Bach Transcriptions

Keyboard Transcriptions of Bach’s Music for Unaccompanied String and Wind Instruments

The suites, sonatas, and partitas that Johann Sebastian Bach composed for solo violin, cello, flute, and lute are completely self-sufficient and require no additional harmony or accompaniment. Nevertheless, they are worthy of study by players of other instruments, and Bach himself arranged several of them for keyboard instruments. At least some of the lute pieces, moreover, were evidently intended from the beginning for performance on keyboard as at least an alternative.

Transcriptions by others exist as well. As a student, probably in 1976 in Cambridge, Mass., I was fortunate to hear Gustav Leonhardt perform his harpsichord arrangement of at least one of the cello suites. Not long afterward I made my own transcriptions of all six of these works, following them up with arrangements of the pieces for violin, flute, and lute. My intention in every case was to create music that would be as idiomatic to the keyboard, and which would require as much virtuosity of the player, as the originals. This is why I felt to be the need to arrange even the lute pieces, which Bach seems to have left as thinly textured keyboard scores, leaving to others the transcription into lute tablature. Over the years I have returned occasionally to these transcriptions to improve various details.

The results could hardly be mistaken for genuine keyboard works of Bach. Nevertheless, anyone wishing to play these arrangements is asked to mention my name in connection with any public performance and no introduce no substantive alterations to them, apart from standard ornamentation.

Bach usually transposed his own keyboard versions of music originally composed for other instruments. I have done the same in order to place each transcription in an optimal part of the keyboard. The list below indicates both original and transposed keys and provides links to the individual arrangements (in pdf format).

I have formatted each score such that page turns will occur at convenient points; it may, however, sometimes be necessary to place two consecutive pages on the music desk, sometimes only one. I will be grateful to anyone who finds errors or other problems in these arrangements for bringing them to my attention by writing to me at dschulen AT wagner.edu.

David Schulenberg

August 10, 2010, updated Sept. 9, 2015

BWV title/no. key   comment (click on the BWV number for the transcription)
    orig. arr.  
Solos for violin        
1001 Sonata I g c fugue (mvt. 2) arranged for organ as BWV 539/2 in d and for lute as BWV 1000
1002 Partia I   b f#
1003 Sonata II a transcribed for keyboard by Bach as BWV 964 in d
1004 Partia II d c  
1005 Sonata III C G mvt. 1 transcribed for keyboard as BWV 968 in G
1006 Partia III E A transcribed for lute as BWV 1006a; mvt. 1 arranged for organ, strings, trumpets, and timpani in BWV 120a and BWV 29
Suites for cello        
1007 no. 1 G C  
1008 no. 2 d g  
1009 no. 3 C D  
1010 no. 4 Eb Bb  
1011 no. 5 c f for cello with top string g; transcribed for lute as BWV 995 in g
1012 no. 6 D A for five-string cello; my transcription of the prelude requires two manuals
1012/1   A   alternate arrangement of prelude playable on one manual
Partita for flute        
1013   a e  
Works for lute        
995 Suite g arrangement by Bach of the cello suite no. 5 in c (see above)
996 Suite e b  
997 Suite c g  
998 Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro Eb Bb  
999 Prelude c (?) ends on V; unfinished or incomplete in the sole manuscript copy