Bach Suites

Bach's Cello Suites 1-3, edited for oboe by Libby Van Cleve, are available through The Music Source, T.D. Ellis Music Publishing:

I recently posted a video of my performance of the Prelude to the 2nd Suite:

When I first arranged one of Bach’s cello suites for the oboe twenty years ago, it felt like a gutsy, almost sacrilegious act.  Now performers freely borrow repertoire written for other instruments, and the cello suites can be heard on instruments as disparate as the tuba, saxophone, and banjo. Playing them on the oboe doesn’t seem so radical.  Although some passages are not idiomatic for the instrument, oboists are extremely fortunate to have access to these profound compositions.

My approach has been to arrange these suites so that they sound good on the oboe; not to try desperately (and unsuccessfully!) to make the oboe sound like a cello.  Here are a few specifics:

·      I’m reminded of my former teacher, Ronald Roseman, saying to me in mock seriousness: “You have two choices: you can breathe, or you can make it sound bad.  Which would you prefer?”  With this in mind, I have suggested strategies for breathing.  In particularly demanding movements, bracketed notes can be omitted and the performer can grab a breath.  A fermata and short cadenza are inserted in the Prelude of Suite 2.

·      Double stops have generally been notated as grace notes.  Oboists are urged to think carefully about the performance of these tiny notes: they are often important with respect to structure or counterpoint and thus should not be played too quickly. 

·      Tempo markings are approximate: individual performers may want to adjust them somewhat. A fluid and flexible rhythm is recommended, in a style like an orator or bluesman, particularly in the preludes. 

·      Suite No. 2 is transposed down a step to C minor so that more passages lay in a friendly range.  Nevertheless, some passages, although feasible on the oboe, sound better with the indicated octave displacement. 

Two books are recommended if you find yourself smitten by the suites:  Anner Bylsma’s Bach, the Fencing Master and Eric Siblin’s The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece.

The first and third suite are offered here in a revised edition.  I have made many minor improvements, and articulations have been changed to adhere closely to Bach’s manuscript. 

These editions are affectionately dedicated to my three principal teachers: Ronald Roseman, Allan Vogel, and Basil Reeve, who helped reinforce in me a passion for Bach.  Generations of musicians have revered these pieces and considered their study and performance a boundless artistic and spiritual journey.  You are invited to join in.