Tempo in Cello Suites

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Baloo
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Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Baloo » Thu Sep 27, 2018 7:38 am

Hi,

In the Bach cello suites, is a player expected to keep the tempo the same from piece to piece, or let each one go at its own pace?

I know my own preference but would be interested to know the convention is.

I am cycling the Sarabande and Bourrées from suite 3, which I remember. I learnt them from Richard Wright's transcription, which I still have somewhere but can't get at just now. I was thinking of learning the Gigue and then working backwards from the Courante, but I don't really want to learn by transposing the cello score because I am bound to find that find that the fingering I end up with doesn't work with whatever RW has added. I looked for a recording of RW's arrangement online but no luck so far. If anyone is aware of one please let me know.

Conall
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Conall » Thu Sep 27, 2018 7:59 am

Tempo of Baroque dances vary depending on the type of dance, for example a sarabande should be slow / slowish & stately whereas a gigue should be fast or relatively brisk.
The easiest quick & most pleasurable way to get an idea of tempi is to listen to these suites played on cello & particularly baroque cello (because they are usually / supposedly more "historically informed".

dmcmurray
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by dmcmurray » Thu Sep 27, 2018 8:54 am

I also agree, I have found listening to the pieces played on cello is most helpful and inspiring. For me, listening to them on guitar sometimes limits my creativity for interpretation. The cello is a bit removed from the guitar mechanically so the musical ideas are less attached to technique.
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Conall
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Conall » Thu Sep 27, 2018 9:01 am

Here is a link to a doctoral thesis on the 5th cello suite:

https://etd.ohiolink.edu/rws_etd/docume ... 598/inline

In it there is some information about the individual dance movements & tempi among other things. See pages 12-17 especially.

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rojarosguitar
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by rojarosguitar » Thu Sep 27, 2018 9:29 am

If you listen across the different recordings on cello, you will se some kind of a general tedency, as described above. There great differnces tghough, what slow or brisk actually means. And especially with preludes I think there is a lot of freedom of how you want to take them, IMHO.
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Crofty
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Crofty » Thu Sep 27, 2018 6:31 pm

Conall wrote:
Thu Sep 27, 2018 7:59 am

The easiest quick & most pleasurable way to get an idea of tempi is to listen to these suites played on cello & particularly baroque cello (because they are usually / supposedly more "historically informed".
They also display a remarkably wide range of tempi, one to the other, though.

But I agree that one would expect the first place to look [listen], for someone interested in Bach's cello suites, would be recordings by cellists, and in particular those specialists who actually play a baroque cello.

As with most music now everything, just about, is available on youtube etc.

Paul

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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by DerekB » Thu Sep 27, 2018 6:56 pm

I am working on Stanley Yates's edition of the Cello Suites. He has a lot of detailed information on performance. He quotes contemporaries of Bach who commented on his brisk tempi when he was performing.

It is worth noting that the suites are in increasing levels of difficulty for the cello which applies more or less to their difficulty on the guitar. If you really enjoy the suites (and I am finding more and more to enjoy in them) it is worth buying a complete set. Opinions differ on which is the best edition. Yates's makes some of the movements easier to play than many but not all of them sound as good. For example the Prelude of the first suite sounds far better in D major rather than C major.
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Crofty
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Crofty » Thu Sep 27, 2018 8:14 pm

If anyone is seriously interested in the cello suites then copies of all six [for the cello] are available online for nothing. Since they are a staple of the cellist's repertoire there is also a wealth of opinion and advice available - also for free - and some excellent video classes.

You can then transpose them directly to the treble clef [remember that the lowest note on a cello, C, is not much lower than that of the guitar - D is quite common and C is not impossible either.

You can then try playing them without necessarily going through the guitarist's syndrome of placing them at a higher pitch and then finding it's a bit thin and you need to add bass notes - which Bach managed perfectly without.

My own view is that they were composed by Bach in the way they were, to a large extent BECAUSE of the pitch of the cello and it is at the original pitch that they therefore work best. They are certainly very skilfully composed in a way that does without bass lines. Implied basses and implied harmony for just basic skills for him.

Even if, in the end, you don't choose to go down this route it's well worth experimenting with.

Paul

Conall
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Conall » Thu Sep 27, 2018 8:44 pm

Crofty wrote:
Thu Sep 27, 2018 8:14 pm
If anyone is seriously interested in the cello suites then copies of all six [for the cello] are available online for nothing. Since they are a staple of the cellist's repertoire there is also a wealth of opinion and advice available - also for free - and some excellent video classes.

You can then transpose them directly to the treble clef [remember that the lowest note on a cello, C, is not much lower than that of the guitar - D is quite common and C is not impossible either.

You can then try playing them without necessarily going through the guitarist's syndrome of placing them at a higher pitch and then finding it's a bit thin and you need to add bass notes - which Bach managed perfectly without.


Paul
Yes, and one of the easiest way to arrange these suites is to borrow someone else's arrangement & transpose them for free in Musescore! There are sometimes mistakes but there are often some good transcriptions that are no worse than some of the published ones!

https://musescore.com/user/12088996/scores/2901791

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Mark Clifton-Gaultier
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Mark Clifton-Gaultier » Fri Sep 28, 2018 8:28 am

Crofty wrote:My own view is that they were composed by Bach in the way they were, to a large extent BECAUSE of the pitch of the cello ...
Not only pitch but sonority, speaking time, natural sustain, timbre etc. They are intrinsically bound up with the technicalities of the instrument which is where the real art of arrangement lies ... how might we recreate that compositional/instrumental synthesis when transferring the music to the guitar?

We should be more careful regarding the language used around the cello suites. Describing them as not having a bass is plain wrong ... and misleading to the extent that arrangers often don't even apprehend the lower voice already provided by JSB, many times destroying its effect through the addition of weaker offerings of their own.

The inclusion of senza basso in the title-page description does not mean that there is no bass "line" but serves to further clarify that there is no intention, indeed no requirement, to provide a figured bass accompaniment.

Cellists are as guilty as guitarists in not seeing the wood for the trees in this regard; mere "note players" for the most part, apparently unable to spot even the most obvious examples.

The "lute" version of suite five, while it gives us a clear example of how Bach might have made use of the more flexible contrapuntal possibilities of the guitar, is remarkable when one examines just how little is added ... where this occurs and why. Even then, being composed in such an overtly French style, it doesn't really offer a reliable model for the other suites, merely a glimpse of Bach's process.

Another example might be drawn between the violin partia (sic) BWV1006 and its counterpart BWV1006a - here too additional bass support is minimal, very often a simple, one-pulse indication followed by silence.

In a nutshell - it would be fruitful to spend a good proportion of one's early study of this music working with the original cello score, with at least some attempt made to understand the musical construction before adding anything at all.

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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Crofty » Fri Sep 28, 2018 8:59 am

Mark Clifton-Gaultier wrote:
Fri Sep 28, 2018 8:28 am
Crofty wrote:My own view is that they were composed by Bach in the way they were, to a large extent BECAUSE of the pitch of the cello ...
Not only pitch but sonority, speaking time, natural sustain, timbre etc. They are intrinsically bound up with the technicalities of the instrument which is where the real art of arrangement lies ... how might we recreate that compositional/instrumental synthesis when transferring the music to the guitar?

The inclusion of senza basso in the title-page description does not mean that there is no bass "line" but serves to further clarify that there is no intention, indeed no requirement, to provide a figured bass accompaniment

The "lute" version of suite five, while it gives us a clear example of how Bach might have made use of the more flexible contrapuntal possibilities of the guitar, is remarkable when one examines just how little is added ... where this occurs and why.
I have often wondered if, taking the logic of all the above, once Bach had written music which, as you write, is intrinsically bound to the instrument for which he was composing, he then felt [fairly obviously] that what was created was complete in itself. It does seem clear that that was the very point of what he was doing.

My own concern with guitar arrangements, and players accepting them as almost "authentic" Bach is that, to my ears anyway, they lose far too much by being in a higher register and gain absolutely nothing by adding bass notes, ostensibly to provide a pseudo basso continuo - but really just to "fill" the sound.

Sometime more really is less...

Paul

Conall
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Conall » Fri Sep 28, 2018 10:05 am

I believe the suites do work best on the cello in the original key & pitch.
Failing that, a guitar with a low C playing from the cello score is 2nd best in my opinion - which is why I play them on 8 string guitar.
Transposing to guitar friendly pitches without adding anything makes them lighter and does expose some "holes" in the bass because the bass no longer is low enough to sound like a bass!
Even in the original scores there are instances where I strongly suspect a bass note or 2 has been "left out" because it is impractical to play it on the cello.
So another solution is to ask a composer / baroque specialist / musicologist & performer to suggest a little (but minimal) addition to the bass only where it could really do with it to strengthen the bass when the piece is transposed to a higher key.

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Mark Clifton-Gaultier
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Mark Clifton-Gaultier » Fri Sep 28, 2018 11:52 am

Crofty wrote:My own concern with guitar arrangements, and players accepting them as almost "authentic" Bach is that, to my ears anyway, they lose far too much by being in a higher register and gain absolutely nothing by adding bass notes, ostensibly to provide a pseudo basso continuo - but really just to "fill" the sound.

Sometime more really is less...
Agreed, which is not to say though that it can't be done.

It hardly needs stating that Bach can be enjoyed on many levels - from the simple "wash of sound" delivery by the likes of Parkening through to the more thoughtful renditions of Leathwood, and encompassing everything between - e.g. the highly personal interpretations of Bream or eccenticities of Segovia.

What's "best" will always be highly subjective - a lover of the guitar may well find that an arrangement of BWV1007 in D and making full use of the instrument's resources will be entirely satisfying.

Meanwhile, a lover of Bach could just as easily be less than impressed by the very same performance simply due to the considerable impact on affect brought about by the change of key.
Conall wrote:I believe the suites do work best on the cello in the original key & pitch.
There is no doubt that, particularly in the case of Bach, a performance on any instrument other than that originally proposed will lose something and that effects brought about through transposition will be further compounded by loss (or change) of sonority. By the same token however I believe that we have at least the possibility to gain something different in exchange.

A problem lies in the fact that most often the person making the transcription is not an expert on the original instrument, the baroque period or Bach, nor a composer of any great skill, but primarily a performance specialist on the guitar.

Crofty
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Crofty » Fri Sep 28, 2018 12:06 pm

Conall: I agree about the occasional bass note being a good solution. In the prelude of the G major suite, for example, I add just one low D [in original key of course] so I think that "occasional" is the right word. Obviously the first thing to check on is whether Bach COULD have added an appropriate bass note and them, if he could, why didn't he - and if he didn't it, does it really add anything? On occasions I feel that, on a non-bowed instrument, it does

Like you I play an 8 string guitar plus an 11 string tuned to 415,, so a theoretical baroque pitch. The depth of the lower notes certainly helps - but having a really, REALLY good instrument is vital.

My guitars are by Philip Woodfield and his son, Oliver Woodfield-Moore and are fantastic. Philip is becoming a fine cellist himself and plays some of the Bach suites. I think the ability to "hear" a sound in one's head is a great asset for a luthier - especially if they can then reproduce it in an actual instrument!

I'm not remotely an expert in this field [or any other that I can think of come to that] but I love the music and also want to respect it. Given that some famous cellists have made three recordings of ALL six suites, spread over many years, I am very conscious that I am nowhere near unlocking the way to a definitive version of any of them. But it is very gratifying making the effort.

Paul

Conall
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Re: Tempo in Cello Suites

Post by Conall » Fri Sep 28, 2018 2:43 pm

That's interesting Crofty - as you say, like you I have an 8 string - but have also ordered an 11 string - from an alto guitar specialist (Heikki Rousu) though mine won't be pitched in G.

Re adding notes I largely agree with you and Mark above about it can work on guitar if done carefully & with some knowledge of Baroque conventions. In fact I remember a former lecturer who is a Baroque specialist (harpsichord) asking me why I didn't fill in the chords at cadences (in particular) in some early ensemble piece. He was looking at it from the point of view of a continuo player - as it would be natural for him to fill in the implied harmony as one would be expected to do with figured bass.

Another question though is whether to fill in the "missing" treble note at those cadences in the suites where the last note is a tonic bass note only instead of the upper tonic after a leading note of V - I. A good example is the last bar of Menuet 2 from the 1st suite - the leading note jumps down to the low tonic instead of ascending a semitone as you would expect. And interestingly Menuet 1 instead ends "correctly" - and also includes the low octave!

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