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Alan Mearns : J.S. Bach for Guitar : Classical Guitar Study Editions

J.S. Bach –arr.Alan Mearns

Classical Guitar Study Editions: 120 pages

Bach music on the guitar is of course one of the most important sets of pieces played on our instrument. Whilst he never wrote anything for the guitar, and apparently wrote for the baroque lute a few times, the number of pieces that have today been arranged for the guitar are many. One has to only think of the six cello suites, the 3 violin sonatas, the 3 violin partitas, each of these with multiple movements, , and really providing some of the most important sets of pieces to ever be played on the guitar, just to name but a small few. So this new book arranged by Alan Mearns reaches new levels for a few reasons.

Firstly there are 11 pages of editorial notes which are very enlightening and it is important that the player reads these before going any further into the actual music. Secondly the rest of the book is divided into two sections. Firstly there are the Performance Scores, of which there are six works , The Preludes in C major, and Cm from the Well-Tempered Klavier Book 1 , BWV 847, the Prelude to the 1st Cello Suite BWV 1007,Ich Ruf Dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 639, the Chaconne BWV1004, and finally the 3rd Violin Sonata BWV1005.Secondly there are Comparison Scores of the 1st Cello Prelude, The Chaconne, and finally the Violin Sonata No3, which are basically the original works (transposed to the key of the arrangement) sitting atop the arrangement , thereby enabling the player to compare and contrast the differences between the original and the arrangement, a very interesting idea I have never before seen done in a book comprising arrangements.

The main thing to realize about this book , and Alan Mearns’ arrangements is that he has quite often added considerable detail to the pieces, thereby writing them often on two staves , and has not had any problem with adding notes to the original ideas, when he considered them necessary.

The opening work is the Prelude in C Major, namely the one that many years later Charles Gounod put the words of Ave Maria to, and one of those piano pieces that nearly everyone has attempted to play on the piano at one time or another. The fact that it would seem to work absolutely fine on the guitar , owing to its arpeggio pattern throughout, but then when you try to do it, you find it doesn’t in fact work on the guitar is often a huge surprise to guitar players. Here he moves it to A Major and to be fair there are vast amounts of it that work really well. There are however moments when it is physically impossible to sustain the odd note as written on the arrangement, take for example the long B , written as a second string open note on bar 6 , which has then above it a B major chord of three notes at fret 7 thus stopping the open B , apparently still ringing down below. It is a small point, but one which when added to a number of others in this Prelude, makes you wonder whether the piece really does work completely on the guitar.

The Prelude in Cm, now in Am has 26 bars of two voices each consisting of 16 semi – quavers to a bar. Yes it really does work, but it is quite a handful for all but the very best of players.

The Prelude from the first Cello Suite is here on two staves in A and it is here that one finds some of Alan Mearns’ additions. Whereas the cello original had the occasional bass note followed by the arpeggio pattern, here he provides an almost completely separate bass line that continues largely throughout almost the entire piece. This does significantly add to the difficulty factor, and also changes the piece in quite surprising ways. Indeed in his editorial notes he mentions a few times and people who have done exactly the same thing to Bach, and so it is for you the players to decide whether the end result adds to the original or not.

Ich Ruf Zu Dir, Jesu Christ is set in Em , and again on two staves, resulting in a piece continuously in three voices throughout, and is quite difficult to achieve as a result, so advanced guitarists are really only the players who will be able to cope here.

The famous Bach Chaconne in Dm from the 2nd Violin Partita is perhaps, thanks to Segovia’s mind – boggling recording back all those decades ago, maybe his most played piece on the guitar, and also thanks to the Schott archives publication of Segovia’s arrangement. So here Alan Mearns instantly surprises in that he moves it into Em and on two staves. Again he adds many small details to the piece in a considerable number of places. For example he changes the first chord to add an extra F# to the Em opening triad, and then on the next few bars makes the three note chords into 4 Also he adds a number of ornaments not in the original, which I think disturbs the flow of the piece. This is of course just my own personal opinion, and one which a multitude of people will disagree with, and so suffice it to say that this is a completely new version of the piece you know, full of new ideas, and therefore a completely new take on the chaconne. The rest is up to you.

The final 3rd Violin Sonata is of course in four movements including that vast 250 odd bar Fugue that is movement two. This is again set on two staves, and is in C Major and is again filled with areas where Mearns has completely rethought some of this music, and is significantly harder as a result, but nevertheless is a wonderful piece in its original form, and which almost becomes another piece entirely in this new version. A fascinating reworking, but one which might divide opinion, I feel.

So in essence, this is a very scholarly book, full of wonderful music, only for the advanced player, but one that really will work for a lot of players, but perhaps not for others. It is a case of you have to try it and see!

Chris Dumigan

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