Playing Bach’s Cello Suite in G on the double bass – Gigue

Overview – Prelude – Allemande – Courante – Sarabande – Menuet I & II – Gigue

Video in preparation

Gigue (English Dance)

A jig is a lively dance in compound time and it should be full of energy. Here’s a video from YouTube of a couple dancing a baroque Gigue.

For the Gigue in Bach’s Cello Suite in G (it actually looks more like Gique in all the sources), the great composer gives us a dazzling display of descending and ascending sequences – some repeating after half a bar, some after a whole bar. (It is very effective if you make clear which is which by only accenting the middle of the bar when it’s a half bar sequence.) After the first repeat sign we even get nested sequences where a descending half bar sequence gets repeated a tone higher two bars later!

I interpret the bowing in the manuscripts to mean that you should slur pairs of notes when they are adjacent (i.e. a 2nd apart). This usually means the second and third quavers of each half bar (bars 1, 5-6, 13, 15, 17-18, 21-23). In the rising sequences it’s always the first two quavers that are adjacent and in fact some of them (bars 9-10 & 25-26) are backward versions of some of the falling sequences. Slurring the first two quavers of each half bar brings this feature out and provides rhythmic contrast. The semiquavers are always slurred. In bars 2 & 7 all the sources agree that the quavers have staccato dots (a rare marking) so those bars need to be bowed out.

I would not recommend ever slurring three quavers together as indicated throughout the Gigue by Wenzinger in the 1950 Bärenreiter edition. It will lack energy and won’t sound like Bach if you smooth everything out like that. I suppose it’s fair to say that the slurs are a bit ambiguous in some of the manuscripts, but in others they are very clearly marked over only two notes. (The first printed edition interpreted the slurs very imaginatively as a tie over the third and fourth quavers throughout the first half of the dance. This gives it all a syncopated feel that is very funky but unlikely to be what Bach intended!)

077AD5EF-C868-4173-85B1-BDCCC77DDC059E46FA0D-9FD5-4ACF-BFD5-6D60D9461D8C40914142-79B7-4477-AE0A-67B470846DC38E95913D-EF5B-483F-A448-820EC575595BE285A246-B524-45F3-978E-9C17ECAF7D9C

Structurally the Gigue follows the same pattern as all the movements of this Suite from the Courante on. It has its own special cadence (see the Overview for details)

  • in D major at the halfway point,
  • in E minor midway through the second half
  • in G major almost at the end (bars 26-28).

41BA9FAE-59AD-4546-9881-8B53E3CB8A24

There are various ways of bowing this cadence but using the same one in all three places will help the audience to recognise these punctuation points.

Before completing the descending arpeggio of the final cadence, Bach inserts an additional codetta, a sequence that repeats initially by the whole bar but eventually by the half bar. This doubling of the pulse as you approach the finishing line serves to propel the music forward towards its thrilling conclusion.

Technical tip for bass players – Using the 4th finger

Bar 32 is very difficult for the left hand. Like most players I can’t stretch major 6ths with 1-3, so using standard technique I always had to shift up for the E and then immediately back for the D which was not ideal. It never sounded clean when playing up to speed. But I discovered I can stretch it using a 4 on the E. Using the 4th finger is an unusual thing to do in thumb position but I find it works if you are playing across two strings. It helps further if I also play the harmonic D in bar 32 with a 4, as that allows me to get my hand into position earlier. I have subsequently used 4 for lots of the spread chords in the Second Cello Suite in D minor. (See page 50 of my book on thumb position for more about using the 4th finger in thumb position.)

I have also experimented with playing the semiquavers in bar 22 with 2-3-4 but it didn’t help as my articulation was not good enough with those fingers. Perhaps you can do better?

4 thoughts on “Playing Bach’s Cello Suite in G on the double bass – Gigue

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s