still profound), intimate music that needs a lot of air and natural resonance between the notes (see Pre-Classical Style and Interpretation).

The Fantasias never leave the Neck Region. Therefore the “Easier Versions” are made easier not by transposing down the high passages (there aren’t any) but rather by changing occasional notes, mostly to eliminate the need for the quite frequent (and seemingly unavoidable) use of the thumbposition in the Neck Region (see Telemann’s Thumb) or to make awkward double stops more playable. Also, some complex bowings and articulations are simplified. Sometimes even in the “Edited Concert Versions” some of the double stops have been altered or revoiced for the same reason.

The original source for these transcriptions is a manuscript facsimile by an unknown copyist, available on Very often, the original articulations (bowings, slurs) have been modified for the “playing” editions presented here. This occurs especially in the many “sewing machine” passages (uninterrupted separate-bow fast notes). Because the cello doesn’t respond as quickly as the violin to bow changes, occasional two-note slurs have been added to avoid these fast separate-bow passages sounding scratchy, especially when there are lots of string crossings. Another systematic modification made in the playing editions is that, whereas Telemann (like Bach in his Violin Sonatas and Partitas) shows very clearly the different contrapuntal voices, in the cellofun editions the musical lines are usually just fused together into one, in order to make both the reading and the layout less complex. These are “playing editions” rather than “analytical editions” and we will have to make an effort (or consult the original manuscripts) to understand the voice leading. Even in our “Literal Transcriptions” we have not always copied Telemann’s original polyphonic (double-stopping) notation (in which all the harmony notes are maintained for as long as their harmonic validity rather than for as long as we can continue playing them) because it was just too much work with all the different voices.

Either Telemann was occasionally very harmonically advanced, or there are several note errors in the manuscript copy that has served as our source. In the Literal Transcriptions, all of his notes are transcribed exactly (although transposed into the cello’s key) even if they seem like errors, but in the Performance Editions, these possible/probable errors have been corrected. These alterations are mentioned in the comments to each individual Fantasia.


As mentioned above, Eb major is not the best key for the cello, especially in an unaccompanied piece. Others of Telemann’s Fantasias are easier than this one but this Fantasia is nevertheless eminently playable, although at times somewhat uncomfortable, and is good practice for extensions and half-position.

The note changes made in the “Edited Concert Version” are: octave transposition (upwards) in bars 28-30 of the first movement, in the second movt the revoicing of a double-stop (or chord) in bars 6, 9, and 38, and the addition of a double-stopped fifth on the cadential trill in bars 6, 9, 26, and 29.

An “Easier Version” would involve simply removing double stops and refingering bars 10-12 of the second movement to remove the use of the thumb.

   Edited Concert Version     Clean Concert Version     Literal Transcription   Original Key


No notes have been changed for the Concert Version and only very few for the Easier Version.

Edited Concert Version    Clean Version   Easier Version   Literal Transcription


If we transpose this Fantasia down a fifth from its original key of C minor, we go into F minor, which, with its four flats, is quite uncomfortable. A much more successful transposition is down a minor third into A minor, which is the key in which this Fantasia is offered here. The only note changes necessary have been the revoicing of a few chords. The third movement is a “cadenza movement” for which Telemann’s notes are just the chordal skeleton.

Edited Concert Version    Clean Concert Version     Literal Transcription


A few note changes have been made here, mostly just the revoicing of some awkward double stops as in bars 16 and 33. In the 2nd movement, a middle note has been added to the chord in bar 3 and in the last movement, bars 3 and 21 have been revoiced with octave transpositions up of the lower doublestop line. Once again an “Easier Version” would simply involve removing double stops.

      Edited Concert Version        Clean Concert Version      Literal Transcription


I almost regretted transcribing this Fantasia because of the work it needed (both as player and transcriber) to make it sound as good as it sounds on the violin. Quite a few modifications were considered necessary, especially to make some of the (frequent) polyphonic passages playable. In those passages where the fingering limitations of the cello have obliged us to shorten some of the doublestopped notes, the music has been written out “as played” rather than how Telemann notated it. In bars 18, 26, 29, 58 and 62 of the first movement the chords have been revoiced and bars 29-31 have been transposed up an octave. In the last movement, the chords at the beginning of bars 6 and 44 have been turned into simple double-stops, bars 33 and 34 have had a note removed from the double-stopped passage, bars 10, 11 and 49 have had harmony notes added, bars 48-50 have been transposed up an octave and Telemann’s clearly-marked C natural at the beginning of bar 27 has been changed to a C#.

 Edited Concert Version    Clean Concert Version      Easier Version      Literal Transcription


This Fantasia has so many more double stops and chords than any of the others that we might wonder sometimes why Telemann didn’t just write it as a duo! Bar 23 has a correction to the trill note, in bar 40 a note has been added to convert the octave double-stop into a chord. In bar 15 of the 2nd movt (Presto), a double stop is revoiced. In the 3rd movement, a note has been added to the chord in bar 2, and in bar 11 of the “Maggiore” movement, the C# has been transposed up an octave. Once again, an “Easier Version” of this Fantasia requires simply eliminating or modifying some of the double-stops, or alternatively, playing it as a duo.

    Edited Concert Version     Clean Concert Version      Literal Transcription


Finding a key in which this Fantasia (originally in Eb major) lies comfortably on the cello is not easy. The string crossing passages in the second movement (Allegro) are particularly uncomfortable in every key as they are so idiomatically written for violin fingerings, which are not possible on the cello. Two possible solutions have been explored and both alternatives are offered here.

Both versions “work”. Originally I thought that the scordatura option was not only easier (once we overcome the challenge of the reading and the retuning) but also sounded better and was perhaps more fun. Having practiced and gotten used to the Ab major version however, the scordatura G major version now seems redundant. It will stay available here, but now mainly as an interesting exercise in scordatura playing. Although it requires less physical gymnastics, the mental gymnastics required for the scordatura reading and hearing are considerable: we can consider this new difficulty either as a pleasing intellectual challenge or as an unnecessary nuisance.


In spite of the four flats of the key signature, this is not as hard as we might have imagined. But for those string crossing passages in the Allegro, we do need to do a few strange (but totally possible) things with our left hand. No notes have been changed except for the revoicing of a few chords.

Edited Concert Version    Clean Concert Version     Literal Transcription


Transposing into G major from Eb major requires a (downward) transposition of a minor sixth. The advantage of this transposition is that it takes away all the flats and gives us our open strings back, but the disadvantage is that the open G string of the violin (which is used nine times in the original version) now corresponds to a low B on the cello, which is a semitone lower than the cello’s open C-string, and therefore out-of-range. This leaves us with only two options: either we transpose all those low “B’s” up an octave, or we tune down our C-string by one semitone. It is the “scordatura” (retuning) option that has been chosen for the version offered here.

  Edited Concert Version    Clean Concert Version     Literal Transcription


No note changes have been made except for a very few in the “Easier Version”, which is in fact almost identical to the “Concert Version”. The last movement of this Fantasia is very strange. Was Telemann delirious at the time of writing it, is it full of mistakes, was it a joke, is it a representation of a drunk folk fiddler ………or was he anticipating 20th-century maniacal minimalist mayhem?!

Edited Concert Version      Clean Concert Version     Easier Version     Literal Transcription


In bar 10 of the first movement, the sixth note of the bar (the F#) has been lowered to an F natural, the penultimate note (A) is considered also to be a natural, and in bar 16 the lower doublestop of the penultimate note has been lowered one step to a B.  No other notes have been changed except for in the “Easier Version”.

Edited Concert Version     Clean Concert Version     Easier Version       Literal Transcription


The only note changes are in bar 10 of the 3rd movement of the “Easier Version”. In fact, the Easier Version is identical to the Edited Concert Version except for that one bar, and that one bar is so uncomfortable (for small hands at least) that even experienced cellists may actually prefer to play an easier version of it, of which there are several options, including:

Edited Concert Version    Clean Concert Version    Easier Version     Literal Transcription


Not all the songs of The Beatles are equally wonderful, and this Fantasia does not seem, at the first hearings at least, as appealing as the others, with the exception of its very beautiful slow movement. Of course, as soon as we start to play a piece, it immediately becomes much more interesting and attractive, even though there may still be some passages that we don’t really understand. Apart from the revoicing of some chords, no notes have been changed for the cello transcription in any of the movements.

Edited Concert Version     Clean Concert Version  Literal Transcription


The beautiful, stately, processional dotted first movement, in pure french style, can definitely be played “double-dotted”. The revoicings of the double stops in bars 29 and 30 of the second movement are the only note changes made. There is no “Easier Version” because there are no passages needing transposition down an octave and no use of the thumb. The best way to make this Fantasia easier is simply to play it a little slower.

Edited Concert Version    Clean Concert Version   Literal Transcription