Introduction to Bach Cello Suites

Edited by Werner Icking (IMSLP)
Translated by google-translate
Courtesy of Faith Farr

The present edition of Bach’s suites for solo cello is mostly based on the manuscript Anna Magdalena Bach wrote between 1727 and 1731. Because this manuscript in particular is often very imprecise or even arbitrary in the slurs, three other manuscripts were also consulted for comparison, those of Johann Peter Kellner (around 1726) and two anonymous copyists dating from the second half of the 18th century. Another helpful resource in working out this edition was the book by Richard R. Efrati, Performance and Interpretation of the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin and the Suites for Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach [Versuch einer Anleitung zur Ausführung und zur Interpretation der Sonaten und Partiten für Violine solo und der Suiten für Violoncello von Johann Sebastian Bach] (Atlantis Verlag, ISBN 3-7611-0550-9), which I can recommend to every player.

This edition of the suites is available as individual suites for cello, viola and violin, respectively, and as an edition with all suites for either cello or viola or violin. The cello edition is as close as I can get to the Urtext edition—which is hardly possible due to the imprecise sources. The only other option is to consult every reader and player about the edition for cello.

The editions for viola and violin are created by me. I don’t want to bind the player but offer a possible solution for difficult spots. I also have done the slurs according to all sources available to me and knowledge from sources of the time, for example from treatises by J.J. Quantz, On Playing the Flute, and Leopold Mozart, The Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing — looking for solutions that should be playable. I would like to emphasize that I tried to add as little as possible so that there are certainly other solutions.

The transposition for viola is up one octave; that for the violin with the exception of the sixth suite is up an octave and a fifth, so that these suites for the violin are also in a different key.

The fifth suite is written for a retuned instrument. Therefore, this suite is in two notations. The first is for the retuned instrument; the second for a normal tuned instrument. Some chords are not playable with normal tuning. The non-playable notes are set as small notes.

The sixth suite is written for a five-string instrument – adding an E string above the A string on the cello. That’s why I have not transposed this a fifth higher for the violin. Instead, a few passages for violin can not be played due to the lack of the C-string, which is also indicated. Because this suite is often in very high cello positions, I have indicated optional register in the edition for viola, high octave in many places but low octave in others; these places are labeled accordingly.

Trills are usually noted as tr in the manuscripts. Often these trills come with a long anticipation and then played as a single or double impact trill. So e.g. in bar 2 of the Sarabande of Suite I: notated is played — or in bar 4 of the following minuet: notated is played . If the trill note is dotted, the anticipation is given the length of the non-dotted note, e.g. in measure 12 the Sarabande of Suite IV: notated is played .

The suites are set with MusiXTEX; therefore also a thank you goes to the authors of MusiXTEX. I used part of the suites for the initial input PMX and the ones generated by PMX MusiXTEX sources were then reworked in places where more than the capabilities of PMX were necessary. I would like to thank the author of PMX, Don Simons, especially for those improvements to PMX made from my experience in setting the suites. This collaboration has been tremendous fun. This also applies to the development of the dashed slurs, which William P. Houser provided valuable help in developing.

Finally, I would like to pass on the advice I read somewhere: Most suite movements are dances. You can play them better if you know how to dance them, or imagine dancing them.

Werner Icking
D-53721 Siegburg, Farnweg 28