Bach - 6 suites for viola (cello) solo - Sheet music download
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"…all history of the Mediaeval German Poetry and music leads to Bach". A. Schweitzer
Today both amateur musicians and lovers of music are familiar with J.S. Bach's cello solo suites (BWV 1007-1012). However, little is known of how the Suites were created.This most probably, they were written in 1720/21 during Bach's service as bandmaster in K?then.
The present transcription is based on the facsimile edition of the four separate “autographs” made by “Baerenreiter” in the year 1995.1
As it’s known no autograph manuscript by Bach survives. But there are four trustworthy eighteenthcentury sources. The first one, (Quelle A), Anna Magdalena Bach’s copy, c. 1730, probably made from a lost autograph. The other one (Quelle B), is a copy by Johann Peter Kellner, made c. 1726. This is a copy from a different original, but was it the handwriting of J.S. Bach or another copy of any of his student is unknown. The third and fourth manuscripts (Quellen C and D) are the anonymous copies, made in the second half of XVIII century from a common source, probably not the autograph.
Three of these manuscripts – Quellen A, B, and C – are stored in Berlin, in Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, the fourth – Quelle D – in ?sterreichischer Nationalbibliothek, Wien.
These four autographs have some divergences in the text. At a choice of bowing marks the editor was guided by the common knowledge of baroque polyphonic music stylistic, the historical, cultural and religious background of cello suites, and by his intuition as a performer by .
The question which instrument is the sixth suite written for is discussed for almost half a century. In this context are meant such instruments as violoncello piccolo, viola pomposa, and viola da spalla. In the above mentioned manuscripts only Anna Magdalena Bach apart from the mentioning five-string instrument (a cinque cordes) gives also its tuning. The instrument that all of suites are written for, in three of four manuscripts - Quellen A, C and D – is named as Violoncello. By Kellner’s copy – Quelle B – in French as Viola de Basso.
The word violoncello is explained by the Vocabulario degli Accademici della Crusca, the first lexical vocabulary of Italian, where violone is defined as “a large low-pitched viola, which is also called basso di viola and violoncello when of smaller size”. Pictures, writings and surviving instruments show that early violoncellos were made in different sizes, ranging from the size by the large viola to the modern full-sized violoncello. Unlike the present day, when small instruments are made only for the use of children, these smaller instruments were played by professionals.2
1 J.S. Bach. Sechs Suiten f?r Violoncello solo BWV 1007-1012. Die vier Quellen in verkleinerter Faksimile- Wiedergabe. B?renreiter, 1995
2 D. Badiarov. The Violoncello, Viola da Spalla and Viola Pomposa in Theory and Practice. -GALPIN SOCIETY JOURNAL - 2007 ISSU 60; page(s) 121-145
Due to its variable size and playing technique large bass instruments were held in at least three distinct ways:
Suspended vertically with the aid by the belt, scarf or a rope.
Supported vertically against the floor or a stool, near or between the legs with or without a spike or an end pin.
Suspended horizontally against the shoulder or across the chest, usually with an aid of belts, buttons or other devices, though these devices are not always mentioned.
Considering the common spirit of baroque composers to write music for already existing instruments, and the fact that J.S. Bach was not a pioneer, but a product of his epoch, «…absolute perfection of the baroque epoch» according to A. Schweitzer, it is possible to expect that all six suites were meant for the same instrument - violoncello piccolo with four or five strings. This instrument might have the body length of 45, 5 – 49 cm and could be played both da spalla – suspended horizontally as stated above, and da gamba - supported vertically between the legs. Bach, being proficient on violin and viola could have been one of the first to pay the Suites.
As to the form of suites, besides the main dances – allemande, courante, sarabande and gigue – Bach added additional movements – double menuet, gavotte or bouree, and prelude in the beginning of each suite. Just like Bach himself embodied the ending of the Baroque epoch, this cycle is a conclusion of the Italian dance suite style, maintaining transition to the instrumental sonata .
In this context a suite is a cycle of movements, connected with each other not only by means of the common key, but also by a common idea, themes, intonations, tempo peculiarities. The performer by is free to choose their tempo, but, in order to maintain the unity described above, it is necessary for each suite to set a "core" tempo, the variations of which would be used in each movement. For instance, the allemande-courante combination reminds us of the "movement vs double tempo movement" in the violin Partitas, so the corresponding ratio of tempos should be applied in the suites as well.
For the viola the Suites have been transposed one octave up. The 5th and the 6th require special attention. The 5th Suite is called “Suite discordable”. For its performance the A string was supposed to be tuned one step lower, as g?. It is up to the performer by , whether the instrument should be retuned for the 5th. Playing the retuned viola allows to render some chords fully, while the resonating lower g adds a special dark shade to the instrument's timbre, that enhances the c-moll key character and sonority. This edition contents both versions: with standard tuning and scordatura. The sixth Suite can not be performed on the viola in its original D major key (unlike the cello, the viola does not allow thumb position). So in this transcription it has been transposed not an octave, but a fourth up - to G major key.
Bowing, fingering and expression marks are not obligatory at all, but the editor would recommend a few rules to adhere. Such as: use the same bowing in sequence parts, not be afraid of open strings and try to retain one tone color for each melodic voice.
Expression. As is known, expression marks in music notation among the first were set by Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrielli, though till the end of XVIII century they used by composers extremely seldom. In particular regarding above manuscripts, only few of expression marks can be found (Bourre I of suite №4 and Prelude of suite №6). Nevertheless, to avoid the mechanical playing interpreter is free to use some expressions, choosing them due to tradition, agogic and music sense.
There are some common expression principals of the baroque music. For example, repeating fragment (not sequence) can be played with alternate contrast expression – once forte, once piano – so called “echo effect”:
It is also common to begin the development of the music idea softly (piano), coming to the relatively loud culmination – forte. It is necessary to mention, existing at the time of baroque, a so-called «rhythmic dynamics» principle, when slow movement of music matches expression mark piano and the fast one – forte. Trills generally are played from the above tone, except the case when the tone before the trill is one step over.
Mordent might be executed as follows:
The interpretation of appoggiaturas in baroque sources is described as follows: “…the length of the appoggiatura takes half from the following note, if duple, and two thirds of its value, if triple”
Chords generally are broken beginning with the ground tone except special marked cases when playing from top tone is feasible due to voice motion. Also it makes sense to be careful with the suspended tone after the chord – not always the upper voice is leading.
Turns should be played like this: