Nigel North, Baroque lute (England) - Saturday, June 10, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.

Baroque Lute
Cleveland Institute of Music, Mixon Hall
Saturday, June 10, 2017, at 3:00 p.m.

J.S. Bach (1685-1750)  

    Suite in G minor (BWV 995)
        Prelude – tres vite
        Gavotte 1 & 2

J.S. Bach

    Suite in B flat major (after BWV 1010, 4th suite for solo cello)
        Bourree 1 & 2

J.S. Bach

    Sonata in G minor (after BWV 1001 for solo violin)
        Fuga (Allegro)

J.S. Bach

    Partita in D minor (after BWV 1004, for solo violin)

Please silence all electronic devices, including cellular phones, wristwatches, and pagers. Photography, video or audio recording are not permitted during this concert.


The lute which was played in Johann Sebastian Bach’s life time (1685-1750) would have been the 11 course lute (with 11 courses and 20 strings) or the 13 course lute  (with 13 courses and 24 strings), as in today’s recital. Both tuned in a d minor chord with an added scale of bass diapasons strung in octaves. These were the standard lutes in Germany during Bach’s lifetime.

In 1903, in the last years of the Bach-Gesellschaft Ausgabe, a German musicologist, Wilhelm Tappert, decreed that a certain collection of pieces were to be known as Bach's “lute works.” These were labeled BWV 995-1000 and 1006a. BWV 995 is in fact Bach's own arrangement for lute, in his hand, of his 5th cello suite. The autograph is in normal notation with two staves, rather than the usual tablature used by real lutenists. It is also for a lute with one more course than normal and is mostly playable on a normal 18th century lute with a few modifications. This suite is the only clear "Lute Work," and it seems fitting to begin a Bach lute program with this suite.  The G minor lute suite, BWV 995, was born from a cello suite, and one can wonder why Bach only transcribed one suite for the lute and not all six. They all make wonderful lute pieces, with their broken, arpeggiated style, thin texture, mixture of styles expressed in stylized dance movements so familiar to the lute. In fact they fit the lute better than the so-called lute works, BWV 996-1000. It was this search for idiomatic lute music by Bach, which lead me to make my own transcriptions of the cello (and violin) works over the “lute works.” For this recital, I have paired the 5th cello suite/ Lute Suite in G minor, with a transcription of the 4th cello suite. In it’s original key of E flat major, it represents a significant challenge to the cellist. On the lute, In B flat major, it represents a dream of a piece for lutenists. Notice how many open strings are played in the opening Prelude!

The remainder of the 1903 “lute works” were mostly meant for a keyboard instrument known as the "Lautenwerk," a gut strung harpsichord which imitated the sound and range of the lute. In Bach's house, at his death, there was at least one lute and one Lautenwerk, but it does seem clear that Bach never actually played the lute. We can read from contemporaries that Bach liked to take the works for solo violin and solo cello and play them on the keyboard, adding as much as was needed to make them sound idiomatic. We have the 2nd sonata for violin, BWV 1003, in a beautiful keyboard arrangement; not an autograph but thought to be Bach's work; similarly, the C major violin Adagio from BWV 1005. Like many musicians in his time, Bach liked to rearrange existing compositions and make new creations from old material. His interest in the lute and in lutenists even lead him to take a Sonata by the contemporary lutenist, Sylvius Weiss, arrange it for harpsichord and add a new violin part. This work became know as BWV 1025.

The second part of the recital begins with the sonata, in G minor, (the first from “Sei Solo a Violino senza Basso accompagnato”). This is another piece which links Bach to the lute world. The Fuga exists in a version made by an amateur lutenists friend of Bach. Tappert numbered this arrangement as BWV 1000. The whole Sonata becomes an eloquent and beautiful lute piece. The 2nd Partita from this collection is an Italianate suite, ending with a Ciaconna. The “Bach Chaconne” has become one of the most famous works of all time, played on guitar, piano, lute and harpsichord. It is a dance, in variation form, and has more recently been thought to be a “tombeau” in memory of Bach’s first wife, Maria Barbara, who died in 1720, the date of the “Sei Solo.” It fits the lute like a glove, being in D minor and that key being the home key of a d minor tuned lute!

We also have three lute tablatures of BWV 995, 997 and 1000 written out by lutenists contemporary with Bach. We don't know if Bach knew of these or approved of them. I hope so, and I hope that he might also approve of and like what you will hear in this recital. Truly wonderful music played on a great, expressive instrument that was part of Bach's musical world.

—Nigel North, 2017