About this Recording
8.573625 - BACH, J.S.: Cello Suites, Vol. 1 - Nos. 1-3, BWV 1007-1009 (arr. J. McFadden for guitar) (McFadden)

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750)
Cello Suites • 1: BWV 1007–1009 (arr. guitar)


The Cello Suites of J.S. Bach were hardly known even among professional musicians for a century and a half after their composer’s death. It was the great Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals, who discovered (on the day his father purchased for the young prodigy his first full-size cello) ‘at an old music shop near the harbour’ in Barcelona, a copy of the Six Suites for Violoncello.

Casals studied and worked at these pieces every day for the next 12 years and waited until he was 25 years old before he dared to perform them in public. As Casals explained in his autobiography:

‘Up until then no violinist or cellist had ever played one of the Bach suites in its entirety. They would just play a single section—a Sarabande, a Gavotte or a Minuet. But I played them as a whole: from the Prélude through the five dance movements, with all the repeats that give the wonderful entity and pacing and structure of every movement, the full architecture and artistry. They had been considered academic works, mechanical, without warmth. Imagine that! How could anyone think of them as being cold, when a whole radiance of space and poetry pours forth from them! They are the very essence of Bach and Bach is the essence of music.’ – Joys and Sorrows, Reflections by Pablo Casals, as told to Albert E. Kahn, London: Macdonald, 1970, pp. 46–47

Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909), the great guitar maestro and foremost arranger for his instrument of the late-19th century, transcribed the Bourrée I–II from Cello Suite No. 3, BWV 1009. Andrés Segovia (1893–1987) later became particularly captivated by the Prélude from Suite No. 1, BWV 1007, and the Courante from Suite No. 3, BWV 1009 (published 1928), recording them in 1935.

In the late 1950s the English composer and critic, John W. Duarte (1919–2004) arranged Suite No. 1 and Suite No. 3 with the assistance of John Williams (b. 1941) who recorded both suites in December 1958 for his debut album on the Delysé label. These two Suites were published by Schott Music in 1965 and in due course Duarte completed arrangements of all six Suites. Since then a considerable quantity of Bach’s pieces arranged and edited for guitar have been published including the so-called ‘lute suites’, violin sonatas, and partitas for keyboard, etc.

Over the years more than a dozen new arrangements for guitar of the Cello Suites, whether single suites or a complete set of six, have been published. The reason for this is surely that transcription, as with translation from one language to another, carries concepts that have to be revisited periodically to bring contemporary thinking and fresh research to bear on the art of arrangement. Thus we are pleased to applaud Jeffrey McFadden’s extension of the Bach tradition with this superb transcription of all six Suites of which this recording is the first volume.

Bach is believed to have written the Cello Suites while at Cöthen, a town in Saxony some 19 miles north of Halle, where the composer was employed as Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen, between 1717 and 1723. The original manuscripts for these have been lost and the earliest source is in the handwriting of Bach’s wife, Anna Magdalena.

Structurally, each of the six Suites contains six movements, beginning with a prélude and ending with a gigue, while in between are old court dances, allemande, courante and sarabande. Following the old dances Bach brought into the suite a more modern dance, either a menuet, a bourrée, or a gavotte.

The allemande was a popular dance form originating in Germany in the 16th century. By the 18th century the allemande had become a stylised concept well removed from dancing. The pace of the dance is quiet and steady. The courante is invariably rigorous and rapid, providing a contrast to the allemande. With the courante’s title derived from the French verb ‘to run’, this is a bubbling, effervescent movement of a brilliant kind. The sarabande, a slow, stately dance which originated in Spain, is the emotional centre of the Suite with enormous depths of stillness, sadness, and expressiveness. Its characteristic feature (similar to the Polish mazurka), is that with three beats to a bar the middle beat is the accented one.

Menuets, bourrées, and gigues remind us of the rhythmic momentum of the original dances. The menuet (Suites Nos. 1 and 2) is a graceful movement with three beats to a bar, sometimes followed by a second menuet, the first menuet then being repeated. The bourrée (Suites Nos. 3 and 4) is another French dance, similar to the gavotte but quicker, followed by a second bourrée and then the repetition of the first one. The gavotte (Suites Nos. 5 and 6) is bright in mood and starts halfway through the first bar providing an energetic rhythmic pulse.

Each Cello Suite opens with a Prélude. Suite No. 1 has an introductory movement in arpeggiated form which has gained great popularity among guitarists. The Allemande and Courante are followed by a dignified Sarabande, with a repeated Menuet II framing Menuet II. The Suite ends with an extremely lively Gigue.

Suite No. 2 opens with an extended Prélude, building up to a magnificent finale of arpeggiated chords. An Allemande and Courante lead to a Sarabande of considerable variety both melodically and rhythmically. Menuet I is repeated to frame Menuet II, before the final vigorous Gigue.

Suite No. 3 presents a powerful Prélude that covers almost the entire range of the guitar. A very intricate Allemande is paired with a Courante (made famous by Segovia in terms of the guitar). A magnificently expressive Sarabande, leads on to a pair of well-known Bourrées, with their unforgettable melodic inventiveness. The concluding Gigue is a virtuosic work with both momentum and contrapuntal complexity.

Graham Wade

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