Arranger's Corner: BWV 1003, Choosing your Bass notes--Thinking in 16th Century Terms

In the critical notes of our arrangements of the Sonatas and Partitas, Frank Koonce and I had a short discussion about the Schemata and Rule of the Octave, which were part of the training for composers in Bach’s time. Hundreds of little formulae were learned and practised in all keys. These schemata were used in combination with figured bass exercises called “Partimenti.” It was very different from the way we are trained in theory; that is, to think of the structural underpinning of music as being chords and inversions. It may sound more complicated at first, but in fact this system was used with young children, and it really is quite intuitive.

There must be thousands of guitarists making arrangements of Bach’s music for their instrument, and I think we have all experienced the challenges, frustrations, and also the joys of this endeavour.

Using passages from the E-Major lute suite/violin partita, this video shows how Bach combines different schemata when he added his bass lines to the unaccompanied violin score. For passages where we don’t have an arrangement by Bach himself, we can apply these ideas, and find satisfying answers to some of the riddles we encounter when trying to add inner parts or a bass line to the solo string music.