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Among the staples of the modern cello repertoire are the six Suites a Violoncello Solo senza Basso by Johann Sebastian Bach. Yet the absence of an autograph in the composer’s own hand forces cellists to consider four eighteenth-century manuscripts and the first printed edition, each of which differ on such issues as phrasing, slurs, ornamentation, and in some cases the pitches themselves. Of the four manuscripts, the one by Anna Magdalena Bach, the composer’s second wife, is known to have been copied directly from the autograph of her husband. While her manuscript does contain a number of inconsistencies that were unlikely to have been in the original, a comparison of the slurs and phrasing in the “Bourrée” of Suite No. 4 in E-flat in her manuscript with those found in the other contemporaneous manuscripts lend credibility to the argument that hers should be given priority by cellists today. Her markings lead to a performance that is most consistent with the character of a bourrée, and a study of the dance forms on which the cello Suites are based make it clear that Bach sought to retain the character of these dances in the Suites.

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