J.S. Bach: Six "Cello" Suites, arranged for solo saxophone by Paul Wehage
Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, Baritone Sax, Soprano Sax - Advanced
Composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Arranged by Paul Wehage. Baroque Period, Etudes and Exercises, Repertoire, Recital. Score. 88 pages. Published by Musik Fabrik (S0.244421).
Item Number: S0.244421
During the period between 1717 and 1723, J. S. Bach was in the service of Prince
Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen in Brandenburg. Prince Leopold was a great lover of
music, but the Calvinist Religious services at Cöthen did not permit any religious
music outside of the simple psalm settings of the Calvinist service . During this
period, which Bach considered to be the happiest of his life despite the sudden death of
his first wife Maria-Barbara, Bach devoted himself to writing instrumental works for
both the Collegium Musicus, the municipal orchestra that was under Bach’s direction
and for whom he wrote his famous Brandenbutg Concerti and for the musicians of the
Court. Apart from the Brandenburg Concerti, other works which date from this period
include several of the orchestral suites, the first book of the Well-tempered Clavier, the
Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, the Solo Sontates and Partitas for Violin and the Six
Suites for Cello.
The Six Cello Suites were written after the series of Solo Sonatas and Partitas for
Violin and what is especially striking is the relative simplisticity of texture in
comparison to the Violin works. The Dutch Cellist Anner Byslma has suggested that
Bach had to simply the fugue movements of the Violin works to make them playable
and found that the simplified textures implied the harmonic structure just as well. The
Cello Suites would be, according to Bylsma, a further exploration of a more minimalist
texture, which would account for the relative lack of ornamentation.
The general structure for each of the six suites is similar, an opening prelude followed
by a series of Dance movements in the following order ::
«Galanterie » (sets of Minuets, Bourées or Gavottes in an ABA form)
The opening preludes are composed in the typical « Durchfurun » or « spun out » style
typical of these works of Bach and use various arpeggios and scalar figures to set both
the tonality and the general mood of the suite to follow. Of special interest is the
Prelude of the 5th suite, which is in the form of a Ouverture à la Française much like
the Overtures of Baroque Operas. In the second « fugato » section of this movement,
Bach implies the entrance of the various voices rather than actually writing out all of
the lines as he does with his Violin Fugues in the Sonatas.
While the particular movements which follow carry the titles of Baroque Dances, it is
doubtful whether they were actually intended to be music for Dance. Indeed, one
might be tempted to wonder just how much dancing was done at the court of a
Calvinist Prince. However, Bach does follow the general forms of the dance works,
although they do not seem to be ideally suited for Baroque Dance.
The Allemande during the time of these compositions was a slow, stately dance in
duple time. Quantz, in his book of Flute performance practice, says that the Allemande
should always be played with the beat on the half note. These movements also tend to
exploit the « Durchfuhrun » style with a clearer phrase structure than the Preludes.
The Courante movements were refered to as « Corrente » in the first published edition
of 1825 by Norblin. The « Corrente » is a rapid virtuoso instrumental work in 3/4
influenced by the Italian school, as opposed to the slower Courante which was a
French Court Dance which was danced in Six beats to the measure. The Courante of
the 5th Suite would seem to be more of a true Courante. It would seem that the others
were more influenced by the « Corrente » style, although they are clearly marked as
« Courante » in the manuscript sources.
The Sarabande is a slow dance in ¾ with the usual accents falling on the second beat.
The study of Baroque Dance would indicate that the Sarabande is a bit more rapid than
has generally been though and that the accents do not always fall on the second beat,
but may fall on the first beat for melodic interest. Bach frequently changes accent
patterns throughout these Suites, so one must follow one’s instincts in this matter.
The « Galanterie » or optional dances follow more closely the forms which are
indicated by the Dances. Most of these movements would indicate a steady tempo, but
contrasting tempi and dynamics should be explored in the second dance of each pair.
It should be noted that it was common practice to omit the repeats during the da capo
of each first dance.
The Gigue movements may be divided into three seperate groups ; The French Gigue,
was is a more simplified version of a standard dance movement, (the Gigue of the 5th
Suite), A more virtuoso treatment of a Gigue Rythmn (the Gigue of the 4th Suite) and
Gigues which explore a more complex rythmic structure which underlies the basic
triple structure. Of Special note are the Gigues in the Second and Third Suites which
use « ground » bass notes in much the same was a hurdy-gurdy to create more rustic
sound. While the passages are usually simplified in arrangements for winds, the editor
has chosen to retain these passages in this form, for although they add a bit of
difficulty to the work, their omission generally makes the movements much less
There is a great deal of discussion as to whether it is more appropriate to adopt a more
« period instrument » approach to the performance of these works by playing them
more objectively or whether one should follow the example of Pablo Casals and
« interprete » them in the 19th century tradition. Personally, the editor feels that the
solution lies somewhat closer to the historical, objective approach, especially in the
context of performing these works on the Saxophone, as the expressive qualities of the
sound itself will already add another element to the musical content. These issues , as
well as the question of which repeats should be taken, where there should be additional
ornamentation or which tempi work, are all questions of personal taste. There is no
simple right way to play these works, which is why they have fascinated musicians for
so many years.
In terms of the transcription of these works for the Saxophone, the editor can point to
the works of Bach himself, which were frequently transcribed by the composer himself
for difference mediums. Indeed, if one follows the Bass line of the Fourth Suite, it is
apparent that this particular movement was not originally conceived for the Cello but
was arranged from another source. It is probably that Bach himself arranged the first
movement of the Partita for Solo Flute from a work which was originally for a string
instrment. The change of instrumentation does not appear to be an important issue for
Bach in these particular works.
The editor has chosen to present the 1st 2nd , 4th, and 6th suites in their original keys.
The key of the 3rd and 5th Suites are both presented one tone higher than the original keys,
to make the works playable on the Alto Saxophone. The idea of tonalities having some
sort of special colour is certainly true in music which uses mean tuning, but in the
« well-tempered » music of Bach, equal tuning makes these considerations almost
meaningless. In any case, the notes that Bach heard were not the notes which are
played on modern instruments. Until we have Saxophones which are made to be
played in tune at 415 instead of 442, these issues do not really have bearing on
The notation of the chords as grace notes is intended to facilitate the reading of the
score. However, the harmonies and linear content implied should be sensed aurally
through an effective use of ressonance and line. In general, the lowest notes should be
emphasised to indicate the underlying harmonic structure. Making the chords
« sound » without being able to actually play the notes together on different strings is a
very subtle exercise, but which is possible with a good aural imagination and a good
idea of what one wants the works to sound like.
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