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9. My teacher wants me to work on the Bach Cello Suites. They're hard, and I don't really understand them. Can you help me get a start on playing these pieces? And what is a good edition of the Suites to play on trombone.

Sooner or later, every serious student of the trombone is going to work on the Cello Suites of Johann Sebastian Bach. While being profound music, they present unique challenges to the trombonist. I use the Suites with students beginning in their sophomore year, and am often asked by students and teachers alike about why I use them and how to begin approaching them with a player.

The Bach Cello Suites are among my most beloved pieces of music, despite the fact that they were not originally written for the trombone. They are (in my mind) truly inspired and when approaching them, I am always aware of the genius that created them.

I first learned of them in college when I was studying with Keith Brown at Indiana University (after my freshman year, I transferred to Wheaton College near Chicago where I studied with Edward Kleinhammer). On my junior recital at Wheaton (1975) I performed the 2nd Suite, and at least one movement of one of the suites (usually the 5th Suite Sarabande) has been on every professional orchestral audition I have ever taken (when auditioning for the Boston Symphony the 3rd Suite Gigue was on the list in addition to the 5th Sarabande).

I certainly don't approach these beautiful masterpieces as simply advanced etudes or studies. And while they can be useful for sightreading, the real benefit comes when one tries to plumb the expressive depths of the music and work them to a performance quality level. Looking at them like a Kopprasch etude might make it difficult for a student to "break out" of the etude motif when he actually gets around to working on the Suites as the great solo material they are.

Over the years I've used a number of editions of the Suites.

I began with the edition by Keith Brown (International Music 3148). It's typical of a number of "trombone" editions (including those of Robert Marstellar, et. al). Brown smooths out and breaks up double stops, eliminates most notes requiring the valve (although some valve notes are indicated as smaller, optional notes), and heavily edits each movement. Because trombone editions usually don't contain all the notes Bach wrote, I don't use these editions any more myself or recommend them very often for others.

When I began studying with Edward Kleinhammer, I purchased a cello edition - I looked for the cheapest thing I could find which happened to be an edition by Joseph Malkin (Carl Fischer 03439). This had the advantage of having all the notes as Bach wrote them (although there are mistakes and a few editorial liberties taken). However, this edition was also heavily annotated with phrase and dynamic markings.

While living in Baltimore (when I was a member of the Baltimore Symphony, from 1981-1985), I happened across an edition by Daniel Vandersall (distributed by Joseph Boonin, 831 Main Street, Hackensack, NJ 07601) which had the inspired idea of simply presenting Bach's notes with no phrasing or dynamics, trills or even ties. Just the notes, ma'am. This allowed me to pencil in phrasing that I liked without the distraction of pre-printed editorial markings. Each Suite was published separately which made for a rather expensive purchase (my parts, purchased in around 1983, ranged from $2 - $3 EACH - I have no idea what they cost now). I use this edition most often today. Trombonist Mark Lusk has published a version of the Suites with Ensemble Publications, available through Hickeys Music Center, Ithaca, NY) that contains an edited version of the Second Suite and, much like the Vandersall edition, all six Suites printed with no phrasing or dynamics so the performer can add his own interpretation and realization. Mark's edition comes with a CD recording of him performing the Second and Fourth Suites on bass trombone as well as an extensive written commentary on the Suites and suggestions on how to interpret them.

A few years ago, my Boston Symphony Orchestra horn colleague Daniel Katzen pointed me to a fascinating edition by Diran Alexanian (Editions Salabert SECA 16) which presents each Suite in a creative notation which accentuates Alexanian's interpretation of Bach's "hidden" phrasing and harmonic structure. Originally published in 1929, it makes for very interesting reading and study.

More recently, I have embarked on making my own edition of the Suites - a performing edition for trombone - which I will be uploading movement by movement to my website and which may be downloaded at no cost on my PDF Download Page.

Most important for study of the Suites was the publication, in 1991 (black and white photo reproduction), of a fascimile edition of the Suites. Please indulge me while I quote a bit from elsewhere in my web site on this subject, from my Bass Trombonist's Orchestral Handbook entry on the Bach Fifth Suite Sarabande

"We do not have a copy of the Suites in Bach's hand, however four copies exist from around the time Bach wrote them including one by his second wife, Anna Magdalena Bach (from around 1730) known as "Source A," one by Johann Petter Kellner (from 1726) known as "Source B" and two in unknown hands from the late 18th century known as sources C"C" and "D." A facsimile edition of these four versions is available from Barenreiter Kassel (1991); Johann Sebastian Bach, Neu Ausgabe Samtlicher Werke, Serie VI, Band 2: Sech Suiten fur Violoncello solo BWV 1007-1012; Die vier Quellen in verkleinerter Weidergabe Faksimile-beiband zum kritischen bericht von Hans Eppstein. What is interesting is the fact that none of these four extant copies have the same phrasing and articulations."

This edition is available in both hardcover and softcover (each is a single volume), and is a photographic reproduction of the four extant manuscripts. It may be ordered from Old Manuscripts and Incunabula, a fine dealer in New York City from which I purchase all of my facsimile scores.

Anyone who knows me knows how I enjoy looking at and studying scores, in particular facsimile editions. See my FAQ number 2, Why do you emphasize the study of scores so much where I discuss the subject of facsimile scores and give details on how to purchase them.

If you're serious about the Suites, then the facsimile publication mentioned above will be invaluable for study. You can get an idea of what is in store for you when you study a facsimile score by viewing, online, a facsimile of Bach's Cello Suite 1. While this online version is not a photographic reproduction, it gives you an idea of how much you can learn from looking at a facsimile score.

A new edition of the Suites (published in 2000) is by Barenreiter, an "urtext" edition. This new edition contains full size copies of the four facsimiles (in line-cut, not as nice as the photo reproductive facsimiles mentioned above, but still very accurate and useful) as well as the first published edition (Paris, 1824?). There is also a text volume (41 pages) including the history of the various manuscripts, the genesis of the pieces, and lengthy comments on performance practice (articulations, slurs, embellishments, etc) by Bach scholars Bettina Schwemer and Douglas Woodfull-Harris. Finally, there is a scholarly performing edition which includes, for each Suite, in a readable performance edition, ALL variants of notes, etc from all of the four 18th century copies (there are MANY differences) so you can see at a glance how they all agree or differ, a critical report which details in text form all of the differences and Suite V in both the original scordatura and at normal pitch.

This is a magnificent volume (in a handsome slipcase which holds all 7 volumes nicely) which can be ordered from any music dealer including Old Manuscripts and Incunabula. The catalog numbers of the Barenreiter urtext edition are: Barenreiter BA 5216 (English edition); Barenreiter BA 5215 (German edition)

The fact that we don't have an autograph by Bach and the four surviving contemporaneous copies all have some radically different phrasing gives us confidence to try different things and - with some informed performance practice helping us - create a personal, credible interpretation. Reading baroque treatises on performance practice by C.P.E. Bach, Quantz and others can help us make sense out of the Suites.

I usually don't begin a student on the Suites until they are sophomores or juniors - there are so many basics that need to be covered first. If a student doesn't have a facile technique, playing Bach Suites can be a frustrating enterprise. Likewise, if the student does not have the capacity to really think for himself regarding phrasing, or doesn't have a clear sense of strong and weak beats, or doesn't hear underlying harmony in a single line, creating a personal phrasing style may simply seem like a foreign language.

Before working with a student on the Suites, I usually spend a semester working with the 40 Preludes, Op 27 (Measured and Non-measured) by Jacques Francois Gallay in an edition by Robert King (Alphonse Leduc AL 28 617; Music for Brass No. 293). Originally written for natural horn (if you can believe it after seeing them!), they are great preparation for the Bach Suites (King's edition is for F tuba but they can just as easily be played in a horn edition, or tranposed, read in tenor clef, etc.). The unmeasured Preludes give the student a chance to develop a sense of phrasing and flexibility without the stranglehold of a metronomic tempo marking. Students usually flounder around a bit, looking for a "grip" on the music, but after time, they discover their own expressive "voice" and can then approach the Suites with confidence. I use the Gallay book myself every day (along with Kopprasch, Rochut, Tyrrell and Blazhevich) because they are good music and fun to play.

Interpreting the Suites is great fun - deciding what to do with the double stops and broken chords, how to phrase when you need to breathe and the line doesn't give you the chance, and surmounting the immense technical challenges is the stuff of what makes a player a better player. Each Suite has a unique flavor and I would be hard pressed to name a "favorite" - they are all simply great music.

As to recordings, discs by Casals, Fournier, Rostropovich, Ma, Starker, Bylsma, and Harrell are in my collection. All are very different and each completely valid. For instance, I treasure Casals for his expressive freedom, Fournier for his interpretation, Bylsma for his ability to make me think anew, Ma for his sound, Starker for his technique and Rostropovich for his passionate involvement. I also am very enthusiastic about a new recording of the complete Suites by violist Patricia McCarty which is highly expressive (hers is a recording which most closely resonates with my own concept of the Suites) and a recording of the first three Suites on recorder by Marion Verbruggen.

Cellist Frederick Zlotkin has released a 2 CD set of the Suites in which he ornaments and improvises extensively. His performance is highly evocative and a huge departure from most recordings. It is interesting that while ornamentation was a big part of Baroque performance practice, most recordings of the Suites contain little such ornamentation; Zlotkin provides us with something completely different which gives our ears much to think about.

The piano vitruoso Leopold Godowsky (1870-1938) transcribed Suites 2, 3, and 5 for piano solo in a wild, romanticized way which gives some insight to implied counterpoint and underlying harmony. These have been recorded by Carlo Grante on a Music and Arts CD release.

I have my Cello Suite recordings on both LP and CD; here are the catalog numbers of some of the sets I have on CD (most sets contain 2 CDs):

Pierre Fournier - DG Archiv (Polydor/Polygram) 449 711-2
Anner Bylsma - SONY Classical S2K 48047
Mstislav Rostropovich - EMI Classics 5 55364 2
Yo-Yo Ma - SONY Classical S2K 63203
Yo-Yo Ma - CBS Masterworks M2K 37867
Pablo Casals - Naxos 8.110915-16 (originally on EMI)
Leonard Rose - Pearl GEMM CDS 9273
Janos Starker - Mercury Living Presence 432 756-2
Patricia McCarty (viola) - Ashmont Music 6100
Mario Verbruggen (recorders) - Harmonia Mundi HMT 7907071 (Suites 1-3,1 CD) and
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907260 (Suites 4-6, 1 CD)
Frederick Zlotkin - available from CD Baby
Carol Grante (piano - transcriptions by Leopold Godowsky of Suites 2, 3, 5) - Music and Arts CD-1046

Note that reissues and repackaging of recordings occur frequently so the above catalog numbers may change frequently.

Hearing a fine cellist can be enlightening - but of course, on the trombone, there are things that we will do differently than a cellist. My goal is not to imitate a given cellist, but to put the Suites into my trombone voice. Some things are actually easier on trombone than on cello (although the opposite is most often the case). One of the most interesting recordings is the video made by Rostropovich who plays all six Suites and discusses his approach. It is very insightful to WATCH him play and SEE his approach. These performances are available on laser disc (EMI Classics LDE 77811 1) and videocasette (EMI Classics 7243 4 77815 3 7).

Yo-Yo Ma has also made a video recording of the Suites, but in six individual movies in which the Suites are used by various film producers to inspire various other art forms. Available on SONY, these videos, Inspired by Bach are quite interesting and through provoking and also show Ma playing the Suites as well. Yo-Yo, by the way, tunes his cello down a half step for these performances which gives his instrument a remarkably rich, dark sonority.

The University of North Carolina in Greensboro also has an interesting website which focuses on comparisons of the various editions of the Suites they have in their collection, especially the interpretation of cellist Luigi Silva.

I think I'll go play the 4th Suite again right now. . . What a Sarabande. . .

PDF files available of movements from the Bach Cello Suites
in a performing edition for trombone by Douglas Yeo

As mentioned above, I have embarked on a project to edit the Bach Cello Suites in my own performing edition for trombone. There are many excellent editions of the Suites, including several for trombone, but in the three decades I have worked on this music, I have formulated my own concept of how to perform them on trombone. None of the existing versions of the Suites seem to me to take into account the proper balance of fidelity to the original source and practical considerations needed when playing on trombone.

For years, I have played the Suites off clean copies of the music without ties or phrase marks, allowing me to re-interpret the music in a fresh way each time. In response to many requests, I have decided to embark upon publishing my own performing edition of the Suites for trombone. However, instead of publishing this new edition with one of the many fine print publishers I have worked with in the past, I have decided to publish the edition online, and offer it to players at no cost.

I began this project on Good Friday, April 13, 2001. It is a day full of significance for me. As a Christian, it is a day of contemplation of the mystery of the death of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, as he atoned for sin past, present and future. As part of my personal devotion on this important day - which preceeds the inexpressible joy of Easter Sunday just hours away - I always listen to the St. Matthew Passion of J. S. Bach, which in my mind is perhaps the most significant, important, and inspired work in the history of music. My contemplation of Bach's music on Good Friday 2001 led me to think of his Cello Suites, and the fact that they, too, have theological significance. So, I have decided to begin to edit the Suites according to the way I currently interpret them and to publish them on my website for free access, notwithstanding the fact that I will likely continue to revise and alter my interpretation as time goes on, even on a daily basis. The interpretation in these files is by no means the last word - or even the best word - on performance of the Bach Cello Suites. And my edition is no substitute for players investigating and studying the available manuscripts and many other editions so as to bring a large body of information to ones own music making. But my edition is A way to play this magnificent music, and a way which perhaps may resonate with other players as it does with me.

These files are offered for download at no cost. They may be printed and freely distributed. However, they are still copyrighted by me, and each movement carries a copyright notice. The files may not be sold or published, and may not be included in any collections of teaching materials or books without my permission.

Enjoy. Soli Deo Gloria.

BACH: Cello Suite No. 1: Prelude (first movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 1: Courante (third movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 1: Sarabande (fourth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 1: Menuet I & II (fifth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 1: Gigue (sixth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 2: Prelude (first movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 2: Allemande (second movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 2: Courante (third movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 2: Sarabande (fourth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 2: Menuet I & II (fifth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 2: Gigue (sixth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 3: Bourree I & II (fifth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 3: Gigue (sixth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 4: Sarabande (fourth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 5: Sarabande (fourth movement)
BACH: Cello Suite No. 6: Sarabande (fourth movement)

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