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  • Writer's pictureJadran Duncumb

Drawing inspiration from Bach’s lute tablatures 3

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Part 3: Weyrauch’s tablatures and a a bit about my own approach to making my own

Prelude in c minor BWV 999

An autograph manuscript of the Prelude in c minor has not survived but there are several copies from the 18th century. Even though it is playable in its entirety on the lute as written, I have taken the tablatures’ lead and chosen to transpose some basses down the octave to use the diapasons basses. I think it makes a nice organ pedal effect.

I have also tried to play with different fingerings for the various chords, sometimes using a string for each note, other times not, and attempted to adapt the fingering to bring out and let the notes that I think create a special colour ring.

Given the prelude’s short length and open ending, it may be that it used to form part of a suite, but in the absence of the other movements, I chose to pair it with the Fugue in g minor BWV 1000.

Fugue in g minor BWV 1000

The lute version of the fugue for violin in the same key only exists in a tablature by Johann Christian Weyrauch. He was a lutenist, organist and composer from Leipzig who knew Bach well, even asking the cantor to be his son’s godfather and naming the child after him. As it is the only surviving source, it is hard to know what changes Weyrauch made to any original. It seems to follow neither the violin version nor the organ version (which possibly is not by Bach). In his excellent foreword to his edition of Bach’s lute works (Edizioni Suivi Zerboni), Paolo Cherici argues that certain clumsy aspects point to an elaborated arrangement by Weyrauch himself. I am not so sure, but in any case, the piece in its tablature form works brilliantly whoever arranged it.

He is far less generous with his ornaments here than the anonymous lutenist of BWV 995, but still a little appoggiatura crops up in the exposition! Both the Fugue and the Partita contain magical sections of campanella fingerings in the high register. These fingerings take advantage of the lute’s tuning that easily allows the lutenist to play adjacent notes on different strings, resulting in a harp-like, legato effect. One can then choose how one wants to curate the resonance, which is also a common theme in all baroque lute playing.

Partita in c minor BWV 997

Written around 1740, the piece is noticeably more ‘galant’ in style than the cello/lute suite probably composed around twenty years previously. Again, this piece does not survive in a copy by Bach but there are several sources. Perhaps the three most reliable for their connection with Bach are the manuscripts by Bach’s students, Johann Agricola and Johann Kirnberger, and Weyrauch. Both Agricola’s and Kirnberger’s manuscripts point to the keyboard as the intended instrument. Weyrauch’s lute tablature makes no mention of an arrangement on the other hand. The low tessitura and use of a transposing treble clef in the Agricola and Kirnberger manuscripts do not point to a traditional harpsichord, but they may well have been intended for the gut-strung lute-harpsichord. Possibly the piece was for either keyboard or lute like the Prelude, Fugue & Allegro composed around the same period.[1]

Interestingly, the Weyrauch tablature seems to be based on a different copy to all the other secondary sources. Not only does it omit the Fugue and Double, but it is also the only copy with dynamic indications and the Sarabande’s final bars are also radically different.

As I have already mentioned, Weyrauch is more conservative than the lutenist of the g-minor suite even though he does freely add appoggiaturas and again exploits the lute’s double, bass strings. But while the different ornaments may not be as varied, his use of asymmetric and expressive slurs throughout the piece is even more interesting and imaginative.

In the opening theme of the Fantasia, the idiomatic campanella fingering creates a colour different to the staccato idea we often have for themes like this in baroque music. But not all the fingering solutions he chooses fit the lute so easily. Rather than keeping the left hand in the same position when playing large falling intervals, he sometimes elects to make the left hand jump far up the neck on the same string, lengthening the interval and creating a slightly elongated first note. This beautifully emphasises the ‘sigh’ in these falling intervals. The groups of three slurred notes combined with an appoggiatura at the end of many of the movement’s phrases create a wonderful fadeout effect but are also hard on the left hand in such an awkward key.

Even more so than in the anonymous tablature, Weyrauch goes out of his way to differentiate articulation in sequences. We hear sees this clearly in both the Fantasia and the Sarabande. The second is perhaps the most beautiful movement Bach wrote for the lute, with strong echoes of the final choral of the Matthew Passion. The ‘B’-section has a particularly beautiful section with juxtaposition of slurs from strong and soft notes and evening combining notes played with the left hand with a bass plucked by the right. There is an example of this in the Fantasia too.

As mentioned, the dynamics in the opening movement are unique to Weyrauch’s manuscript. The first inclination might be to terrace them, but this did not make sense to me as in any of the places they appear. Instead, I have interpreted forte and piano in the same way as Leopold Mozart describes dynamic markings. Here forte represents the loudest point of the phrase and piano the quietest, so rather than marking terrace dynamics, they imply crescendos and diminuendos. Incidentally, this interpretation of dynamics also works much better in the famous Prelude of BWV 1006a (or BWV 1006) in my opinion.

The chromatic flourish at the end of the Sarabande that differs from all the other surviving manuscript has been attributed to Weyrauch himself. I do not believe it. The entire partita is based on semi-tone motifs and the Sarabande most of all. There was also no reason at all for Weyrauch to change this passage - the other version is just easy to play. As one only gets to record these things once (with luck) I chose to play both, leaving Weyrauch’s for the repeat.

The playful Giga again demonstrates the ‘galant’ influences in Bach’s later music. These humorous qualities are emphasised by Weyrauch’s imaginative fingerings, for example in the opening of the ‘B’-section where he lets the left hand jump up and down the instrument repeatedly. Otherwise, Weyrauch treats it in much the same way as the anonymous lutenist does the other gigue. He regularly transposes the bass down an octave and thus makes the piece as difficult as the g-minor gigue. It is also the movement Weyrauch most liberally ornaments, particularly with appoggiaturas, but also with more virtuosic turns and falls.


Finally, the two movements Weyrauch did not intabulate:


Weyrauch’s version omits this movement for some reason, and so I have had to create my own tablature. Why the fugueis skipped is a mystery to me. Apart from the challenges associated with its extraordinary duration, it is not harder than the other movements and fits on the lute with no major problems.

I have decided to follow Agricola’s version which differs slightly from Kirnberger’s. Again, I try to use the musical ‘tricks’ the other lutenists regularly employ including campanella fingerings, loads of slurs, and regular use of the open basses. I have hardly added any ornaments; the piece is incredibly dense as it is – far more so the g-minor fugue which Weyrauch only very lightly ornaments. I do think there is space for more though – especially in the light touch way Weyrauch ornaments the violin fugue - and may well come to regret that choice. I did not feel confident in recording an ornamented version which I would like in the long run and so I chose to err on the side of caution, following the good advice that one should not half commit to these things. In the meantime, I will continue to experiment in concert!


While all the other movements use a range that fits the lute perfectly, this one mysteriously drops the transposing treble clef used in the rest of the piece. In doing so, the highest parts far exceed the lute’s tessitura, but they also exceed Bach’s keyboard instruments! The obvious solution is to transpose both staves down the octave. This means the range almost fits the baroque lute except for the low G’- the only place it appears in the suite which otherwise doesn’t venture below the A’. While this solves a lot of problems, we encounter another one. As I have described, the lute’s basses are only played by the thumb and so fast runs are incredibly difficult (not that this dissuaded the anonymous lutenist) and multiple voices in the basses are impossible. This is something that all of Bach’s other music associated with the lute takes account of. Here instead we have whole unplayable passages which again require transposition, but this time up an octave. Regular transposition of passages (both up and down) is necessary without exception whenever one wants to arrange Bach’s keyboard music for lute, but never in his ‘Lute Suites’ which only ever require small changes in places. What this means, I do not know, but all the differences with respect to the rest of the partita make me suspect the movement was added later and almost certainly not intended for the lute. I still have chosen to play it in my own arrangement. The obvious transposition solutions are the same as the ones other lutenists have chosen. I have tried to play with the fingering possibilities Weyrauch hints at in the other movements and have consciously varied the slurring again, both with regards to slurring from weak beats, and longer left-hand-only passages.

I hope you have found this interesting. The intention of writing was not to provide definite interpretative answers, but rather to share the endless possibilities these manuscripts open the door to. I hope in time to do a more in-depth comparison with extracts from the different sources. If anyone has any questions, please get in touch through or my Facebook page.


[1] There are quite a few examples of this from the time actually!


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Oscar Stern
Oscar Stern
Feb 01, 2023

It would be interesting if Barenreiter published their edition of it


Oscar Stern
Oscar Stern
Dec 30, 2022

I saw a Manuscript of Lute Tablature saying Gavotte en Rondeau which is from Bach's G Minor Lute Suite (BWV 995), essentially a Lute version of his 5th Cello Suite.

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