Bach Music For Classical Guitar
Bach music for classical guitar is one of the reasons that many people start playing guitar in the first place. In this article, we will cover Bach’s music for classical guitar and explain the various dances that all Bach’s work named after, and what are the main characteristics of every dance.
I myself didn’t know Bach’s music before I start playing the guitar in 1993. I heard of him, but I didn’t have any clue about his music.
And then one day my teacher played a piece by Bach, it was Allemande, BWV 996 in Em. It was a big eye-opener for me, and I decided on the spot to practice until I can play this type of music, which I did.
But before we start learning about Bach music for classical guitar let’s learn a little history about the man himself.
Who was Johann Sebastian Bach?
Johann Sebastian Bach was born at Eisenach in Thuringia, Germany on March 21, 1685. Bach’s parents died when he was only 10 years old. He was raised by his oldest brother, who was very jealous of Johann Sebastian’s superior musical talents.
He would not let the youngster use a musical book that he owned, which was filled with great compositions of master composers.
The young Bach was able to get his hands on the book at night, however, by slipping it through the lattice-work doors of the bookcase in which it was locked.
He copied it all by moonlight and damaged his eyesight permanently in doing so. When he discovered what the boy had done, the older brother took the copy away from him, but to no avail, since Johann Sebastian had already memorized the entire book!
At age 15, when his older brother died, Johann Sebastian became a choir boy at the school of St. Michael, in Luneberg, 200 miles away. In this new setting, he was able to diligently study music and improve himself as a performer and composer.
At age 19 he accepted his first professional job as an organist, in a church at Arnstadt. Four years later he became the organist at Mulhausen, where he married his cousin, Maria barbara.
Bach’s Musical Genius
Bach’s musical genius reached its greatest heights at Leipzig, Germany, where he was appointed cantor at the St. Thomas School, with responsibility for all the musical activities of its associated churches.
In 1720 Maria Barbara died, and a year later Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcken, a young singer who became a loving mother to Bach’s family of 7 children, and bore him 13 more!
Bach’s phenomenal output as a composer includes enough music to fill 45 volumes the size of an encyclopedia. He wrote hundreds of keyboard works, including music for clavichord, harpsichord, and organ, as well as solos for violin, cello, and other instruments.
He also composed numerous instrumental duets, trios, and orchestral works, and more than 250 sacred and secular cantatas.
But the quality of his compositions is even more remarkable that the great quantity. No one has ever written greater music, particularly in the contrapuntal style, and Johann Sebastian Bach ranks as one of the towering musical geniuses of all time.
Among the works of Bach, the most numerous type of composition by far is the Cantana, about two hundred of which have survived to the present day.
The Cantana is a multi-movement work for solo voices, chorus, and instruments and is often based on a pre-existing tune.
The typical Bach cantana consists of an opening chorus, two or more pairs of arias (solos), recitatives, and a closing chorale.
Anna Magdalena’s Book
In 1725 Bach presented his wife, Anna Magdalena, with a beautiful notebook as a birthday present. In this book, Anna Magdalena, Johann Sebastian, and other members of the family wrote many short and easy pieces that were either composed by Bach or were favorite pieces of the family.
These are the simplest pieces we have from the family circle. Pieces like:
- Minuet in G
- Minuet in A Minor
And many more.
For the complete list of the pieces included in the book, you can click here.
After a long and prolific career, Bach died in Leipzig, Germany on July 28, 1750.
Bach’s Works for Solo Guitar
Bach’s Works for Solo Guitar is a collection of six suites, which were published in 1731.
- The First Suite was written in 1720, but Bach did not publish it until 1731.
- The Second Suite was written in 1725 and published in the same year.
- The Third Suite was written in 1726 and published in the same year.
- The Fourth Suite was written in 1730 and published the following year.
- The Fifth Suite was written between 1725-1730 and published in the same year as the fourth suite.
- The Sixth Suite was also written between 1725-1730 and published in the same year as the fifth suite.
Legendary Guitarists Who Played Bach Music
There were a number of legendary guitarists who played Bach music for classical guitar.
It was Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), the great nineteenth-century pioneer of the classical guitar, who first explored in depth the possibilities of arranging Bach’s music for his recitals.
After him, the great classical guitar master Andrés Segovia. Segovia went on to refine and develop the available repertoire, extending the range by including transcriptions for guitar of such masterpieces as Bach’s mighty Chaconne BWV 1004 – which was written for violin – first performed in Paris on 4 June 1935.
Here is the master himself plays Gavotte from the 4th Lute Suite:
Segovia influenced a generation of classical guitarists who built on his technique and musical sensibility, including Christopher Parkening, Julian Bream, John Williams, and Oscar Ghiglia, all of whom have acknowledged their debt to him.
Further, Segovia left behind a large body of edited works and transcriptions for classical guitar, including several transcriptions of Bach.
One of Segovia’s students became a master himself at an early age, John Willimas. With such flawless technique, John became one of the most famous classical guitar masters of the 20 century and started to arrange Bach music for classical guitar.
Here is his arrangement for Prelude from Lute Suite No. 4 in E Major:
The next legendary guitarist is Julian Bream (1933-2020) who was John Williams’s friend and colleague.
Bream’s recitals were wide-ranging, including transcriptions from the 17th century, many pieces by Bach arranged for classical guitar.
Here he is playing Bach Fugue from 1st Violin Sonata:
why practice bach’s music for classical guitar?
Other than Bach’s music sounds really good on classical guitar, there are numbers of reasons why you should practice Bach’s music for classical guitar.
There is no other music in the entire classical guitar repertoire that will develop your technique like Bach music for classical guitar.
If you have watched any of the previous videos you know what I mean! Even in the very easy pieces that Bach wrote or was transcribed for guitar, there is still some technical aspect you need to develop in order to play it.
I see Bach’s music as the perfect tool to develop all aspects of technique when it comes to classical guitar, whether it’s scales, arpeggios, trills, bar chords, or any other technique.
Here is part from the STING interview where he talks about Bach, and how he and his guitarist Dominic Miller practices Bach every day.
master the rhythm
I can honestly say that Bach’s music contains every rhythm known to man. Practicing one line every day for a period of months will develop your overall musicality, and widen your horizon in the land of rhythm.
As a classical guitarist, you need to build a repertoire from the early stages. This will help you practice more and develop memorizing pieces, and not just reading them from music sheets.
Start with the easy pieces of Bach music for classical guitar in the coming list, then work your way to the more intermediate ones.
As your skills and techniques develop, try one of the advanced pieces just for fun. If you find it very difficult then stop and return to the intermediate pieces until you finish them all.
Defenition of the dances
- A Suite (which might also go by the designation “partita”) is a collection of dances unified by mode or key but contrasting in character, tempo, meter, and country of origin.
The core of the standard Baroque suite consists of four main dances: the Allemand, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue.
Certain dance types such as the gavotte, minute, and bourree are often presented in pairs. The second dance of the pair might exhibit a contrasting mood, or be in a contrasting key such as the relative minor.
After playing the two dances in order, the performer returns to the first dance. For example, a pair of minuets would be played in order: Minuet I – Minuet II – Minuet I.
- The Air is the instrumental equivalent of a solo song and technically not a dance. The chief feature of the air is the distinct and flowing melody in the upper voice.
- The Bourree is a lively dance in duple meter (2/2) and begins with a quarter-note upbeat.
- The Gigue is in a quick tempo and compound meter and exhibits a lively character.
- The Gavotte is a gracious French dance in duple meter and begins with two upbeats.
- The Loure is a slow, majestic French dance with heavy accents, lilting rhythms, and dotted rhythms.
- The Minuet is a serene and stately French dance in triple meter and moderate tempo.
- The Prelude is technically not a dance. As well as establishing a suite’s mode or key, the prelude provided the opportunity for the performers to warm up their fingers and test the tuning of the guitar. Historically, the prelude was originally improvised and was rhythmically and metrically very loose.
- The Sarabande is a slow and stately dance in triple meter and with a strong accent on the second beat.
- A Double is a second version of a particular dance movement. It retains the same harmonic and melodic outlines of its principal but exhibits a more animated musical surface.
- A musette is a style of French instrumental music and dance that first became popular in Paris in the 1880s. Although it began with bagpipes as the main instrument, this instrument was replaced with the accordion, on which a variety of waltzes, polkas, and other dance styles were played for dances.
Bach Music For Classical Guitar -Easy to Intermediate
- Minuet in G
It is a nice tune on any instrument because the harmony on the notes is unique, we are talking about Bach here!
The rhythm is simple. Just half, quarter, and eighth notes.
However, there is a key signature at the beginning which is F#. Meaning all the Fs in the piece will be sharpened.
- Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring by Bach
- Air On the G String
Bach Music For Classical Guitar – Advanced
- Bach Cello Suite No.1, BWV 1007
- From Lute Suite in E Minor, BWV 996: I. Praludium – Presto
- From Lute Suite in E Minor, BWV 996: II. Allemande
- From Lute Suite in E Minor, BWV 996: V. Bourree
- From Lute Partita in E Major, BWV 1006a: III. Gavotte en rondeau
Bach Music For Classical Guitar – Concert Pieces
The complete seven Lute Works (BWV 995-1000 and 1006a).
Composed over a period of 30 years, Bach‘s lute works are believed to have originally been written for the lute-harpsichord, a keyboard instrument of the Baroque period.
They now belong to the standard repertoire of most concert guitarists.
- Suite No.1 in E mnor BWV 996
- Suite No.2 in A minor (orig. G minor) BWV 995
- Suite No.3 in A minor (orig. C minor) BWV 997
- Suite No.4 in E major BWV 1006a
- Prélude, Fugue and Allegro in D major (orig. Eb major) BWV 998
- Prélude in A minor (orig. C minor) BWV 999
- Fugue in E minor (orig. G minor) BWV 1000
- Violin Partita No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1004: Chaconne
- French Suite No. 1 in D Minor, BWV 812
- Fantasia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 906
- Partita No. 1 in B – Flat Major, BWV 825
- Fantasia and Fugue in A Minor, BWV 904
- Prelude and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 539
- Trio Sonata No. 5, BWV 529
- Flute Sonata in G Minor, BWV 1020
I have only scratched the surface here for Bach music for classical guitar, there are many pieces that I didn’t include in this post and you are free to explore them online.
There is no doubt that Bach was a genius and one of the greatest composers of all time, and we are blessed in this time to have all these transcriptions available to listen to and play them.
There is something magical in Bach’s music, in general, and I don’t know how to explain it honestly. All I can say about it is that it is a feeling that you are coming home.
I hope this post shed some light on Bach music for classical guitar and motivated you to listen to his music, and perhaps pick up the guitar and try one of the many pieces I mentioned here.
I want to leave you with a piece that might explain what I wanted to say without words, enjoy it.
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