The violinist shares his approaches ahead of the release of his violin recording of the six suites on 5 January 2024


Violinist Tomás Cotik

Discover more Featured Stories like this in The Strad Playing Hub

The idea of transcription is not new. Bach regularly reworked and transcribed his own music as well as works by other composers, often creating versions for other instruments in different keys. There is a surviving autograph by Bach of his Cello Suite no. 5 in C minor for Baroque lute in G minor (BWV 995). Similarly, among his solo violin works, Bach transcribed the Partita for Solo Violin no. 3 (BWV 1006) for a plucked instrument (possibly lute) and titled it Suite in E Major (BWV 1006a). Bach’s contemporaries additionally indicate that he performed the Sonatas and Partitas on keyboard instruments rather than on the violin. Bach’s other surviving transcriptions of the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin (BWV 964, 968, 539, 120a: Sinfonia) confirm the practice of transcribing and transposing his original compositions to other keys. 

In my recording of the Bach Cello Suites on violin, the first five Suites are transposed up a fifth from the original key to maintain the same relations between the strings as on the cello. Additionally, they sound an octave higher. Suite no.5, which was originally written with scordatura of the top string down one tone, I recorded with standard tuning; therefore, some chords had to be simplified. Suite no.6, in the violin transcription, has remained in the original key of D major. It was originally written for a five-string instrument (with an added E string). I played notes that were supposed to be on the unavailable lower string (C) in a higher register. 

I recorded this album with a baroque bow. I enjoy the expressive potential of the baroque bow, the transparent textures, and the effortlessness with which it changes strings and direction. In this music, the baroque bow also enhances the ability to differentiate subtle nuances at the beginning and end of each stroke and the numerous subsequent possibilities of connection between those notes. Furthermore, it allows for a lighter sound and quicker, more flowing tempi. 

I followed the notion that written note values do not need to be held strictly every time. Even in independent parallel voices that have the same rhythm simultaneously, a differentiation in the sustained length or a variation in dynamic or articulation helps to bring out the distinct identity of the lines. Sustaining long bass notes is not always necessary; it is enough to make the listener merely believe and remember the continuation of the line without literally holding the notes out for their full values. I employed tempo rubato, the characteristic fluctuation in time mentioned in various treatises, and emphasised strong-weak metric units to bring life and spontaneity to the phrasing. I also allowed for a degree of improvisatory rhythmic freedom for the dotted rhythms by sharpening the rhythm or adding a pause. 

During Bach’s time, the frequency of the tuning A varied widely. My choice of recording with the A at 440 was for practical reasons. The issue to be considered in terms of intonation is the irreconcilability of the fifth and the third. It is not possible to have it all in one system—nice fifths and nice thirds. My preference is to start with Pythagorean intonation: respecting the pure fifths and fourths that resonate and are in agreement with the open strings, using strong melodic tendencies (tight leading tones that are exaggerated, especially in fast movements), maintaining the independence of different voices (giving every line its own weight), and adjusting (rounding up) thirds and sixths intuitively when needed in chords. 

I used vibrato as an ornament to the sound but not a continuous addition. I often chose fingerings in lower positions to keep the vibrating portion of the strings longer and more resonant, maintaining patterns in the sequences and differentiation in the ‘hidden’ voices that happen simultaneously between strings. Suspensions, appoggiaturas, notes echappees, passing notes, and trills with resolutions are often spelt out in the text. I seldomly added additional ornamentations for my recording. I find it essential to keep in mind that slurs, tempo rubato, notes inégales, and phrasing also add to the improvisational character of the music. The execution of trills depends largely on their context. Most often, I played them on the beat, starting with the upper note, making exceptions sometimes according to the context, for example if a note was approached from the step above or below to keep the melody’s motion. 

And still, after this summary of some aspects of my interpretation, I acknowledge that the understanding and application of the historical treatises are, to some degree, subjective. They are an attempt to have some perspective on transient interpretation fashions, oral tradition sometimes interrupted and altered, and our taste - influenced by what we already know. Some solace comes from Quantz’s Essay: ’Whoever does not trust my good taste, which I have endeavoured to acquire through experience as well as through meditation, is free to try the opposite of what I teach, and subsequently choose the interpretation that he feels to be the best. However, I do not regard myself as being infallible. Should somebody convince me with reason and modesty of something better, then would I be the first to give him my approval and to speak with his voice.’ 

Studying the work and historical documents surrounding Bach’s Suites is just a launch pad for the solutions that can ultimately only come to us in performance. More than one thing can be true at once, and a constantly transforming process takes place in our interpretation. Being musical and bringing this beautiful, touching, and transcendental music to life is my most important goal. I hope my recording will tell the rest, and most essential, part of the story: the sounding music. 

Tomás Cotik currently resides in Madrid, Spain, holding a nine-month-long Fulbright research award during his sabbatical year as a violin professor at Portland State University in Oregon. His recording of the Six Suites is out on 5 January 2024 on Centaur.

Best of Technique

In The Best of Technique you’ll discover the top playing tips of the world’s leading string players and teachers. It’s packed full of exercises for students, plus examples from the standard repertoire to show you how to integrate the technique into your playing.


The Strad’s Masterclass series brings together the finest string players with some of the greatest string works ever written. Always one of our most popular sections, Masterclass has been an invaluable aid to aspiring soloists, chamber musicians and string teachers since the 1990s.


American collector David L. Fulton amassed one of the 20th century’s finest collections of stringed instruments. This year’s calendar pays tribute to some of these priceless treasures, including Yehudi Menuhin’s celebrated ‘Lord Wilton’ Guarneri, the Carlo Bergonzi once played by Fritz Kreisler, and four instruments by Antonio Stradivari.