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As is well known, this suite was composed for a cello with a scordatura tuning C-G-d-g instead of the classical C-G-d-a.

I have seen almost every possible combination:

  • edition for specially-tuned cello in "sounding" notation
  • edition for specially-tuned cello in "physical" notation
  • edition for normally-tuned cello in "sounding" notation
  • edition with several staffs with two of the preceding cases.

What I mean by sounding, is that the note on the part is at the pitch that one hears.

What I mean by physical, is that the note on the part is the one you would play if you were putting your finger on the right place on a normally-tuned cello.

There may be other variants I have not seen, without speaking of the style of fingering, of using the tenor key, or coping with the adaptation to the normal tuning, etc.

What should I try to use ? I feel that all choices have strong drawbacks.

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Why are there two close votes on this? This looks like a reasonable question for this website. –  Willie Wong Apr 27 '11 at 1:24
Probably because this is a little like a shopping recommendation and it's better to ask a general question about how to choose music editions in all cases rather than for this specific cello suite. –  Ben Alpert Apr 27 '11 at 1:53
A few remarks: 1) this is not a shopping recommendation question, but a learning and practice strategy recommendation which in this case is directly linked to the kind of edition you choose to practice. A general question about the "best" edition would be too general and polemical. 2) this suite is very specific and has edition and interpretation problems comparable to none others. 3) I feel that I should ask a similar but separate question for the 6-th suite that was composed for violoncello piccolo to get the advice of other fellow cellists. –  ogerard Apr 27 '11 at 5:51
I'm agreed with ogerard on this one. –  Matthew Read May 29 '11 at 2:01

1 Answer 1

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Ultimately it is subjective, and it is worth learning both the scordatura and normal versions; however, I find the scordatura version more satisfying to play, personally. One place in particular is the G-D-G chord before the start of the fugue. In scordatura, the top G can be played with an open string, so all three pitches can ring simultaneously. In standard tuning, you have to stop some of the strings from resonating so that you can switch your hand position. The downside to scordatura is that you have to retune your A string before and after you play the suite, and it takes a bit of effort to get used to sounds different from what you would expect.

Physical notation works well because reading music is a large part muscle memory. If you read a C natural on the A string, for example, you would know what finger to use and where your hand should be, regardless of the fact that you were actually playing a G-sharp string and the sounding pitch was a B natural. It would be more difficult, given a G-sharp string, to try and find a B natural.

The edition popular among cellists (at least from my perspective) is Baerenreiter. There are two different versions, the scholarly performing edition, which includes facsimiles of all the source manuscripts (e.g. Magdelena, Kellner), and then there is a version edited by Wenzinger. Both are common. It should be noted that the scholarly performing edition does not contain any printed markings such as slurs or fingerings, and it is roughly three times more expensive. However, it has annotations at the spots where the the source manuscripts differ, which can be useful at times. I can't speak for the Wenzinger version, but the performing edition has both scordatura in physical notation and normal tuning.

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Thanks a lot for this detailed answer. Have you had a look at the Henle edition? –  ogerard May 31 '11 at 9:39
I have not looked at the Henle edition, but you can get an idea if you look here –  nharren May 31 '11 at 22:39

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