Recording J.S. Bach’s Bourree’ in E Minor

Young Bach2

Bach’s Bourree’ in E minor was originally composed for the lute but has become very popular for the guitar. It has been played in a literal fashion by many rock bands such as Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin (in live shows), Tenacious D, and Ingwie Malmsteen. As recently as 2007, the heavy metal band Alter Bridge used the tune as the chorus melody in their song “Wayward One.” Paul McCartney is also said to have been influenced by the tune when he composed his solo guitar piece “Blackbird.”

In deciding to record Bach’s Bourree’ for classical guitar, I chose to play it exactly as written in the score I had available, and try to get the feel that Bach had intended. I don’t know if I have succeeded or not because there are two ways to interpret a Bouree’. There is a very slight difference between the two, but I found the first one to be a bit more natural on the guitar, due to the need to sustain a half note in the second full measure in the alternate way. This is more easily accomplished on the flute or other monophonic instrument, or when you need only play the top melody line.

Bourree’ Rhythm


The most intriguing thing about this piece is the amazingly cool counterpoint (when there are two distinct melodies moving independently of each other). It really gives you a feeling of two different guitars playing. The challenge when performing the piece is to try and maintain a balance in volume and intensity between the two voices and give them equal emphasis.

Binary Form

Bourree’ in E minor is arranged in what is called “Binary” form. This simply means that there are two parts and that each part is repeated twice. In the eighteenth century this form was used mainly to compose dance movements but eventually gave way to the sonata form which allows for more more varied and organic structures.

The Wind

I hope you cannot hear it (if you do it is done on purpose for effect) but my biggest challenge was recording it on a really windy day near a very rattly window.

I have always loved this piece, and it’s fun to hear the many variations and styles that it’s been translated into over the years. As with all the pieces in this project however, I stayed with the most basic feel I could and didn’t do much coloring of the melody or rhythm.

(To listen to the recording, click play icon on the audio bar at the top of this post – the song is at the end.)


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