Alwin Schroeder's Bach Cello Suites Edition
Updated: May 28
Alwin Schroeder's 1888 edition of the Bach Cello Suites is often overlooked in the literature on the suites. I believe it deserves detailed study as a “missing link" between the earliest editions of the suites and ones that came soon after it, such as those of Becker and Klengel. In his 2016 dissertation on the Bach cello suites, Zoltan Szabo does mention the Schroeder edition, discussing it in relation to the more obviously influential second Grutzmacher edition of ca 1885, and quickly dismissing Schroeder’s version as lacking in originality. Next to the famously, sometimes scandalously original Grutzmacher, surely just about any cellist of the time would seem unadventurous in their editorial choices. But for me the question is different, because in my opinion Schroeder never intended to insert his own personality into the suites (or any other cello music) the way that Grutzmacher, Becker, and other cellists have. So what was Schroeder trying to do in his edition of the suites?
Today cellists and editors often go back to the original manuscript sources for the suites, piecing together a satisfactory (textually accurate, aesthetically authentic, personally pleasing) reading of the suites through a kind of dialogue with the composer and others from Bach’s own time. Schroeder also engaged in a dialogue, but it was more about Bach than with Bach, and it wasn’t through the medium of the manuscript copies (which likely weren’t available to him anyway), but of previous editions and the cellists behind them. His edition has no prefatory explanation of his approach, but as he showed us later with the 170 Foundation Studies, Schroeder was adept at assimilating and reorganizing a broad range of pre-existing materials in a meaningful way. I think his approach to the Bach suites is similar, while still revealing some personal touches. To me Schroeder’s edition reads like an opinion statement on the status of cellistic knowledge and tradition regarding the suites and their interpretation at the time.
A comparison of the Schroeder Bach suites edition with the handful of editions that predate it reveals very clear connections with the ideas about playing Bach on the cello that editors such as Norblin, Dotzauer, Grutzmacher (in his second edition), and Dorffel passed down. Taking the first suite as a case study, and looking at specific editorial parameters, I will now discuss these relationships in more detail.
Louis-Pierre Norblin was the editor of the first published edition of the suites, printed first in Paris (Janet et Cotelle, 1824), then in Leipzig (Probst, 1825) with some changes to the plates. Probst was later bought out by Kistner, the publisher of Schroeder’s edition, so it is possible that Schroeder’s own edition evolved from a planned reprinting or revision of the Norblin edition. There is an obvious similarity in page layout, unique to the Norblin and Schroeder editions: the movement title is always to the left of the first staff, which often contains fewer measures in order to accommodate the text, although certain pages actually show greater similarity with the earlier Paris edition than the Probst edition. (This can be seen in Example 1, below.) Schroeder incorporates the majority of Norblin’s Italian tempo markings throughout the suites (the notable exceptions are either the same as Dotzauer’s, split the difference between Norblin’s and Grutzmacher’s tempos, or are Schroeder's own proposals). Schroeder also uses Norblin’s rare dynamic indications as a point of departure for that parameter. Perhaps most surprising is Schroeder’s adoption of Norblin’s 4-slurred, 4-separate bowing for the 8-note figure that opens the G-Major Prelude:
Example 1. First three measures of Suite No. 1 Prelude in a) Norblin (Paris, 1824), b) Norblin (Leipzig, 1825), and c) Schroeder (Liepzig, 1888)
Judging from later evidence (Schroeder’s 1915 US patent application), Schroeder might have been the only cellist who consistently played the G-Major Prelude with this bowing. Other than Becker’s 8-note slurs of 1890, the Norblin-Schroeder bowing appears be the only bowing for this opening in the pre-1900 editions of the suites where the middle of the bar always arrives on an up-bow.
Schroeder’s allegiance to the Dotzauer school, while by no means exclusive, can be seen in his editions of Dotzauer’s cello etudes, duets, and method. Schroeder signals his reverence for Dotzauer in his Bach edition by including several footnotes with alternative readings that are found nowhere other than in Dotzauer’s 1826 edition, which had been reprinted in the early 1880s. He also adopts the Presto indication for the C-Major prelude until then unique to Dotzauer’s edition (did Dotzauer get this from Kellner?) and La Musette for the second gavotte of the D-Major suite.
Another important aspect of Schroeder’s connection to Dotzauer is in the area of fingering choices. Whereas Grutzmacher (and later Klengel) favors lower positions and open strings, Schroeder (and later Becker) builds on Dotzauer’s preference for higher positions. This is particularly apparent in the first-suite Allemande, as a comparison of fingerings illustrates: of a total of 37 places where at least one of the five editors (Dotzauer, Grutzmacher ca 1885, Schroeder, Becker, or Klengel) indicates or implies by context a higher-position (i.e, non-first-position, non-open string) fingering, Dotzauer indicates higher-positions in 11 of those places, while Schroeder more than doubles that number to 23 and, like Becker after him, has no open-string indications. In contrast, both Grutzmacher (ca 1885 edition) and Klengel have fewer than 10 high-position fingerings in the G-Major Allemande, and Grutzmacher's decided first-position preference can also be seen in his 8 explicit open-string indications in this movement (Dotzauer has 3).
In Schroeder’s case, the frequent use of second-position (with notes shared by open strings played with 4th finger) on the three lower strings may have stemmed from his early career as a violinist and violist. Becker carries Dotzauer’s higher-position project ever further (he has 32 higher-position fingerings in the G-Major Allemande), although he does not completely avoid the A string in the first suite’s second Menuet, as he does in the second Bourree of the third suite. Dotzauer’s G-string fingering in the 2nd Minuet, taken up by both Grutzmacher and Schroeder, seems to have inspired a search for additional high G-string moments. Schroeder found two in the Sarabande (See Example 2).
Example 2. a) Suite No. 1: Menuet II, m. 8 in Dotzauer (1826), b) Suite No. 1: Sarabande, m. 3 in Schroeder (1888), c) Suite No. 1: Sarabande, m. 16 in Schroeder (1888)
The proximity in time of Schroeder’s edition to Grutzmacher’s second edition, published just a few years earlier, suggests a kind of debate between these two cellist editors, Schroeder in some instances disagreeing with Grutzmacher’s ideas, while in others embracing them. In the area of tempo indications, Schroeder rejects Grutzmacher’s attempt to standardize the tempo scheme across all six suites: choosing not to adopt the Dresden master’s rubber-stamping of all but the sixth Allemande with "Molto moderato (con grandezza),” Schroeder returns to tempo relationships among the movements that vary from suite to suite. Schroeder’s unique breit (“broad”) indications for the ends of the first-suite Allemande sections are an intriguing interpretative counter-suggestion to Grutzmacher’s molto ritardando. In the realm of articulations, in places where Schroeder does adopt a Grutzmacherian variant, he often removes dots and sforzandi, or downgrades the latter to accents. An intriguing example of Schroeder going to greater lengths to differentiate his interpretation of a passage from Grutzmacher's is in mm. 25-8 of the first-suite Courante, where Schroeder asks for more emphasis on certain notes than Grutzmacher does. (See Example 3) Compare Schroeder's breit indication on the first two eighths of m. 27, the accents on the last two eighths of that measure, and the tenuto without accent on the low E in m. 28, to Grutzmacher's interpretative markings for the same notes.
Example 3. a) Suite No. 1: Courante, mm. 26-8 in Grutzmacher (ca 1885), b) Suite No. 1: Courante, mm. 26-8 in Schroeder (1888)
As noted by Szabo, Schroeder did slavishly incorporate several ornaments that Grutzmacher originated (i.e., are not found in the manuscript sources or earlier editions), in the Allemandes of both the first and third suites. It seems clear that Schroeder chose ornaments from among the sources with which he was familiar, using his personal taste and experience with "Alte Musik" to guide him.
Schroeder appears to have been familiar with the 1879 Dorffel edition of the suites, prepared as part of the first Bach complete edition. The relative paucity of slurs in the Dorffel may have influenced Schroeder to preserve a higher proportion of separate bows within figures or passages, and to largely avoid hooked bowings, in contrast with the long slurs and other bowing modernizations of later editors (esp. Becker). In the first suite there are several bow phrasings unique to Schroeder whose closest antecedent is in Dorffel, including m. 2 of the Courante and m. 2 of Menuet I. (See Example 4; Dotzauer and Grutzmacher ca 1885 given for comparison)
Example 4. a) Suite No. 1: Courante, m. 2 in Dorffel, Schroeder, Dotzauer, and Grutzmacher (ca 1885); b) Suite No. 1: Menuet I, mm. 2-3 in Dorffel, Schroeder (1888)
Grutzmacher (ca 1885 ed.)
Grutzmacher (ca 1885 ed.)
Schroeder’s own contributions
I have already mentioned the unique “breit” markings in the G-Major Allemande and Courante (later taken up in Malkin’s edition), and the G-string fingering in the Sarabande (taken up by Becker and others). It was Schroeder who brought Norblin’s G-Major prelude bowing into early-20th century practice, when most editions agreed with the Dotzauer/Dorffel 3-slurred, 5-separate bowing. But to me, the most intriguing “innovation” in Schroeder’s reading of the first suite: his Poco piu mosso indication for the second minuet. As far as I can determine, Schroeder’s edition was the earliest to include this particular editorial instruction. Within a decade of Schoeder’s edition at least two editions with metronome markings (Becker’s and Hausmann’s) confirm Schroeder’s approach. Was Schroeder simply the first to codify a current performance practice, or did his marking suggest this practice to Becker and Hausmann?
Further investigation is needed to determine the degree of influence Alwin Schroeder’s Bach suites edition may have had on later Bach editors, particularly Hugo Becker and Joseph Malkin. I hope I have already shown some degree of influence existed, which in itself is an arresting thought, given the wide and sustained dissemination the Becker and Malkin editions have enjoyed. It is a matter of speculation how influential Schroeder’s own performances of abridged Bach suites, given regularly throughout the US between 1898 and 1907, were on cellists who heard them, but it seems certain his interpretations helped prepare American audiences for the advent of Pablo Casals, whose Bach suite performances were part of the 1915 revelation of “what the cello actually is” in this country.