Bach and Some Modern Understandings of the Baroque

For me, regarding Bach, the best editor is the one who does the least. Anything that is not in the manuscripts that exist is editorial. Do you want to learn Bach, or someone else’s opinion on what Bach meant? I believe that there is no real choice to a musician who respects a composer’s intent, you go with the least editing.

“On November 2016, Brenreiter Verlag published Bach’s Cello Suites of “New Bach Edition, Revised Edition” (NBA rev. 4 / Editor: Andrew Talle).” This is the most recent edition, yet it contains some errors:

a review of the new Barenreiter Bach Suites (2016)
There are many editions available here, including manuscripts:,_BWV_1007-1012_(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian)
I prefer the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe, which was edited by a musicologist/organist, not a cellist. Why is that a good thing? Because decisions about slurs are about being consistent with the preponderance of the extant manuscripts, not someone else’s bowing ideas. The parts are very clean (no fingerings). This is this best place to start, IMO. You can look at lots of options from the IMSLP list if you need fingerings and bowings, but they often have little to do with what Bach wrote.

Zander Masterclass

Whispelwey Masterclass
I think we must study Bach Chorales, arias from the cantatas (check the cello parts, Greenhouse played in the Bach Aria Group for years, after all), and the keyboard suites. Fingerings are not that big a deal, look at the chords and scales and the fingering is usually pretty obvious. If they aren’t, then that is where to concentrate your initial efforts (scales and arpeggios, with a teacher, if possible, but there are many scale/arpeggio books available). Bowings in the Suites are problematic only in that there is no original manuscript from Bach’s own hand, only copies made by others. By looking at the works I suggest, you will see what common types of bowing patterns exist consistently in Bach’s writing for cello (like arpeggiated chords, commonly 3+1 or 1+3, etc., not 4 to a bow, 2+1+1, et al), but cellists rarely do this, even if it is in the existing manuscripts and the Gesellschaft, so any online ‘tutorial’ is likely more of the same distorted stuff. Casals’ “revolution” was to program the Suites in performance (most uncommon at the time), and that you should study them and make them your own, not that you should play them as he did.

By looking at the keyboard works, you see similar patterns of articulation. He most often played the keyboard, and I believe that his thinking on articulating in archetypal works like French dance suites (they are “types” by definition) is clear in these works. By listening to great keyboard players in this repertoire, you get a very different idea of tempo, pacing, and consistent articulation. Zander pretty much nails it, in that regard. The suggestions he makes are compelling.

These things are the very basis of what makes Bach’s music what it is: when harmonic rhythm changes, this needs to be clear, ditto a hemiola; how melodic material changes dependent on the chord it occurs within, and where the key changes take place tell us much about the journey we are on, and structurally, where we are on that journey. These are the indicators, the signposts and the scenery on our path, and we need to animate our understanding and our performance with them.

Robert Schumann wrote piano accompaniment to the suites, and it’s available at IMSLP. Antonio Janigro played the suites on the piano and played the Schumann in class; very illuminating.

Among the best training for playing Bach is to play the continuo parts of the Cantatas and Masses (particularly Arias and Recitatives), followed by the orchestral suites. You can get the music on and play along with recordings to get a feel for it. This will give you the sense of the range of articulations (be mindful of the words in this regard) in the vocal works, and the rhythmic inflection in the Dance movements of the orchestral suites. Then get a clean, un-bowed and un-fingered edition of the Suites and do your own hiking. It isn’t Mt. Everest, it’s the Appalachian Trail.

In the 1980s, my former mother-in-law (at my suggestion) transcribed the 4th Suite for Harpsichord. I recently found a very old, not very high quality cassette tape (remember those?) of a performance. I attempted to make it reasonably listenable, and the result is linked below. I think it offers an excellent example for cellists to consider thinking about the Bach Suites not as cello pieces, but more as just music.

New Bach discovery raises question of burn-out

Some baroque cello info

I remember hearing of this place as a source for reasonably priced reproduction baroque instruments

Here is another maker

The Baroque cello

Evolution of cello and bow
baroque instrument set up, by a string maker
modern baroque recreations
evolution of violin construction
history of the violin and its accessories
Development of bowed stringed instruments
the Baroque violin
evolution of the violin from baroque to modern

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2 Responses to Bach and Some Modern Understandings of the Baroque

  1. Doug says:

    A very interesting and enlightening post. I’m an amateur pianist just beginning my study of the cello and I’m loving your blog. Thanks for sharing your insights and experience. (By the way, I came here via the Internet Cello Society forum.)

  2. admin says:

    I’m so glad you find it useful, thanks, Doug!

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