Hopkinson Smith – Bach Recital
Suites BWV 1007-1009
on the German Theorbo
The 'official' Bach works for the lute are primarily individual 18th century arrangements which were never conceived of as a unit (as were, for instance, the English and French Suites for keyboard or the 'cello Suites or the violin Sonatas and Partitas). Some of these lute adaptations were by Bach himself (BWV 995 based on the fifth 'cello Suite or BWV 1006a from the third violin Partita) and others come from his circle. My own adaptations of Bach works for the lute include a recording of the fourth and sixth 'cello Suites for the lute released in the early nineties and the double CD of my arrangements of the complete violin Sonatas and Partitas which came out in 2000. Gramophone magazine generously called this "the best recording of these works on any instrument”.
The first three ‘cello Suites, quite different from the last three, have a unique melodic charm and a singular energy. I have long pondered the best way to realize these works on a plucked instrument. I feel that the baroque lute lacks the depth and nobility that the 'cello range can give, and that the French/Italian theorbo is too much of a historical, geographical and aesthetic anomaly for this repertoire. A solution which I think is more satisfying on all counts is the German theorbo. It has a longer string length and is tuned a third lower than the baroque lute, giving it more resonance and bringing it closer to the poetic world of the 'cello, and its double-strung basses (where the low note is reinforced by a note an octave higher) give an added eloquence which the single strung French/Italian variant does not have.