Part 4: J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 in Dm, BWV 1004 Transcribed for Guitar 

The previous three parts of this small series on J.S. Bach leads to this: a new transcription for the guitar of the Partita No. 2 in Dm BWV 1004 for unaccompanied violin by Bach – the first four dances only. (The fifth movement Chaconne being widely available in good editions already.) Up to now any guitar arrangements of these gems have been hard to find, let alone good ones. Those of Pepe Romero seem the exception, and what follows is sufficiently different to be a worthwhile addition to our repertoire. 

i Gigue. This is the fourth of the dance movements in order, however, for now it serves best to start here. A gigue is the archetypal baroque party piece: a dance—a jig—needing to be light of feeling and brisk of tempo. S. Blanc describes this one as ‘composed of a series of ascending or descending sequences of repetitive motives that can be highlighted by dynamics that follow their shape.’[1]


The first four bars of the Gigue.

Carl McTague, mathematician and violinist both, says: 

'The ability of the single linear line to suggest a harmony is clearly rooted in the capacity of the listener to recall at once several of the past notes and to reconstruct them mentally into a functional harmonic framework.'[2] 

This quote at once highlights Bach’s genius, the violin’s limitations, and where the guitar can shine; Bach’s genius in writing so deep a single line, the challenges of the violin in holding sustained chords, and the ability of the guitar to do just that. The current fingering in the Gigue explicitly demonstrates this harmonic framework, here shown for clarity in red. These chords are not only implied in the single line of notes, but formed by the guitarist's left-hand, as tempered by the exigencies of (hopefully!) seamless position changes.

ii Sarabande. A Sarabande is a slow triple time dance with emphasis on the second beat, and here the third of the four dances if played in order. This is a true musical gem, and I do not know why it is not more widely played. Lack of a good transcription perhaps? Look no further!


Sarabande by Bach, Transcribed and played by A. Plummer

We need not be fanatical about rhythm, note lengths, and ornaments. Dorottya Fabian has said: 

[A] “gestural” rather than metronomic performance is more appropriate. Keeping a constant beat while playing with a degree of liberty and freedom projects a performance in which melodic embellishments sound improvised at the spur of the moment; an historical characteristic of baroque performance practice and the prerogative of all accomplished baroque performers.[3]


The first four bars of the Sarabande.

The guitarist and editor Frank Koonce said of playing Bach’s music: 'don’t compromise any ‘small embellishment’ or ‘virtuosic flourish’ by rhythmical ‘pedantic exactitude’.[4] In other words, enjoy it! 

iii Allemanda. This is the opening dance of the Partita, and in performance should remain so. Allemanda is a dance of moderate speed in duple time. This arrangement features the campanella – cross-string - technique. This is stylistically correct, it being reminiscent of harpsichord or lute music.


The opening bars of the Allemanda.

This particular piece is more melodic than contrapuntal, and it does not need to be fast.[5] To quote McTague again: 

'With nothing more than a lonesome linear voice Bach weaves an amazingly complex and deeply moving musical passage possessing delicate and intricately interconnected structures.' 

iv Corrente. The Corrente is a brisk, lively dance in triple time. This is the second of the dances as presented by Bach. Here, it seems simpler to use straight-line scales with slurs - no more than strictly necessary - for technical reasons. A note on the rhythm: Lewis Caplan has encouraged ignoring the dotted crotchets because he thinks Bach didn’t mean it.[6] Ridiculous nonsense. Don’t do it. Bach has gone to a great deal of trouble to write these out; far easier to simply write crotchet-quaver, that would have been naturally understood as triplets. It is exactly these rhythmic variations that give this dance its character and vitality.


The first four bars of Corrente.

The complete scores for all four of these dances will be published within a larger text entitled Expression and Fingering Techniques on the Guitar. However, pre-prints of these scores are available on request. 

Alan Plummer 

[1] Blanc, S. J.S. Bach Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor BWV 1004 Educational Edition with technical indications and comments by George Enescu ed. Serge Blanc. 

[2] C. McTague, ‘The Allemanda of Bach’s Second Violin Partita (BWV 1004) available at 

[3] Fabian, D., ‘Towards a Performance History of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin: Preliminary Investigations.’ In Essays in Honour of László Somfai: Studies in the Sources and the Interpretation of Music, Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2005: 87-108 

[4] In Johann Sebastian Bach, The Solo Lute Works, ed. Frank Koonce, Neil A. Kjos Music Co. 2nd ed., 2002.  pxvi 

[5] This arrangement features the campanella technique 

[6] Lewis Caplan, ‘’A shocking Surprise’: Uncovering Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin no. 2 in D minor BWV 1004.’ The Strad, 5/8.2021, available here

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