Playing movements of the Bach cello suites is a must for all bass players these days. It is a requirement for many (if not most) orchestral auditions, and it is a bass player’s only real opportunity to play solo works from this great master.
Several challenges arise when playing the Bach cello suites. The choice of key and octave must first be dealt with. The first, second, and sixth (if you’re a superstar) work in the original key and played at pitch, but the other three don’t work very well on the bass unless they are transposed.
(Bass players are aware of what the phrase “at pitch” means, but others may not have heard this before. The bass sounds an octave lower than written–when we play something up an octave the pitch actually comes out at the octave written.)
The bass is also tuned in fourths (most of the time), not in fifths like a cello. This combined with playing “at pitch” creates some real challenges. Edgar Meyer has a great recording of the first, second, and fifth Bach cello suite. Click below for the ordering information from Amazon.com:
Here is a recording of me playing the Gigue from the third cello suite. This was recorded in the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Light Recital Hall in 2005. This is played on my old bass, which is a Lowendal from aroung 1880. My current bass is a Jakstadt made in 1995 with a low B extension and fingerboard extension (like Edgar Meyer’s). This old bass has some really nice qualities:
Click on the “Reference Link” below to directly download an MP3 of me playing this piece.