Bach Johann Sebastian Suite BWV1011 transcribed for string quartet by Richard Tunnicliffe



Bach Johann Sebastian Suite BWV1011 transcribed for string quartet by Richard Tunnicliffe

FE 1056         Bach’s Cello Suite in C minor BWV 1011, transcribed for String Quartet

I have been playing Bach’s cello suites for as long as I can remember, and they are probably the first classical music with which I really felt a strong affinity. A large part of their fascination for me has always been the many extra parts which suggest themselves – as one of my teachers at the RCM wisely remarked “there’s no such thing as unaccompanied Bach” – and so I began to compose figured bass parts to some of the movements for my own instruction and also for teaching purposes. It was therefore but a small step to try to make fuller arrangements of these wonderful pieces. There are many inspiring examples to draw on, not least Bach’s transcriptions of his own and others’ works, but also the many imaginative transcriptions of the early 20th century, by such composers as Rachmaninoff, Kreisler, Busoni, Elgar and Respighi, not to mention Webern.

Something which quickly becomes apparent in the study of these pieces is the predominance of pedal points and, in playing the Prelude of 5th suite, I have always wanted to hear the opening bars with the low C and G pedals sustained. I initially intended to arrange just this movement, partly also to try my hand at realising some of the fugal implications of the second part, but then other movements presented themselves. The Sarabande, despite the bare single line texture, is full of rich harmonic implications and has in fact always reminded me of the Et incarnatus passage from the Mass in B minor. Gavotte 1, with its beguiling cycles of fifths, also lends itself well to a fuller arrangement and of course the whole suite was arranged by Bach for the lute (BWV 995) though largely in a 2-part texture.

Where there is clear part-writing (as in the Gavotte mentioned above) the process of transcription is relatively straightforward. Difficulties arise, though, when the blending of melodic and harmonic aspects is more ambiguous, or where there is an element of improvisation, both of which occur in the Allemande. In such places I have taken rather more licence!

Richard Tunnicliffe, August 2020

Score & parts £15