Wednesday, July 09, 2008


That stands for "what would Bach do."

Because the world of viola d'amore players is relatively small and rather scattered, I would like to share my self-initiation into this brother- and sisterhood here, with anyone who might be interested.

After about three weeks with the instrument, I finally mustered up the courage to try may hand at some Bach cello suites on the viola d'amore. On a lark I decided to try playing the C minor Suite (Number 5), one that really never sounds as good on the viola as I would like it to, in D minor. Then I discovered that the original version of Suite was actually for the lute, BWV 995 in the key of G minor. I have pretty much finished an urtext transcription (without slurs or dynamics) of the whole suite, which lies beautifully on the viola d'amore.

It was a wonderful experience to compare the cello version, BWV 1011, written for an instrument that has the ability to sustain, with the lute version, written for an instrument that does not have the ability to sustain. It is also interesting to compare J.S. Bach's handwriting to the more-familiar hand of his wife Anna Magdalena. I wonder if Bach, who did write music for the viola d'amore (he probably knew how to play the instrument, and may or may not have actually played the lute), might have used the viola d'amore to write this Lute Suite. (A special thanks to Harry Wimmer for putting these manuscripts on line!)

A PDF file of my viola d'amore transcription of the whole Suite is available here, as part of the Werner Icking Archive (a fantastic resource for music).

Listening to a performance of the piece on the lute really helps to understand the tempo that Bach probably had in mind when he wrote the piece. I really admire Andrea Damiani's reading of the Prelude and the two Gavottes.

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