Secrets of the Bach Cello Suites and Violin Partitas

D.C. Dounis described several key points about performing the Bach cello suites or solo violin partitas. To understand his ideas let's us look at the following observations.

1) Most cellists and violinists underestimate the technical difficulty of playing solo Bach.

2) Bach conveys religious emotion, not romanticism.

These observations are related. What are the major technical difficulties of Bach? The difficulties are related to conveying religious emotion. For example, Dounis said vibrato was the basis of left hand technique, not simply an add-on for expression. In Bach the sound is pure, with a less noticeable vibrato and a transparent sound. So the technical challenge in the left hand is to have a vibrato that is free, relaxed and less noticeable. In other words, you want to hear the note, not the vibrato. 

Although there are many other left hand issues, Dounis gives us a an important clue to expression in Bach through the following observation...

"Playing Bach is all about eveness."

All the expressiveness can happen in the vibrato which is conformed to the voice and is constantly making slight changes of intensity. This can happen without distorting the rhythm. In the past performers have distorted the rhythm to achieve expression which has the reverse effect. The idea is to have "transparency." 


One of the greatest technical challenges of the bow arm in Bach are the string crossings. Many great players haven't been able to perform Bach at the same level as the romantic repertoire. String crossings are often the cause. Bach is filled with challenging string crossings. The bow must be schooled properly to achieve ease, freedom and the desired sound. There are some very simple but powerful techniques in the Dounis method to master this technique. 

When one is distracted by all the string crossings, another issue which gets overlooked is smooth bow changes. This goes back to the idea of eveness and transparency. Often the problem is at the tip where the bow can stop momentarily therefore interrupting the fluidity of the line. 

To eliminate this "dead spot" Dounis had students round the bow changes at the tip. He called this the "Thin Figure 8." This rounding, which George Neikrug describes as "ice cream cone shaped," keeps the bow moving during the change and makes it completely smooth. 

There are many other important issues in the bow arm altogether which I will discuss in future articles or on upcoming webinars.