Faculty of Performance, Visual Arts and Communications

School of Music


Bach Solo Cello Suites: an overview of editions - George Kennaway

Performing editions of Bach’s Suites for solo cello BWV 1007-1012 include one of the earliest annotated editions of any string music, and one of the most extreme examples of a performing edition. They also outnumber performing editions of Bach’s solo violin sonatas and partitas. Five performing editions of the suites were published in the 19th century (including two different editions by Grützmacher), and two complete editions with piano accompaniment were published in the 1860s. There are concert reviews of unaccompanied performances of selected movements and of complete suites from the late 1850s. Alfredo Piatti played various combinations of movements (sometimes from different suites) in many concerts from 1859 to 1873, and the complete G major Suite unaccompanied in 1873. His performance of an unidentified Sarabande and Gavotte in London in 1860 wasreviewed as 'displaying his incomparable command of the violoncello' [Illustrated London News, 25 February 1860, p. 179].Some movements from the G major Suite were particularly well received in 1866:

Signor Piatti created a profound impression in the suite of pieces by Bach, his execution of which was nothing less than astonishing. [Anon. (1866 MW1): 367]

He also performed this suite with his own piano accompaniment in 1892 and 1893, although his pupil William Whitehouse said that this was not a success:

Piatti wrote a pianoforte accompaniment to all the six suites for ’cello alone, but the appearance of the first of these in G was met with such indignation and abuse that he would not have the others printed. [ Whitehouse (1930): 93] 

In fact, press reaction to his performance with piano was occasionally favourable. The Athenaeum  thought ‘the improvement in effect […] undeniable’ [Anon. (1892 Ath): 864], and the Musical News [Anon. (1892 MN): 604] said that Piatti ‘delighted the audience with his masterly playing’ of the suite. His edition of the G major Suite was eventually published posthumously [Piatti (1911)]. 

Jules de Swert performed two movements unaccompanied in the Leipzig Gewandhaus in 1870, a performance which was preferred to Grützmacher’s accompanied performance later in the same season: 

Am besten wirkte Herr Grützmacher in den Stücken Air und Gavotte von J. S. Bach. Letzterer warden jedenfalls’ noch mehr zur Geltung gekommen ohne Clavierbegleitung und wir erinnern uns, dass Herr J. de Swert im 2. Gewandhaus-Concert dieselbe ohne Accompagnement spielte und zwar mit grossem Erfolg. [Anon. (1870): 59] 

Piatti played the C major Bourrée in London in 1866 – this was described as the ‘first time’ [Anon. (1866 MW2): 348]. Jules de Swert published an arrangement with piano of the Allemande and Gavottes from the sixth suite in 1867, and a larger selection of accompanied movements c.1870 [Swert (1867 and c.1870)]. In 1867, Friedrich Grützmacher played ‘a whole Suite (without any accompaniment, no. 5 in Dotzauer’s edition)’ in Halle, at least some movements unaccompanied in Dresden, and a complete suite in Meiningen (‘... eine ganz Suite (ohne alle Begleitung, Nr. 5 der Dotzauer’schen Ausgabe)’. [AmZ (1865 and 1867); Anon. (1867 AmZ)]. Wilhelm Fitzenhagen arranged an unspecified Sarabande for cello and orchestra in 1887 (Berlin: Luckhardt – no copy has been found), and Ferdinand von Liliencron published four miscellaneous movements (accompanied) as a ‘Suite’ the same year (Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel). In 1894, Julius Klengel played in Vienna what was described as Bach’s ‘D major sonata’, possibly the second sonata for viola da gamba but more probably the sixth suite, ‘a task at once difficult and unthankful enough, but in which he displayed complete mastery over his instrument’ [Anon. (1894): 408].  The 1904 Bach Festival in Leipzig included a performance by Klengel of the fifth Suite, reviewed by Charles Maclean: 

Julius Klengel’s tour de force, Bach’s No. 5 Suite in C minor for violoncello solo, was wholly astonishing. Those dreary violin solos (a twelfth higher), with the performer struggling with four-part chords which exasperatingly upset the rhythm at every other bar, are known to patient concert goers, and it is a pity they ever leave the class-room. Here there was no such sense, and perhaps Klengel also had a rather flat bridge. He gave twenty minutes of this without a flaw of intonation, and one would not have wished it a minute shorter. [ Maclean (1904): 734-5]

As the title pages show (see table 1 below), they were initially published as cello exercises; the term Suite is not used in printed texts of these works until Grützmacher’s edition. Norblin may have edited the 1824 Janet et Cotelle/Probst edition (he is credited in the preface with a successful search in Germany for ‘ce précieux manuscrit’), but this is not entirely clear [Bach, Six Sonates ou Etudes (Paris, Janet et Cotelle, [1824]), unpaginated preface]. They were also arranged in their entirety for solo violin by Ferdinand David (1866) and for solo piano by Joachim Raff (1870-71), and used as teaching material, for examinations, and for conservatoire competitions. William Whitehouse describes playing the C major Prelude (unaccompanied) for a competition at the Royal Academy of Music adjudicated by Joachim in 1881 [Whitehouse (1930): 92], and cellists could choose any movement from the suites for the Metropolitan Examinations (L.R.A.M.) of the Royal Academy of Music [Anon. (1881): 322]. Complete editions with piano accompaniment were published by Friedrich Stade and by Karl Gradener in the early 1870s, and  Stade also published the sarabandes separately. Individual movements (with piano accompaniment) were popular concert items well into the 1920s. Public performances of complete cello suites, unaccompanied, were relatively rare in the nineteenth century. These works lacked the advocacy of a cellist equivalent to Joseph Joachim, whose performances of Bach’s violin works enjoyed almost institutional status in the later nineteenth century, and their 20th-century canonicity is unquestionably due in large measure to Casals’s performances. But these works enjoyed currency in various printed forms from 1824 and in concert performance from 1859, and were far from unknown.

As a text, the Paris edition is seriously defective, with many misprints. Several bars are completely garbled; there are numerous single wrong notes (often misplaced on the neighbouring line or space); there are five bars missing from the sixth suite’s prelude. Later Bach Suite editions generally do not repeat these mistakes. There however two readings in the Paris edition which do recur in later editions and arrangements: syncopations  are introduced in the first suite’s Gigue (figure 1 shows the first example, but there are several more throughout the movement), and  the Bourrée movements in suites 3 and 4 in the Paris text are entitled ‘Loure’. The Loure designation is retained in the editions and arrangements by David, Raff, Piatti and de Swert.The syncopation persisted in many subsequent editions including Dotzauer’s and Grützmacher’s (the latter adds even more), even after their removal in the Bach-Gesellschaft edition by Dörffel (Breitkopf & Härtel, 1879). My copy of the Becker edition carries pencil annotations by the Scottish cellist Marie Dare (1902-1976; my teacher 1966-71) which include these syncopations. 

Figure 1: syncopation in the G major Gigue

There are some performance markings in the Paris text: 

  1. slurring is indicated, but this is highly inconsistent and occasionally impractical
  2. there are some wedge-staccato markings 
  3. some fingerings, more for clarification than expression, some of which appear somewhat awkward. Fingerings almost always remain in lower positions, and the thumb is not indicated in low positions (later editions frequently use the thumb throughout the arpeggiated section of the C major prelude)  
  4. there are no directional bowing indications 

Table 1: Titles for 19th-century Bach cello suite editions.

Paris: Janet et Cotelle
Six Sonates ou Etudes pour le Violoncelle Solo Composées par J. Sébastien Bach.
Leipzig: Probst
Six Sonates ou Etudes pour le Violoncelle Solo Composées par J. Sébastien Bach. 
A re-engraving of the Paris edition, but without the preface.
Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel
Six Solos ou Etudes pour le Violoncelle. […] par J. J. F. Dotzauer.
The first detailed performing edition
Leipzig: G. Heinze
Joh. Seb. Bachs Sonaten für Violoncello Solo mit Begleitung des Pianoforte herausgegeben von Dr. W. Stade.
Leipzig: C. F. Peters
Six Sonates ou Suites pour Violoncelle seul. Par. J. Seb. Bach. Edition nouvelle, revue et arrangée pour être exécuté aux concerts par Fr. Grützmacher.
Grützmacher’s version for concert performance.
Leipzig: C. F. Peters
Sechs Suiten (Sonaten) für Violoncell von Joh. Seb. Bach. Herausgegeben von Fr. Grützmacher. Neue Ausgabe.
A second, less heavily altered: edition by Grützmacher.
Leipzig: G. Heinze
Joh. Seb. Bachs Sonaten für Violoncello Solo mit Begleitung des Pianoforte herausgegeben von Dr. W. Stade.
A revised version of Stade’s 1864 edition. This revision was subsequently published by Peters c.1888.
Hamburg: Pohle
Sechs sonaten für das Violoncell von Joh. Seb. Bach mit Klavierbegleitung von Karl G. P. Grädener.

Vol. 1 (Suites 1-3) pub. 1871; Vol. 2 (Suites 4-6) pub. 1872.


Leipzig: Steingräber

Sechs Suiten für Violoncell Solo von J. Seb. Bach [...] revidiert und bezeichnet von Robert Hausmann.

The first performing edition to be based on the Bach-Gesellschaft edition.


Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel

Sechs Suiten (Sonaten) für Violoncell. Genau bezeichnete Ausgabe für Unterricht und praktischen Gebrauch herausgegeben von JuliusKlengel.


Leipzig: C. F. Peters

Sechs Suiten (Sonaten) für Violoncello solo von Joh. Seb. Bach. Neue Ausgabe von Hugo Becker.


Paris: Salabert

Six Suites pour Violoncelle Seul. Analyse du phrase, doigtés, et coups d’archet par Diran Alexanian.

*For details of the editions by Stade and Grädener I am indebted to Knobel, 2006. This dissertation is the only currently available source of the Stade and Grädener texts. The British Library’s copy of the Stade edition is currently (2013) unavailable.

The Paris edition was the source for that published by Probst the following year, which retains the misprints, fingerings, dynamics, Loure movement titles, and tempo indications. Occasional differences are trivial. The violin arrangement by David  and Raff's piano arrangement both derive in part from this text. It appears that the Paris publication did not circulate widely. Very few copies survive, whereas the Probst text is widely available. It is significant that Carl Gradener’s preface to his accompanied edition (1871) referred to Probst’s edition as the earliest one, as did Wilhelm Altmann [Altmann (1922): 206-7].

The first edition to present a musical text of the Suites free from the most egregious errors was that by Julius Dotzauer (1826). On its first appearance, it aroused almost no comment. Reviews in German journals of Dotzauer’s other cello publications in the same year ignore his Bach edition, and almost the only relatively early reference to it comes in a passing mention from 1838:

It was the custom in the time of Bach, in festivals and before the communion, to perform a solo or concerto upon some instrument […]. It was to this custom that we owe, in all probability, the origin of the celebrated solos for the violin and violoncello; the latter, we understand, have recently been published by Dotzauer […]  [Anon. (1838): 260] 

However, this edition was reissued in new engravings by Breitkopf in 1866 and 1890. A survey of music for the cello in 1893 included Dotzauer’s Bach under ‘Exercises’, describing them as ‘difficult, but extremely interesting and perhaps the most useful for study in the whole of the violoncello literature’ [Legge (1893): 353]. Hugo Becker refers to this edition, along with Grützmacher’s revised edition, in his notes for his own edition for Peters c.1907. It was listed in Pazdírek’s catalogue of printed music c.1906 [Pazdirek (c1906)], and remained current well into the 20th century.

Dotzauer’s edition is lightly fingered, marked with slurs but with very few other articulation markings apart from occasional staccato dots, almost no directional bowings (apart from the redundant tire[z] markings in the fifth and sixth suite’s Gavottes), and adds no dynamic markings other than extending Bach’s own in the sixth suite’s prelude (where Dotzauer continues the echo effect by analogy as far as possible). There are instances where Dotzauer appears to favour a more flowing approach to bowing, with the addition of longer slurs where the Anna Magdalena Bach MS (AMB) appears to have none. This could represent Dotzauer’s attempt to regularise slurring where AMB is often highly inconsistent, or reflect a changing taste with a move towards a predominantly legato form of expression. Examples include the fourth suite’s Allemande, which is almost entirely slurred in groups of two or four notes. The two-note slurs follow AMB, but Dotzauer’s longer slurs appear to normalise AMB’s markings in the direction of longer groups rather than separate notes. Dotzauer also provides tempo markings for each movement, apart from the minuets in suites 1 and 2, and subtitles the second Gavotte of the sixth Suite ‘La Musette’, alluding to its open D string drone. His fingerings occasionally imply portamenti, as in the second suite's Sarabande. Dotzauer, Romberg, and Kummer were all attracted to the tone quality of the higher positions on the D string, which Dotzauer called ‘moelleux’ (mellow) in his Violonzellschule.

The 1860s and early 1870s showed a striking upsurge of interest in the Suites, with editions, transcriptions, and arrangements by Grützmacher, David, Stade, Raff, and Gradener. Friedrich Grützmacher’s 1866 edition, 'arrangée pour être exécutée aux concerts', is the most remarkable performing edition of any string composition in the nineteenth century. Chords are added to reinforce dynamic accents, portamenti are explicitly indicated (‘gliss.’), numerous passages are altered (sometimes solely to enable a particular bowing effect), varied endings for repeated sections are provided, two-part contrapuntal textures are created wherever technically possible, ‘drone’-type open strings are added, and the fourth suite’s Courante is totally recomposed (only Bach’s opening four bars remain). The sixth suite, written for a five-stringed cello with an upper E string, is transposed down a fifth to G, which necessitates the upward octave transposition of the lowest notes. The much less extreme edition published by Grützmacher as the ‘Original-Ausgabe’ c.1867 retains the elaborately detailed dynamics, fingering, and bowing, but does not add notes or recompose passages (he does, however, suggest an ossia passage in the third suite’s Sarabande which changes two bars from G major to G minor). ‘Gliss.’ markings are almost all removed. These Grützmacher editions constitute the only example of an editor publishing two quite different performing editions of the same work. The footnote on the first page of Grützmacher’s second edition, which refers to ornamentation and to the Bach-Gesellschaft edition, must have been added to the original plates after the latter was published in 1879. Grützmacher's 'Original-Ausgabe' may have been intended as a comparison text in the spirit of David edition of the solo violin works, which gave a transcription of Bach's autograph MS in parallel with his own version.

David’s version for solo violin, from almost the same time at Grützmacher's edition, treats the suites as preparatory studies for the solo violin works. David changes some passages, although to nothing like the same extent, and occasionally introduces other variant readings. Some of his altered passagework agrees with Grützmacher’s concert edition. Suites 1-5 are given transposed up a fifth, but the sixth suite is given in the original D major. He gives the 'Loure' movement titles from Probst, but avoids that text’s errors. David’s articulation markings are particularly detailed. Almost every non-slurred note carries a ‘wedge’ staccato marking, apart from sections where the marking is dispensed with after a few notes – David is rather more punctilious in this respect than in his other editions, as is well demonstrated in the first suite’s Courante. ‘Tucked-in’ dotted rhythms are normally written with a line on the dotted note and a wedge on the short note. David uses staccato dots under a slur quite sparingly in the suites (no. 1, Minuet II; no. 3, Loures I and II; no. 4, Allemande – inconsistently with wedges – Corrente, and Loure I; no. 6, Gavottes I and II). He uses unslurred dots even less often (no, 2, Minuet II; no. 3, Loures I and II; no. 4, Loure I). David seems to have a preference for staccato dots in the lighter dance movements. His wedge markings appear to be associated with a firmer bowstroke, almost certainly detaché rather than a modern staccato. David also introduced phrasing which is not supported by any extant source. In particular this takes the form of very long slurs, and short slurs which go across the beat. The latter trait is consistent with his attitude to phrasing as demonstrated in other texts associated with him, and resembles the general approach to phrasing taken by the Viotti/Kreutzer school.

The two editions with piano accompaniment which appeared in 1871 and 1872 are textually interesting but have fewer performing indications. Stade draws on the Probst and Dotzauer editions, somewhat favouring the former where these editions disagree. Editorial markings are few, but Stade does provide fingerings and distinctive bowings, sometimes of questionable practicality. Grädener (1812-1883) uses a combination of Probst, Dotzauer, and Grützmacher, as he describes in his preface. Both retain the Loure movement titles. Grädener gives the G major Gigue without syncopation – possibly the first printed edition to do so. However, many other details of bowing and fingering are changed, almost certainly by Grädener himself, who began his musical career as a cellist in Helsinki (1835- c.1838) before turning to conducting and composition [Knobel (2006), citing Niemann (1911-12) and Stephenson (1963)]. Grädener’s compositions included several chamber works for strings, and a cello sonata).

The title page of Robert Haussmann’s edition makes reference to all the available MS sources and all printed editions (including the Bach-Gesellschaft edition), but in practice his footnotes refer only to the Anna Magdalena Bach and Kellner MSS. Compared with any earlier editor, Haussmann is almost totally self-effacing. Bowings are clearly derived from the MS sources, fingerings are almost all functional rather than expressive, there are no added dynamics, and tempo indications are only given in the form of metronome markings. The influence of the newer Gesamtausgaben on styles of editing for performance can hardly be better demonstrated than by this edition.

If Haussmann appears to have shared Joachim’s more austere approach to editing, his restraint was not always imitated by later cellists. In particular, while the post-Haussmann editions by  Klengel and Becker remain textually more or less reliable, they are more liberally provided with performance markings. Klengel’s edition includes expressive dynamics, articulation markings, bowings, and fingerings. Fingerings are detailed but in general not particularly indicative of expressive effects. There are exceptions, such as the first suite’s Minuet II, the second, third, and fifth suites’ Sarabandes, and the third suite’s Gavotte II, but these are few and not especially prominent. Becker’s edition goes further than Klengel’s. He adds almost continuous dynamic nuances, detailed fingering with more expressive implications than Klengel’s edition and more frequent excursions to high positions on the lower strings, articulation markings (using both dots and lines under slurs), tempo indications and nuances, and both metronome marks and mood indications. Becker refers in his footnotes to the editions by Grützmacher and Dotzauer, which suggests that these were still current in the early years of the 20th century.

Diran Alexanian’s 1929 edition comes almost at the end of our historical period, and stands at the opposite extreme from Grützmacher’s concert version in that it is almost impossible to conceive of its being used as a performing text at all. The lengthy preface is largely given over to an analytical methodology which dictates a highly idiosyncratic notation. Alexanian’s edition is, in fact, a logical continuation of his treatise on cello playing [Alexanian (1915/1922)] which adopts an extremely quasi-scientific approach to every aspect of cello technique. Alexanian’s edition was not the only one to attempt an analysis of the suites through performance markings; both Enrico Mainardi (Mainz: Schott, c. 1941) and Paul Tortelier (London: Stainer & Bell, 1966, rev. 1983) produced editions of this type. Alexanian’s professed – and surprisingly limited – aim in producing this text is to ensure that the player does not accent the music incorrectly. To this end, he devises a notation built on an analogy with syllabic enunciation.

I was afraid of the false accents that imperfectly trained players might produce through sudden reflex movements […]; inversely, I was also afraid of the changes in direction in the bowing and undecided displacement of the left hand in the attack of the initial notes of groups. […] it therefore became imperative to elaborate a new system of musical writing […] that would make it possible to syllabify the work, and to determine a logical application of accents based on natural laws. [Alexanian (1915/1922): iii]

Alexanian appears to favour playing in low positions as far as possible, and gives no markings that imply portamento. His fingerings are extremely detailed, routinely specifying the string as well as the finger. Dynamic markings are almost totally absent; there are no tempo markings either in words or as metronome markings; bowings appear to indicate phrasing and frequently overlap in an attempt to analyse phrase-structures and the functions of individual notes within them, as in figure 2.

Figure 2: opening of G major prelude in Alexanian's edition

It is striking that the editions of the Suites in the period under consideration range between the extremes of individual interpretation on the one hand (Grützmacher) and the virtual suppression of the individual in the interests of textual, or technical, accuracy (Haussmann, Alexanian). Two factors may partly account for this: the lack of an authoritative MS source in the composer’s hand (such as is available for Bach’s solo violin works), and absence of canonic status for these works that might have been conferred by regular performances by leading players. Indeed, a cello canon in general does not emerge much before the twentieth century. These editions also exemplify in miniature the general trend for performing editions to become more detailed around the third quarter of the nineteenth century and then to become less so as textual clarity becomes more important. With Alexanian’s edition, the musical text has become a manifestation of 1920s Bauhaus modernism, ‘a machine to think with’ in Ivor Richard’s words (Richards (1925) 1)], the textual equivalent of Sullivan’s ‘form ever follows function’ [Sullivan (1896)], or of Loos’s ‘ornament is crime’ (Loos (1908)].

GK 2012, rev. 2013.


Alexanian (1915/1922). Diran Alexanian, trans. Frederick Fairbanks. La technique du violoncelleParis: Mathot.  Dated by the author 1910-1914.
Altmann (1922). Wilhelm Altmann, ‘Zur Verbreitung von Bach’s Sonaten und Suiten für Violine bzw. Violoncell allein’, Die Musik 15/3.
Anon. (1838). ‘Reviews’, Musical World 8: 260.
Anon. (1865). Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 5: 355. 
Anon. (1866 MW1). ‘Monday Popular Concerts’, Musical World 9 June: 367.
Anon. (1866 MW2). Concert advertisement, Musical World 2 June: 348.
Anon. (1867 Amz). Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 5: 178. 
Anon. (1867 Ath). ‘Musical and Dramatic Gossip’, Athenaeum 2082: 377.
Anon. (1870). Musikalisches Wochenblatt 1: 59.
Anon. (1881). ‘Metropolitan Examinations of the Royal Academy of Music’, Musical Standard 21:322.
Anon. (1892 MN). Musical News 3: 604.
Anon. (1892 Ath). Athenaeum 3399, December 17 1892: 864.
Anon. (1894). ‘Echoes from Abroad’, Musical Standard 47: 408.
Knobel (2006).  Bradley J. Knobel, Bach Cello Suites with Piano Accompaniment and Nineteenth-Century Bach Discovery: A Stemmatic Study of SourcesD.M.A. thesis, Florida State University College Of Music, 2006.
Legge (1893). Robin H. Legge, ‘Music for the Violoncello’, Musical Opinion and Music Trade Review 16: 353.
Loos (1908). Adolph Loos, 'Ornament und Verbrechen[Ornament and Crime], lecture given in Munich, 1908, published in Loos, Trotzdem 1900-1930. Innsbruck: Brenner, 1931.
Maclean (1904). Charles Maclean, ‘Bach Festival Impressions’, Musical Times November 1 1904: 734-5.
Niemann (1911-12). Walter Niemann, ‘Karl Georg Peter Grädener’, Die Musik 11/2: 67-78.
Pazdirek (c1906). F. Pazdírek. Universal Handbook of Musical Literature. 12 vols. Vienna: Universal.
Piatti (1911). Bach, ed. A. Piatti. Oeuvres classiques éditées d'après les originaux et pouvues d'un acc. de Piano No. 4. Mainz: Schott.
Richard (1925). Ivor Richard. Principles of Literary CriticismLondon: Kegan Paul.
Stephenson (1963). Kurt Stephenson, ‘Grädener, Karl Georg Peter’, Neue Deutsche Biographie vol. 6 (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1963), p. 708.
Sullivan (1896). Louis Sullivan, 'The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered', Lippincott's Magazine 42: 403-09. 
Swert (1867). Bach, ed. Jules de Swert. Allemande und GavottenBremen: Cranz.
Swert (c1870). Bach, ed. Jules de Swert. Compositionen für Violoncell mit Begleitung des PianoforteBerlin: Simrock.
Whitehouse 1930. William Whitehouse. Recollections of a Violoncellist. London: The Strad Office.