The Myth of Bach’s Lute Suites by Clive Titmuss – this is classical guitar

As student guitarists, we learned that J. S. Bach wrote four suites and a number of miscellaneous pieces for the lute, now played on the guitar. Wikipedia reads:” Bach composed a suite and several other works for solo lute.” You know what I am going to say next–perhaps you should sit down…: A more up-to-date reading of the evidence would be that Bach did not write any music specifically intended for solo lute.

The apocryphal lute works lie well within the confines of Bach’s established keyboard style, and other than a poorly thought-out arrangement, ill-suited to the instrument and worked-out at the keyboard (BWV 995, Suite in G minor), almost nothing from the composer really links them to the lute. Recent scholarship and the work of a number of makers and players of 18th Century-style keyboards have made it obvious that Bach wrote the music for, and probably at, the lute-harpsichord. The real story is everything that happened after his death that connects the works in question to the lute.

I love Bach’s “works for lute.” I quote the preceding phrase because, as this article explains, they weren’t written for lute. I’ve known these works since I was a teenager, first fiddling with the frets of a guitar, and I have listened to them so many times I can almost hum them. I was only ever able to play one of them, the Prelude BWV 999. But one day, perhaps, I may go back and try and play more of them. (Actually, some of the movements aren’t extremely difficult.)

Source: The Myth of Bach’s Lute Suites by Clive Titmuss | this is classical guitar

4 thoughts on “The Myth of Bach’s Lute Suites by Clive Titmuss – this is classical guitar

  1. Same here. Bach’s “lute suites” are among my absolute favorite musical works ever (not just classical). I spent the greater part of my teen years trying to push the boundaries of my technique on the classical guitar, switching from my formative years playing rock and metal. In pure teen spirit, this was around the time where my main interests were to discover and master a number of technically challenging classical guitar pieces, in addition to being absolutely fascinated by Bach’s work (the Brandenburg concertos were my second favorite cycle from this composer at the time). BWV 999 is a standard prelude every “serious” classical guitarist is bound to master, in addition to the BWV 996 Bourrée. I aIso remember spending countless hours fine tuning my interpretation of the BWV 996 Allemande and the BWV 1006a prelude (transcribed from the violin partita), but never could master them to my satisfaction. To be fair, I was trying to mimic John Williams, so this was quite difficult… 😉 The BWV 997 Prelude and Fugue was always a personal favourite in this cycle. In any case, you are brigning back fascinating memories from my teen years. Unfortunately, my Biochemistry college requirements quickly took over all the time I had in the world, resulting in a considerably altereted classical technique over time.

    While I own a number of recorded versions of these suites, for some reason I always preferred hearing them played on the guitar rather than the lute. There is something I don’t quite appreciate about the resonating and very soft sound of the lute (too much reverb). There are a number of good versions of these works out there, but somehow I always go back to the 1975 version by John Williams, which is my absolute personal favourite. In fact, this was the first classical CD I ever bought! (This version: https://www.amazon.com/Bach-Four-Suites-J-S/dp/B0000026EZ). Thanks for the article link. Fascinating read.

    • The lute has sympathetic strings, which gives it the rounder sound. I do like the sound, but I also like the more incisive, less full sound of the six-string guitar. I used to have Narcisco Yepes’ version of them, on his ten-string guitar, and I liked them a lot; I see that set is still available, and I should give it a listen. I recall seeing him live at Carnegie Hall back in the day, being blown away by his performance of Bach’s Chaconne…

  2. Same here. Bach’s “lute suites” are among my absolute favorite musical works ever (not just classical). I spent the greater part of my teen years trying to push the boundaries of my technique on the classical guitar, switching from my formative years playing rock and metal. In pure teen spirit, this was around the time where my main interests were to discover and master a number of technically challenging classical guitar pieces, in addition to being absolutely fascinated by Bach’s work (the Brandenburg concertos were my second favorite cycle from this composer at the time). BWV 999 is a standard prelude every “serious” classical guitarist is bound to master, in addition to the BWV 996 Bourrée. I aIso remember spending countless hours fine tuning my interpretation of the BWV 996 Allemande and the BWV 1006a prelude (transcribed from the violin partita), but never could master them to my satisfaction. To be fair, I was trying to mimic John Williams, so this was quite difficult… 😉 The BWV 997 Prelude and Fugue was always a personal favourite in this cycle. In any case, you are brigning back fascinating memories from my teen years. Unfortunately, my Biochemistry college requirements quickly took over all the time I had in the world, resulting in a considerably altereted classical technique over time.

    While I own a number of recorded versions of these suites, for some reason I always preferred hearing them played on the guitar rather than the lute. There is something I don’t quite appreciate about the resonating and very soft sound of the lute (too much reverb). There are a number of good versions of these works out there, but somehow I always go back to the 1975 version by John Williams, which is my absolute personal favourite. In fact, this was the first classical CD I ever bought! (This version: https://www.amazon.com/Bach-Four-Suites-J-S/dp/B0000026EZ). Thanks for the article link. Fascinating read.

    • The lute has sympathetic strings, which gives it the rounder sound. I do like the sound, but I also like the more incisive, less full sound of the six-string guitar. I used to have Narcisco Yepes’ version of them, on his ten-string guitar, and I liked them a lot; I see that set is still available, and I should give it a listen. I recall seeing him live at Carnegie Hall back in the day, being blown away by his performance of Bach’s Chaconne…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.