Bowing issue

November 7, 2022, 6:49 AM · Hi all,
In the process of practising Bach's G maj allemande from the cello suite. I am having trouble with having enough bow for the run of semiquavers in the first full bar of it. I have a Peters edition (Rowland-Jones), and I am doing all the slurs in it. By the time I get to that section, I only have about 1/4 of the bow to use.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Thanks in advance!

Replies (28)

Edited: November 7, 2022, 8:22 AM · Go to a different edition and you may well find different bowings! This can be a problem with modern editions (19th c and onwards) of baroque music, because the editors put in bowings that they believe are suitable, which may not always be appropriate for the genre.

Original scores of baroque music are remarkably bare, by today's standards, of bowings and other instructions (any dynamic other than f and p is rare), so I suggest, in order to ascertain the composer's specific instructions, going back to the autograph score whenever possible. In the case of the cello suites the closest we have to an autograph is Anna Magdalene Bach's copy of the now lost original, which is believed to be reasonably accurate. This copy can be downloaded from IMSLP, so will merit some study to see how it would probably have been performed in Bach's time, and this would provide useful ideas for your own "edition".

I used this technique as a cellist when I studied the Bach suites, and more recently as a violinist when I was learning a Vivaldi concerto with my teacher. It immediately became apparent that the modern edition of the Vivaldi we were using wasn't doing the music any favours whatsoever, so with my teacher's permission I went back to the earliest edition I could find (sometime in the 18th c) and we successfully worked from that old edition, with pleasure I might add.

November 7, 2022, 8:28 AM · @Jake - from your post, it appears that you are playing this piece on viola. I also have the Rowland-Jones edition for viola. Trevor's point is a good one; it is always good to have a look at whatever edition seems to be closest to the autograph.

The problem with the cello suites, as Trevor points out, is that there is no autograph. What passes for the urtext (Barenreiter puts one out) is based on at least four sources, including Anna M.'s copy. If I recall correctly, the four copies agree on the notes but not much else, including the bowings. Indeed, if you look at Bach's autograph for the S&Ps, it is sometimes quite tricky to figure out which notes are included in a slur. Finally, the piece was written for cello, not viola, and may reflect bowings that work well for a cellist but not a violist. So, by all means, take a look at other editions including Anna M.'s but feel free to do whatever bowing works for you.

All that said, in looking at the Rowland-Jones bowing of the first measure of that Allemande, I assume you are talking about the seven notes slurred at the end of the measure. What I would do, is use a lot of bow for the chord, very little for the three slurred 16th notes and use the down bow on the next note to take you back to the tip so that you have the whole bow for the seven slurred notes. Hope all this helps.

November 7, 2022, 8:43 AM · https://imslp.org/wiki/6_Cello_Suites,_BWV_1007-1012_(Bach,_Johann_Sebastian)#IMSLP07437
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3utsPhpbKVQ
Edited: November 7, 2022, 8:45 AM · See if you can find an actual copy of the autograph and take that as your guide to slurring. You don't have to follow the vagaries of another performer (and it may just be an editor).
Edited: November 7, 2022, 9:03 AM · @Elise - there is no autograph. That's part of the problem. I think Rowland-Jones sticks fairly closely to what would be considered the urtext, and the bowing in his edition makes sense to me. If you look at Anna M.'s copy on IMSLP, the bowing of the seven notes slurred in Rowland-Jones version is three and then four. That makes it easier in some ways if Jake wants to follow that bowing but leaves you doing an up bow on the down beat of the next measure.
November 7, 2022, 9:19 AM · Eons ago, I think I played from a Henle or Baerenreiter edition that was thoughtfully close to the sources, to the extent possible. It might end up being a cleaner platform onto which you can transfer your own fingerings and bowings.
November 7, 2022, 9:22 AM · I think I read somewhere (may even well have been here) that R-J's edition is the closest we violists can get to a Urtext edition of these. But thanks Tom and Trevor, I'll take a look. I would ask my teacher, but I'm not seeing her again until just before Christmas (so a little while yet).
November 7, 2022, 9:24 AM · Thanks Tom - then surely you can do whatever you think sounds best (and that is within the style of the composer/period). i.e. don't sweat it!
November 7, 2022, 9:27 AM · And remember that slurs represent phrasing as often as they do bowings...
November 7, 2022, 9:33 AM · Jake - good luck! You need to do what works for you, be that R-J's bowing, Anna M.'s or something else. None of this is sacred. One thing that is important to keep in mind is that a bowing that works for cellists may not work as well for viola. It is possible R-J's choice of bowings work better for viola than Anna M.'s. I do not play cello, so I can't speak to that.
Edited: November 8, 2022, 10:49 AM · When playing a cello the lowest-pitch string is closest to the bow hand, unlike viola & violin where the highest string is closest to the bow hand.

This informs many bow strokes. If you ever play in an (amateur) orchestra and the conductor demands the cellos to follow the concertmaster's bowings* (and the concertmaster agrees) find another orchestra. (If the concertmaster doesn't agree, let them fight it out first to expand the conductor's education.)

* From the recesses of my mind I seem to recall such an event.

November 8, 2022, 11:54 AM · @Andrew - that's interesting. Can you please take a look at Anna M.'s copy at the measure in question and let us know how, if at all, a cellist would bow the last eight 16th notes differently from a violist?
Edited: November 8, 2022, 8:58 PM · My viola teacher mostly uses the Rowland-Jones edition but feels quite free to depart from it because of the lack of autograph. When I worked on the second suite earlier this year, she suggested that I print out the completely bowing-free transcription on IMSLP and consider what made the most sense for phrasing. I ended up using a combination of Rowland-Jones and Forbes bowings (those were the two editions I had), with some departures from both.

Perhaps think of the longer slurs in the Rowland-Jones edition as indicating phrasing rather than bowing.

November 9, 2022, 2:35 AM · Each time I play one of these piece I make up the bowing as the muse takes me. JSB doesn't seem to mind.
Edited: November 9, 2022, 7:39 AM · @Steve, @Andrew H. - Notwithstanding what the A-415 crowd thinks, as one of my teachers once said about playing Bach or any of the baroque composers, those composers could not possibly object to anything that made their piece sound beautiful. So, I agree that one should feel free to depart from the bowings. Indeed, with Beethoven, I find that a lot of his bowings are not very good.
November 9, 2022, 8:06 AM · I guess Bach was a string expert and Beethoven was not so much.
Edited: November 9, 2022, 1:16 PM · Tom, I think that teacher of yours was correct. So is Steve.

My cello version of the Allemande of the G-major Suite (and the one I studied) breaks the first full measure into 4 slurs:
2-notes (a downbow chord topped with B on the A string)
4 notes (last 3 notes of the first 4 16ths tied to 1st note of next 4)
4 notes (last 3 notes of the 2nd 4 16ths tied to 1st note of next 4)
3 notes (last 3 16th notes of the measure).

My edition of the viola version bows it differently (longer slur at the end of the measure) - fewer bowing strokes in measure #1 - more like the AM version I found - no reason to do it that way, that I can see - no reason for that measure to be bowed differently on viola than cello. I think how one chooses to bow all of these might depend on your technical level and what you are trying to use it for (i.e., "to gain from playing it.")

My cello teacher had me use the Schirmer editon of Bach's cello shites (edited by Gaillard). I like it. I have worked seriously on the first 4 of them and the Sarabande of the 5th (but only after I saw the Bergman's movie of the same name - just in case I ever had to play for a funeral).

I also have the Schirmer edition of the Bach Suites for viola and the same measure is bowed differently, pretty much like the AM version. Personally, I think string playing had advanced at least a century's worth between the composition and the 20th century editions of Bach's music.

I have watched many videos of performances of the Suites (I really like Rostropovich). They are pretty much all bowed differently in one way of another.

more later - I have to go. (I'm back 9;30 am, PST)

When I was studying the 1st Suite, in my mid teens, 72 years ago I looked on it as a exercise (or etude). When I studied the next 3 (in my 60s I tried to play them as music with emotional content) - big difference. I thought the Gaillard bowings generally fit either approach.

Yhe subject of this thread reminds me of the first time (almost 50 years ago) a violin student of mine got to Suzuki book 4 and the Vivaldi A minor concerto. The marked bowings seemed so anti-intuitive to me that I purchased another edition and used that with that student and all subsequent students. It was only many years later (n the 21st century) I realized that Suzuki was probably using that music to lead students into preludes to flexibility needed for virtuosity that many would probably never need (including me).

November 9, 2022, 10:03 AM · The Baerenreiter seems OK to me.
Edited: November 9, 2022, 11:08 AM · @Andrew V. - interesting. It is different from both R-J and Anna. I misread Anna, and she divides the last eight notes into two four-note slurs. The main thing about all three of the bowings is that you do the downbeat in the next measure on a down bow, which is normal and consistent with the baroque practice.

So, I guess almost everyone can do what seems best in that one measure. In fact, if you look at the various versions for violin, viola and cello on IMSLP, almost every possible bowing for that measure exists in one edition or another. Probably the main thing they have in common is the tying of the quarter note to the first 16th note and starting the next measure on a down bow.

@Hajime - I have read that Bach was a very good violinist and violist and that Beethoven was only so-so as a string player.

@Gordon - how does Barenreiter bow that measure?

November 9, 2022, 11:58 AM · I think Andrew's comments about which string is nearest the hand is a very insightful one. I had not considered that before but it must be a factor for any viola transcriptions of cello music. I have the Arsenault edition of the Bach Cello Suites Nos. 1-4 for violin. They are great pieces. I bet some of the movements would sound great on the oboe.
Edited: November 9, 2022, 1:55 PM · "how does Barenreiter bow that measure?"
The same as anna magdalena - four notes to a bow.

November 9, 2022, 3:04 PM · @Gordon - thanks. It is certainly a sensible way to do the bowing.

For all of you interested in this discussion, one thing I learned in poking about a bit concerning Anna M.'s copy is that it is not thought to be a direct copy of JSB's autograph but a copy from another copy. Interesting.

November 9, 2022, 3:31 PM · Martin Jarvis is a useful person to look up on the Cello Suites (He was misreported as regards theories about adultery)
November 9, 2022, 3:37 PM · @John - so what does he say?
November 9, 2022, 4:08 PM · Paul the biggest difference is how one bows a bass-to-treble chord.
Next is probably the right wrist angle to get the proper/conventional angle of bow hair to the strings.

what kind of passages start up bow or down bow are affected by some of these differences as well as player differences, of course.

Edited: November 10, 2022, 3:00 AM · Coincidentally, I've been comparing the BWV1006 Gigue - Baerenreiter with Szerying.
There are only two bars that are different, but the difference is interesting. Anna Magdalena's slurs can be very sketchy (especially in the BWV1007 prelude), which gives the possibility that there's no such thing as an Urtext that doesn't contain some editorial interpretation.
November 9, 2022, 6:33 PM · In all of this, it is worth finding out the range of what Bach might have expected people to do in response to his instructions. Without that, you have no chance of getting into his creative process, which would be a real shame.

At the same time, it's also remembering that he was fond of transcribing music-- his and others'-- and that by using post-Tourte bows on composite strings, we've already gone down that path.

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