Unaccompanied Suites originally for Cello
Johann Sebastian Bach
Edited and Arranged by David Cooper

Biographical Info

Bach composed the cello suites while he was employed at the court of Cöthen (1717-1723) as capellmeister and director of chamber music.  At this time, he devoted his efforts to instrumental music in which he set up perfect models and guides to professional musicians, advanced students, and music lovers. The six suites for cello alone were composed about 1720.

This edition for trumpet is based on the edition of the cello suites prepared by Hans Eppstein for the Neue Bach-Ausgabe (NBA) in 1988.  It must be noted that all tempo markings are my suggestions.  Ornaments and dynamics in parenthesis ( ) were also added by the editor; those not in brackets appear in the Eppstein edition.

I have attempted to replicate the sound of multiple stops with the use of grace notes and the proper selection of melody notes that best bring out the quality of the implied chord. The architecture of Bach’s composition is so strong that, in most cases, the underlying harmony is clearly evident when drawn from a single-note melody.

Suggested Equipment

Bb Trumpet, C Trumpet, Cornet or Flugel Horn

All the clips in this post are from my recording of the complete suites and recorded on Monette trumpets.

Practice/Performance Tips

I have a post that deals with ornamentation primarily from Quantz’ and Casals’ perspective.  You can access that information here.

The architecture of the dances will help to determine the choice of nuance, tempo and overall style.

It was generally understood in Bach’s time that all musicians were thoroughly familiar with the character of the dances in vogue. Unfortunately, not all of the traditions have been preserved and performers do not often take the time to read the authors of the period. I have thought it useful to include the following descriptions of the character of the different movements that make up these suites.


The Prelude itself has no defined character. Certain intervallic motives stated in the Prelude are carried throughout the entire suite. For example, the first three notes of the Prelude of Suite I return in the initial grace notes of the Allemande, Sarabande, in the written opening notes of Menuet I and the fifth measure of the Gigue. Those intervals also appear in the opening of the Courant and in a minor version for the opening of Menuet II.

When discussing interpretation of the Bach suites, Pablo Casals (1876-1973) stated, “The first thing we must understand when playing the cello suites, is that, as with the partitas for violin and for keyboard, the prelude gives the character to the whole work. The sentiment which it [the prelude(s)] evokes is the desire, the need to have more; this piece is an introduction, a promising guide to what will follow. Each dance reflects in its own way the atmosphere of the opening movement. A fundamental mood of “optimism” prevails in Suite I, in Suite III with its “heroic” prelude, and in Suite VI, which begins with a hunting scene. A “tragic” feeling is evident throughout Suite II.”  The Prelude of Suite V is in the form of a French Overture; a noble opening followed by an allegro section that in this instance hints at a monophonic fugue.


According to Johann Hoachim Quantz (1697-1773), the courante is played majestically with a pulse placed on each quarter note.  When the courante is played on string instruments, in the opinion of Johann Mattheson (1681-1764), “it has almost no bounds but seeks to do full justice to its name through endless running, but it is done pleasantly and charmingly. The passion or emotion which should be performed in a courante is sweet hopefulness, for there is something stout-hearted, something longing, and also something gratifying in this melody. All of these are things from which hope is composed.”

“Two types of courante are found in Baroque instrumental music. Although differentiated as corrente/coranto and courante, these terms are not always used discretely in the sources. Thus, for example, many of Bach’s correnti are entitled “courante.” The corrente is of Italian origin, and is a rapid dance in triple meter. More frequently found is the French courante, usually in 3/2. This is a slow dance of great nobility; Pierre Rameau (The Dancing Master, 1725) describes it as solemn and majestic, the favorite dance of Louis XIV.”


Mattheson believed the allemande should convey “the image of a content or satisfied spirit and which enjoys good order and calm.”  Newman cites from J.J. Rousseau’s Dictionnaire of 1767: “The instrumental allemande is defined as a species of air or piece of music whose music is in 4/4 and is beaten gravely,”and from Sebastien Brossard’s Dictionnaire of 1703 (translated and expanded by James Grassineau, London: J. Wilcox, 1740): “The Allemande is a sort of grave and solemn music, whose measure is full and moving.”


My sources of Quantz, Mattheson and Newman all agree that the sarabande is a movement that is grave, slow and serious. Mattheson feels that the sarabande additionally expresses the emotion of ambition.  Charles Compan’s Dictionnaire (1787) additionally offers that “The sarabande, actually, is nothing but a menuet whose movement is grave, slow and serious.”


The menuet has the most varied historical interpretation of all the dances represented in these suites. Quantz felt it should be played “springily, or in a lifting or rising manner”, and with a rather heavy rhythmic pulse.  Mattheson contrasts Brossard’s Dictionnaire by saying the menuet should convey only a “moderate cheerfulness”, where Brossard felt “this dance is very gay and its movement very swift.”  J.J. Rousseau’s Dictionnaire (1767) offers still another view stating, “the character of a menuet is one of elegance and noble simplicity; the movement is moderate rather than swift and it may be said that the menuet is the least gay of all the dances used in our Ball Rooms.”


According to Quantz, “A bourrée [is] executed gaily, and with a short and light bow-stroke.  A pulse beat falls on each bar.”  In comparing the gavotte and the bourrée, Mattheson felt the bourrée is more flowing, smooth, gliding, and connected. “[The bourrée’s] true character is contentment and pleasantness, as if it were somewhat untroubled or calm, a little slow, easygoing, and yet not unpleasant. The word bourrée in itself actually means something filled, stuffed, solid, strong, weighty yet soft or delicate. ”


According to Quantz, the gavotte and the bourrée are very similar in their light-hearted nature, the difference being the gavotte is a little more moderate in tempo.”  Mattheson tends to give the gavotte a more jubilant, skipping nature.


Quantz states that if gigues are in six-eight time, there is a pulse on each bar and should be played with a short and light bow-stroke.  Mattheson elaborates by describing the gigue as “Something fresh and lively… The common or English gigues are characterized by an ardent fleeting zeal, a passion which soon subsides. …the Italian gige, which are not used for dancing but for fiddling, force themselves to extreme speed or volatility, though frequently in a flowing and uninterrupted manner, perhaps like the smooth arrow-swift flow of a stream.”

From Charles Compan’s Dictionnaire (1787): “… the measure [of the gigue] is 6/8 and of an extremely gay nature… This dance is no longer in use, neither in France nor Italy.”

Some movements that I have found particularly successful with younger players are (in order of difficulty):

  1. Suite IV Bourrée II without the grace notes
  2. SuiteII Sarabande without grace notes
  3. Suite V Gavotte II

In general, the suites should be performed with an air of improvisation. The player should strive for a relaxed sound in all registers, utilizing slow, warm air with good support and posture. This is tremendously beautiful music and diligent practice and care can transcend the limitations of conventional trumpet playing.

Suggested Recordings

Bach Cello Suites on Trumpet by David Cooper available at Amazon and CDBaby.

A book of the suites is published by Roger Dean Pub. and is available under the “Shop” tab on this site.  It is available in hard copy with the two discs included and in pdf form.

There are hundreds of cello recordings of the suites out there.  My favorite while researching this book and recording was Anner Bylsma’s two recordings.  He recorded the suites twice about 15 years apart.