Bach Violin Partita 3 vs Cello Suite 6

Edited: January 22, 2018, 10:34 AM · I've just noticed today that the Gavotte in Bach's Partita 3 for violin and Suite 6 for cello are the same. Sincerely, I've been a little upset about that. It's not that it's a variation of a theme, but the theme itself. I don't know, imagine you listen for the first time to an oboe concerto from Bach and you notice it's very much the same as the double violin concerto. It would be upsetting.

How is it that Bach uses the same melodies and structure in 2 different pieces?
Or am I missing something?

Do you know other examples of this?
Other pieces or composers.

Replies (27)

January 22, 2018, 9:27 AM · Similar in parts but definitely not identical - and definitely in different keys. Being gavottes you would expect similar structure.

Give the guy a break - think of how many times Vivaldi wrote the "same" concerto!

January 22, 2018, 10:31 AM · Bach borrowed whole concertos from Vivaldi and rearranged them for different ensembles. Tunes too were sometimes passed between composers, and folk/popular tunes were a never-ending source of inspiration - Paganini is a good example with his numerous duets for violin and guitar. All this was commonplace in those days, unlike some of the dreary and overbearing copyright legislation we have to put up with today.

An important difference between Bach's solo violin and cello works is that he was writing for two entirely different instrumental sonorities. Two examples in the cello suites are #5 which requires a scordatura tuning of the A down to G, possibly because Bach may have had the lute in mind; it is playable (just) without scordatura but looks, and can sound, awkward without a high level of technique. Furthermore, the sonorities and resonances that Bach would have had in mind with the scordatura would be reduced or absent with normal tuning.

Cello suite #6 is a very special one-off in that he was writing for a 5-stringed cello, with an E string above the A. Here, he is taking advantage of the 5 strings to provide elaborate chordal structures, such as in the Sarabande. This suite is usually played on a 4-string cello (only a very few cellists have had a 5-stringer made for performing it), and here, as with a non-scordatura #5, adjustments have to made to the chords for playing on 4 strings. A really solid high-position technique is de rigeur if there is no E string!

Edited: January 22, 2018, 10:38 AM · Oh, yeah, but waltzes are dances too, they usually go in 3/4 although they can be in 4/4. There are a lot of different melodies and progressions in waltzes, different rhythms as I just said, all of them are still waltzes, but are different from each other.

So I guess "they are the same french dance" should not be an excuse. Also,the key is just how sharp or flat melodies are, it surely doesn't count as a difference between two melodies.

I don't care at all if Beethoven includes some excerpts of his symphonies in his violin concerto or vice versa, that's alright. But these solo pieces I believe should have that evidence of "copying" the same melody. I think that when you compose something for a solo instrument it must be quite unique.

Vivaldi composed more that 200 violin concertos, hahahaha, that's insane, but I have not found yet that the most important "theme" or melody in one of his concerts is also the most important "theme" or melody in a different concert; or at least I'm not aware of it. Anyways it would be 230 pieces vs 9 (violin partitas and cello suites).

Yeah, I'm aware that a lot of melodies and works are based all in the same folk tune or something, but I guess I expected these suites and partitas to be very unique for solo instruments, at least from each other, and noticing this kind of upset me a little bit.
I thought there would may be an explanation?

January 22, 2018, 1:41 PM · Beethoven wrote a piano concerto version of his violin concerto; it seems some sponsor wanted it. Beethoven himself performed it and it has been performed very, very occasionally in modern times (there are one or two recordings on CD, I believe). I've listened to a recording but I'm not all that impressed - a lot of the spirit is lost transferring from the violin to the piano, and the piano version doesn't really match up to his real piano concertos. Not a win-win situation, but where there's a sponsor ...
Edited: January 22, 2018, 9:26 PM · Look at Bars 14-15 in the D-Minor Allemande and again 11-10 bars from the end of the E Major Gavotte en Rondeau. Same lick, different key.

The theme of Mendelssohn's Op. 12 Canzonetta appears with uncanny fidelity in Schumann's First Symphony (I just noticed that for the first time a few days ago). I don't know which was composed first.

Mozart rearranged stuff for different instrumentation all the time. You could be playing a Divertimento and realize it's the same theme as a piano sonata. I think in his day that kind of thing was expected, not just tolerated.

Edited: January 23, 2018, 11:05 AM · Like a character turning up in different novels.
January 23, 2018, 12:27 PM · Or Shakespeare and Falstaff.
January 23, 2018, 12:49 PM · If you want to compare that to novels, to me is like, yeah, a character turning up in different novels THAT has the same lines with almost same words in all of its appearances. That's how it feels to me if you want to compare it to a novel.

You wouldn't be comfortable reading a novel where a character kind of repeats itself, right?

Edited: January 23, 2018, 2:52 PM · Unfortunately, Bach's FB account has been suspended, so you can't contact him directly. File your grievances with St. Gabriel or one of the archangels.
Baroque era was more environment-friendly that ours... so composers recycled their music all of the time.
Edited: January 23, 2018, 6:40 PM · Tim, JK Rowling wrote several novels fitting that very description and now she's a blithering billionaire. Maybe we're the ones in the wrong biz.

Shakespeare drank Falstaff? Better than Schlitz I guess.

January 23, 2018, 7:43 PM · Actually musicologists have recently discovered a missing document dated to the Leipzig council in 1730 charging Bach for "negligence" in musical materials that sounded too similar to each other. It cited several examples including the gavottes mentioned above.

Bach was fined with a reduction of eight logs of wood that winter and four extra hours of teaching rhetoric at the Thomasschule for two months.

Bach was reportedly very rude and told a council member, "One of them is in a rondo and the other one has pastoral drones in the second gavotte. Why you think they sound the same is beyond me."

The musicologists speculate that this episode led Bach to begin writing and compiling his B minor mass in a bid to move to Dresden, away from these unreasonable council members. It's a fascinating paper. I think it might be published by U of Southern North Dakota.

January 23, 2018, 10:10 PM · Lol Dorian, wouldn't that be fun if it was true :)

Tim - what parts is the same?

January 23, 2018, 11:24 PM · Bach's third harpsichord concerto in D major is an arrangement of his violin concerto #2 in E major, one whole tone down.

This was not unusual compositional behavior in the Baroque era.

Edited: January 24, 2018, 3:58 AM · OK you guys better stop talking and unveiling secrets so you don't destroy my Gods, aight?

...2 weeks later... and for your information, it's been recently discovered that Vivaldi and Bach were the same person, and those names are fake, the real person behind them was a korean villager, Hsueng Takemoto.

Edited: January 24, 2018, 1:04 PM · In all seriousness echoing Mattias, which parts are the same? They have different phrase and harmonic structures...

They aren't direct arrangements like the ones Mary Ellen cited.

Edited: January 24, 2018, 7:46 PM · Trevor, I read recently it was Clementi who asked Beethoven to redo his violin concerto for the piano. I don't know whether Clementi was a sponsor as such. Possible other reasons are:
1. The violin concerto had failed, due to the disastrous first performance (One can't really blame Clement for not being able to perform it well at sight);
2. Clementi made his living manufacturing and selling pianos, so had a stake in seeing the piano repertoire extended.
One possible reason for Beethoven's compliance was that he thought very highly of Clementi. When I heard part of a Clementi piano sonata on the radio, I was was struck by the resemblance to Beethoven's early piano writing. I think Clementi must have influenced Beethoven almost as much as Mozart. Beethoven valued his music.
Another instance of a composer allowing arrangement of a concerto for another instrument when the first performance of the original had failed was the permission Elgar gave Tertis to publish the viola version of his 'Cello Concerto.
January 24, 2018, 7:40 PM · At a lecture he gave on Russia and England at Warwick University in the '60s, Geoffrey Bush played some Purcell on the piano. When questions were invited I asked him who had made that piano reduction of that ripieno from the Ode to St Cecilia (which I had played in at school). His answer, following a remark that no one had asked him about it before, was that Purcell had published both that keyboard piece and the Ode independently.
January 27, 2018, 8:19 AM · Beethoven's rewrite of his violin concerto Op 61 as a piano concerto is Op 61a.
Edited: January 29, 2018, 10:09 AM · The other day, when searching the Naxos database for recordings of Haydn's cello concertos I came across two cello concertos by Mozart, transcriptions made in today's era of a flute concerto K314, and a horn concerto K447. The practice is evidently still alive and well. Mozart composed no concertos for the cello (unlike Haydn) so these additions to the cellist's performing repertoire are very welcome.

The transcription of the horn concerto was by the Spanish cellist and composer Gaspar Cassadó; the transcriber of the other is not known.

"Transcription" of course is not just a mechanical note-for-note in these cases; it will involve arrangement and some compositional input by the transcriber.

January 28, 2018, 3:19 PM · I think we get the idea of transcriptions.

But I'm really not convinced by the OP's statement that the gavottes in the 3rd violin partita and 6th cello suite are the same...love to be proven wrong though!

Edited: January 30, 2018, 11:14 AM · This may be drifting off topic slightlty but I'm listening to Bach's Partita No.3 in E Major played by John Williams on the guitar (Columbia Masterworks M233510).Its a refreshing and beautiful rendition of how pedal notes should be heard.
January 31, 2018, 6:38 AM · Going with that slight drift off topic, I've heard the Bach Chaconne performed on the guitar by Segovia, and by Julian Bream. Both performances lead me to believe that that Chaconne was intended for the lute.
January 31, 2018, 8:12 AM · JSB did that with so many pieces of his life. They are wonderful compositions that ought to be played and enjoyed by different instrumentalists.

Also, he got a big family with lots of children to feed, and he needed to transcribe the same composition for different instruments to make some quick bucks in order to keep the family alive. This is completely understandable.

January 31, 2018, 8:59 AM · Another lovely transcription of the Chaconne played on guitar is Christopher Parkening.Very satisfying to hear the opening with solid chords.
Edited: February 5, 2018, 3:12 PM · But they're not the same at all! They're both gavottes but otherwise, they're pretty different. The gavotte was a popular folk dance in Bach's time and he used it as a form in lots of instrumental music. They have similar structure, tempo, chord progressions. But they're not the same any more than two Bach sarabandes are the same.

If you play them both (and note, there are violin transcriptions of the 6th Suite, so if you're a violinist, you can), I think of the gavotte in the suites as a little more brilliant, a little more virtuosic in approach (though it's not difficult). Whereas the gavotte in the E major partita (which is harder to play) should be lighter, emphasizing the dance quality more - try to channel a country fiddler when you play it.


February 9, 2018, 10:58 PM · "Oh, yeah, but waltzes are dances too, they usually go in 3/4 although they can be in 4/4..."

Um, huh?

If it's in 4/4 it's not a waltz.

February 10, 2018, 4:18 AM · Bach's suites for unaccompanied cello and sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin have both been recorded recently on the mandolin by Robin Bullock and Chris Thile, respectively. Both sound beautiful on mandolin.

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