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6 Bach Cello Suites

Discussion in 'Music [DB]' started by Illfavor, Aug 7, 2005.

  1. Illfavor


    Mar 9, 2005
    I've just recently heard Meyer's recording of 3 of the suites "at pitch" and was wondering if that was any different than the normal transcriptions. I don't believe it is but I just wanted to verify.

    Does anyone have a preferred edition of the works, or is the International sufficient?
  2. jallenbass

    jallenbass Supporting Member Commercial User

    May 17, 2005
    Bend, Oregon
    Playing the Bach Cello Suites at pitch is different from all (I can't remember if they are all transcribed to a different key) of the Peters Edition Cello Suites for DB. To do what Edgar and others have done you just need to get a cello edition and play them up an octave to get them to sound at pitch.
  3. It's pretty common to play the third suite in G.
  4. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    Yeah, just get a cello version and don't mess with the transcriptions if you want to play them at pitch.

    Considering that the Suites are a life-long project for anyone, cellist or bassist or kazooist, I recommend the new Barenreiter critical edition. It comes with facsimiles of the four manuscripts that serve as our only original source material for the suites (none of them, unfortunately, originals in Bach's hand), a great critical esssay, and the actual cello part is sans editing of any kind and includes indications of the areas where the four manuscripts differ from one another so you can make your own decisions. It costs fifty or sixty bucks, but it's really worth it.
    If you don't want to mess with that, Janos Starker's edition is very nice (Peer Music, $15.00) and, although his editing is highly personalized, he's a great musician and it's worthwhile to learn to play them his way.
  5. …but does Meyer tune his bass in fourths or fifths? I've heard conflicting reports (see threads passim) - what is the recommended tuning?

    - Wil
  6. Where did you hear he tuned in fifths? Edgar generally keeps his bass in solo tuning, A E B F#.
  7. AEBE high to low, which is just solo tuning with a normal fourth string. His extension allow him to go down to low C. With the open G string and the octave C he can play most of the open notes in the Suites.

  8. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    EBEA from low to high.
  9. Pete G

    Pete G

    Dec 31, 2001
    Northern Virginia
    Wait -- I'm confused.

    If he's playing anything on an open low C, he's not playing "at pitch," is he? Surely a cello can't get that note? If it could, why have basses?
  10. Actually let me correct myself, what corresponds to open G III as written for cello is played by the open high A I string on the bass (Meyer plays the suites one whole step higher than notated pitch) What corresponds to written low C IV on the cello is played by the octave harmonic of the low D IV on his extension. So he doesn't play extacly at cello pitch, it's actually one step above cello pitch as far as I can tell. My bro, the cellist with perfect pitch confirmed that he was playing a step higher than noted in cello music which is suprising to me, but it makes sense from a solo bass standpoint. The important thing is that he is reading the part as if for the cello, rather than the Sterling edition which transposes the suites in some cases to a fifth below noted pitch to make use of more of the basses open strings (in standard tuning)

  11. Here's one of the earlier threads.

    - Wil
  12. Let me play Devil's advocate and say that playing the suites at cello pitch on an instrument tuned in fourths is a gymnastics excersise at best and a wast of time at worst. Bach would have cringed I'm sure. Playing this music in a more sonorous range of the instrument makes more musical sense IMO. The Suites sound best on cello, since they were written idiomatically for that instrument. Playing them as written on bass will not produce as nice an effect unless you are a freakshow like Meyer or Rabbath and can overcome the obvious hurdles through shear force of technical ability. Unfortunately (IMO) the trend is to play the Suites at the intended pitch in the intended keys so we have to adapt or perish.

    That said, the first suite is easily playable at cello pitch on the bass in standard tuning. If you spend some time with it you will figure out fingerings that work for you. Meyer and Rabbath finger mainly across the strings and stay in thumb position for the most part. The new edition of the Suites edited by Rabbath is probably the best source for folks who want to play most of the suites at cello pitch (the Third is still in G as it was in the Sterling Ed.) and don't want to figure out the fingerings themselves. When I studied with Rabbath I was pleasantly suprised to find that I had basically worked out the same fingering as he did, on my own. That made me feel like maybe I knew what I was doing a little. There really aren't that many workable options when you are playing that high however unless you like shifting alot.

  13. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY

  14. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Sour grapes, mebbe?
  15. I'm not sure if I agree with you - I think J S Bach's music is so pure, so abstract, that it lends itself to all kinds of arrangements. In some cases Bach didn't specify exactly what instruments were to be used or how the piece was to be played (e.g. "Die Kunst Der Fuge") - Bach had the reputation of being a great improviser, and we only know his music from that which was written down, and has survived 250+ years of being ignored, lost or destroyed by accident or otherwise. When he was alive, his popularity was limited to those people who knew him, studied with him and to their pupils in turn. His music went out of fashion, and it wasn't until around 100 years after his death that Mendelssohn began to bring JSB's music back into the public eye (or ear).

    I often wonder what it would be like to hear JSB improvise - just think of all the music which he played which was never written down, and so was not recorded for posterity.

    I have some recordings by Jacques Loussier (who?…) from the 1970s - he uses Bach's music as a starting point, and takes it from there - amazing stuff, and it certainly does no disservice to the original - in fact I think it opens it up to what JSB might have done at a recital.

    Sorry, I didn't† mean to turn it into a lecture…

    - Wil

    † yeah, like hell…
  16. Oh, that's right. I forgot about the extention.

    It's tuned as a C at all times, not just for Bach. He doesn't use the extention when he does solo Bach.
  17. No sour grapes here. I can and do play portions of the first suite at cello pitch, I bought the Urtext edition, I muddled through it. Bach's music is awesome. It doesn't get any better than that (for me). For me though, it was more of a "let's see If I can do it" thing more than anything else. I have no pretenses about it sounding even as good as a mediocre High School cellist playing them. There are many Bach options other than the Cello Suites. There is Organ music, Gamba music, etc. I agree that the Cello Suites are close to perfection - for the cello. That's my point. If JS had been commisioned to write Bass Suites for some wealthy bass player (of course the bass as we know it did not really exist back then but you get the idea) we would be having a different disscussion right now. If only the very top soloists on the instrument can do the Suites justice (at cello pitch), is it really realistic for the average bassist to attempt them and then frustrate themselves, when they should really be practicing their excerpts and solo rep that was actually written for the bass? Yes I know that much of the Bass rep is lacking musically, but we had a choice when we chose bass. It wasn't something that was forced on us (hopefully). With the good comes the bad. I know that most serious auditions require some Bach, but I am happy to play my Third Suite in the wrong key, because it sounds much better that way on the Bass, and that's the way my teacher, and his teacher before him did it. Both of the bass virtuosi I mentioned have a serious jones for the Suites. They both spent decades perfecting them. I think both of those cats make the Suites sound better than the average cellist - But that's what they had to do for themselves. That doesn't mean that every aspiring proffesional bassist has to do that too. It dimishes the impact of what the few really gifted, and hardworking soloists can do by everyone jumping their wave and coming up short. It's the Jaco Pastorius phenomenon. It's hard enough just playing good orchestral bass. We only have so much practice time in our lifetimes.


    P.S. If you study with Francois Rabbath, he will only let you attempt the Cello Suites after you have mastered Book III of his method, and can play scales nonstop for two hours. Then you can start substituting Bach for scales until you can play all six suites all the way through without stopping. - :eek:
  18. Jeremy Allen

    Jeremy Allen Supporting Member

    Mar 18, 2002
    Bloomington, IN
    We could just use our C extensions or low C strings and read the suites straight down--they wouldn't be particularly taxing from a range standpoint that way, and keeping them from being muddy and unappealing would be great practice.
    But I don't have a low C, and I find that reading the suites in tenor clef is a perfectly good way of doing them (so the first suite is in D instead of G, with the first note being the open D string, and the third suite is in G instead of C, for example). Certain things idiomatic to the cello (and an instrument tuned in fifths) still won't be there, but the instrumentation doesn't have to be set in stone (one of the cello suites is actually a lute suite, for example, and, hey, if you can play something, play it). We tend to get all locked up in our ideas of what instrument played what part in a given piece of music, but a look at all of the instruments accounting for the "bass" part in music post 1600 will show you a whole range of different stringed beasts holding down the low end.
  19. That's a great suggestion Johono5. I actually like playing them occasionally as written, transposing down an octave, which is still pretty tuff. I would recommend learning them that way at first anyway to get the notes in the head. One of the good things about Bach - which I think Wil touched on, is that there are no rules. That's fine for the practice room, but in a Jury situation, watch out, especially if there are cellists judging. In that case, there is only one way to play Bach - Their way;)
  20. After meditating on it a bit, I've come to the conclusion that it isn't really my place to offer any opinion about how to interpret the Cello Suites and I'm sorry if I opened a can 'o' worms. The Suites are what they are - an important musical legacy from JS Bach , and each person has to come to their own descision on whether or not to play them and how to go about doing so. Good luck to those who are up to the challenge.