Day 6: Suite No. 1 in G major, Gigue

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Miranda Wilson

There’s something about the gigue as a form that seems a lot more rugged and rambunctious than the other Baroque dance forms. You can’t imagine people dancing a stately allemande with mud on their boots, spinach in their teeth, and a beer stein in one hand, can you?

The ever-helpful Grove Music Online quotes Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing as proof of the gigue’s populist origins: “Wooing is hot and hasty like a Scottish jigge.” (1)

With this in mind, I tried to bring out the robustness of the G major Gigue in today’s recording. David Ledbetter, whose Unaccompanied Bach: Performing the Solo Works has been open on my desk since the beginning of this project, suggests that it’s rather similar in character to the third movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6, a piece I’ve always found decidedly jolly (2). I aimed for this kind of boisterousness in the first repeats, and something more delicate and nuanced (and with more rubato) in the second ones. Unfortunately, the microphones on my Flip Camera aren’t the most sensitive, and you can’t really hear what I thought was quite a marked differentiation in dynamics. I may ultimately end up recording each take on my audio recording equipment and splicing it together with the video, although this takes a lot longer. If I’d really thought about this, I might instead have acquired one of those Kodak video cameras that’s essentially the same as the Flip, but into which you can plug the microphone of your choice. My husband and I have some pretty fancy mikes for our audio recording projects, so this might have been better. Alas.

Concluding thoughts on Suite No. 1

I really enjoyed revisiting the G major suite, which strangely is actually the suite I’ve played the least in my adult life. I’ve taught it to a few of my university and private students, but that’s different from living and breathing it myself. Something that surprised me was how much I had to unpeel a few layers of bad editions from my playing. I rather regret that most cello students’ first taste of the G major suite (in America, anyway) comes from the Suzuki books, where it’s presented in bits and pieces between Books Four to Seven, if I remember rightly. I think the first piece you get is the G major Gigue, in fact. I do take into account that the Suzuki editors did what they had to to make this great music accessible to the still-growing hands of children, since I don’t dispute for a minute that it’s wonderful for children to meet Bach when they’re eight or nine–why not? I wish, however, that they’d change the bowings and fingerings to something more musically and stylistically sensitive. What you learn as a child sticks with you. This has become very plain to me now that I’m a professor and it’s my job to give “technique makeovers” to incoming students. It’s unbelievably hard to eradicate a lazy habit. I know this from large amounts of personal experience, as well as the experiences of my students.

Today’s video.

If the G major suite is the Bach suite of my childhood, the D minor, which is coming up next, is the suite of my adolescence. Today’s practice list included the D minor Prelude and Allemande, as well as the D major Prelude (and, of course, the G major Gigue). I’m looking forward to the challenge of Suite No. 2!

(1) Ellis Little, Meredith. “Gigue.” Grove Music Online. (accessed June 18, 2011).

(2) Ledbetter, David. Unaccompanied Bach: Performing the Solo Works. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009, 185.


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