The idea of playing the
music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the Russian seven-string guitar, is not as
far-fetched as it may seem at first blush. This music, and the violin and cello
sonatas in particular, have been arranged and transcribed for some of the most
unlikely instruments, oddities such as the banjo, ukulele and harmonica, and
often enough, quite successfully. With the current proliferation of classical
guitar gurus who pretend to have Herr Bach’s home phone number and e-mail
address, not to mention the several PH.d. dissertations that proposed the best
way of arranging this music for the guitar, one may wonder what is the point of
The first consideration here, is that historically speaking, the earliest known transcription of Bach’s music for the guitar, was published in Moscow in 1834, in a transcription for the Russian seven-string guitar by Mikhail Timofeevich Vyssotsky (1791-1837).
The main consideration for making this new transcription is that by reason of the tuning in thirds of the seven-string guitar, it is much easier, and much more idiomatic, to construct here the bariolage figurations that are so abundant in this music, than on a guitar tuned in fourths. At the same time, the tuning arrangement, and the setting in the key of g minor, allows us to play scale runs in campanela, pretty much along the same lines this music would be played on the baroque lute. Of course, the transcription does not endeavour to imitate the original violin version, or even any versions for baroque lute that may exist. The choice of the g minor key was not determined by the original key used by Bach, but by the fact that g minor is the basic common key for the seven-string guitar, and serves the same function in its repertoire as the key of a minor does for the six-string guitar. In order to facilitate for players who are not familiar with the tuning to read this score, it includes detailed fingering, based on the G open tuning of the Russian seven-string guitar which is as follows:
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