Cello sheet music: Adagio from Bach Organ Toccata

Folks, more free Bach cello music can be found in this new article. It is part of the Clean and Free Sheet Music initiative I’ve undertaken.

I took a detour from my usual Bach cello suite transcriptions this time. A while ago someone on Reddit posted a question asking for identification of music. It was a recording of Mstislav Rostropovich playing the cello for the Emperor of Japan, at the White House in 1994. The first piece at 0:37 caught my attention. I swore that I knew this music well – I could hum along ahead of Rostropovich. But I could not recall what this was. The music stuck in my head for days. The mystery drove me crazy.

I tried all sorts of “find the music” magics online, including by singing, by humming, by audio file, by playing on a on-screen keyboard, by entering notes explicitly, and by typing in the contour (shape). Nothing worked. Clearly this was a famous cello piece, but I just could not find it.

Not until I randomly searched for “Rostropovich” and various terms, that I hit the right combination of words. In hindsight, I could have found it in a few minutes, with just “Rostropovich adagio”. It turned out that this piece was actually Bach’s organ toccata, BWV 564. Pablo Casals transcribed it for the cello, and apparently it was one of Rostropovich’s favorite pieces.

Once I had the BWV number, a wealth of videos and online resources could then be uncovered, such as this one.

I bought the original transcription from Casals here. But I found that I couldn’t make it sound great. The entire piece mostly lingered on the two upper strings, and came out squeaking often. Of course, I blamed myself for this. So I transcribed it on the computer, and transposed it down a fourth. I felt that that it now sounded better, as a solo piece without piano accompaniment. And it worked better for someone as unskilled as myself.

Here it is, the transposed, clean music for cello solo, from the Adagio from Bach’s Organ Toccata in C major, BWV 564. There are only notes in this sheet. You can make your own bowing and fingering marks on it. Click on the image to go to the PDF file.

Adagio from Bach Organ Toccata Clean Transposed Cello Thumb

Clean, transposed score

Following is my own markings. These most likely won’t work for you.

Thumbnail for Adagio from Bach Organ Toccata Transposed Cello, with my own markings.

With my own markings

Now… I also have a faithfully-transcribed, untransposed version of the Casals score in electronic form. But I can’t post it here. That 1925 transcription has been “copyright renewed”, and won’t be released into the public domain until 2020…. that is, assuming that Congress even allows it to be released, ever. Remind me in 2020.


ps: The original music played on the organ can be found on this video at 5:43.

Updated on 2021-11-22. Well, what did I know. Congress did not further extend this perpetual copyright scheme. It is 2021. And works published in 1925 entered public domain on January 1, 2021. So, here you go, the original version transcribed by Casals.

Adagio from Bach Organ Toccata Original Cello Thumb

Original version transcribed by Casals

Updated on 2021-11-24. Here is a recent video with better audio quality, from 2020.

Here is how the solo sounds transposed down a fourth. I’ve already said earlier that I am no good at the cello. This arrangement allows me to generate tolerable noises, compared to real music from professionals featured above.

About Xinhai Dude 辛亥生

The name Xinhai Dude 辛亥生 is a pun in Chinese, as it means both “he who was born in Xinhai” as well as “he who studies Xinhai”. I had an ambitious plan to write something about the great Xinhai Revolution of 1911, thus my blog https://xinhaidude.com. But after an initial flurry of activities the initiative petered out. One day I will still carry it through. But for now, this website has turned into a conglomerate of my work on various topics of interest to me, including travel pictures, RC model airplane flying, inline skating, ice skating, classical music composition, science fiction short stories, evolution and atheism.
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4 Responses to Cello sheet music: Adagio from Bach Organ Toccata

  1. Stephanie says:

    I’d love to get the piano accompaniment! I’d love to perform this at my church.
    Thank you for your site.

    • Your comment reminded me that it’s 2021. The original transcription by Casals is now in the public domain. I put up a clean PDF of the original transcription. It is of a higher quality that what you used to be able to buy – since they were reprints.

      I didn’t re-transcribe the piano accompaniment for a better print, since my goal was to make it playable as a solo piece for myself. But now that this is in the public domain, you can probably find it everywhere online.

  2. Leonard Birnbaum says:

    Great playing! I’m copying you (on the bass).

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