Playing Bach on the Guitar. Pt 3.

In Part 1 we considered some mathematical aspects of Bach’s music, in Part 2 emotion in music generally, and now in Part 3 we can start looking at playing the music of J. S. Bach on the guitar. He wrote nothing for the guitar itself, so we can be open to his entire body of work. We will exclude the lute suites because they are well known with good editions available (by Koontz), and I'm not well acquainted with his cello suites. I have, however, grown up around his violin music, though to be honest, not with an actual violinist at hand!

Bach wrote a set of six sonatas and partitas for solo violin. Each of the three sonatas has four movements: slow-fast-slow-fast, the first two of which are a prelude (of some description) and fugue. The three partitas are in the form of allemande, courante, saraband, and gigue: dances, slow-fast-slow-fast again. However, Bach is flexible with the ‘standard’ format of the partita; there are both omissions and additions.

Opening bars of Bach's 1720 manuscript for the Fugue for solo violin BWV1001


Many of the individual violin works are well known to the guitarist because they appear in his works for lute - although whether Bach scored these as such, or were contemporaneous arrangements is not clear. The Fugue BWV 1000 for lute appears in Sonata no. 1 BWV 1001 for solo violin, pictured above, and recorded by Julian Bream on the guitar, below. The Prelude from the E major lute suite BWV 1006a appears in the solo violin Partita no. 3 BWV 1006, the orchestral Sinfonia BWV 29, and again in the Cantata BWV 120a.

Julian Bream playing the Fugue BWV 1000, for lute, a.k.a BWV 1001 for violin.

It matters not we play these on guitar. Violinist Sigiswald Kuijken said: 

“…Bach’s language [in these violin suites] is not any different from that of his other works. In other words, it isn’t violin music as much as it was Bach written on the violin.” So I trust we do not offend Bach's memory with the guitar.

Now, what music do I choose for the remainder of this post, and Part 4 up next?

Partita no. 2 in D minor for violin BWV 1004 could well be a part of our popular guitar repertoire but is not. This particular suite 'contains', if that's possible, the great Chaconne. This fifth and extended movement is well known to most classical guitarists, being debuted in Paris 1935 by Segovia, and featuring on concert programs ever since. Likewise many editions of the Chaconne are available, both good and bad. As said, this is not true of the first four dances. For lack of good editions perhaps? That issue is now solved, and these four dances will be the focus of Part 4 to follow.


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