Tune in every day @ 1PM, when host Chris Wolf will feature a Bach Cello suite performed by a different artist. Plus some more Bach goodies!
Johann Sebastian Bach was born 332 years ago on Tuesday and to mark the event Intermezzo host Chris Wolf decided to feature one of Bach's most intimate instrumental outputs--his suites for solo cello.
They are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello. Bach most likely composed them during the period 1717–23, when he served as a Kapellmeister in Köthen. The title of the Anna Magdalena Bach (an accomplished singer and the second wife of Johann Sebastian Bach) manuscript was Suites à Violoncello Solo senza Basso (Suites for cello solo without bass).
These suites for unaccompanied cello are remarkable in that they achieve the effect of implied three- to four-voice contrapuntal and polyphonic music in a single musical line.
As usual in a Baroque musical suite, each movement is based around a baroque dance type; the cello suites are structured in six movements each: prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets or two bourrées or two gavottes, and a final gigue.
The Bach cello suites are considered to be among the most profound of all classical music works. Wilfrid Mellers described them in 1980 as "Monophonic music wherein a man has created a dance of God."
Due to the works' technical demands, étude-like nature, and difficulty in interpretation because of the non-annotated nature of the surviving copies, the cello suites were little known and rarely publicly performed until they were revived and recorded by Pablo Casals in the early 20th century. They have since been performed and recorded by many renowned cellists. They've also been have also been transcribed transcribed for more than 19 different instruments, including the tuba and ukulele.
It’s a testament to the music’s diversity and intrigue that so many instrumentalists, not just cellists, want to sample Bach’s genius for themselves.
Suite No. 1 in G major
The solo nature of the suites practically begs anyone who plays them to come up with their own interpretation of the music. The G major suite is the best-known of the six:, and it’s frequently heard on TV and in films.
Suite No. 2 in D minor
The second suite is a change in character from the positive G major Suite No. 1. Like all the suites, this is based on six dances, but it’s easy to forget this fact when listening to the brooding ‘Sarabande’. Bach uses low chords so the cello can accompany itself. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful.
Suite No. 3 in C major
Back to a major key, Bach’s Suite No. 3 in C is folky and relaxed – The cello’s lowest note, the bottom C string, is often played to make up a meaty C major chord, showing off the full range of the instrument. From the cheeky ‘Courante’ to the two wonderfully contrasting ‘Bourée’ movements, this suite truly shows off the emotional depths available on a cello.
Suite No. 4 in E flat major
Suite No. 4 is one of the most technically demanding of the suites. E-flat is an uncomfortable key on the cello and requires many extended left hand positions. The Prelude primarily consists of a difficult flowing quaver movement that leaves room for a cadenza before returning to its original theme. The very peaceful Sarabande is quite obscure about the stressed second beat, which is the basic characteristic of the 3/4 dance, since, in this particular Sarabande, almost every first beat contains a chord, whereas the second beat most often doesn't.
Suite No. 5 in C minor
This suite was originally written for a cello with its strings tuned down a tone, to extend the possibilities of the instrument even further. Its most famous movement is the haunting ‘Sarabande’, which was played at the World Trade Center on the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. It’s one of only four movements in all six suites which doesn’t contain any chords, giving it a pared down feel.
Suite No. 6 in D major
The last of the six suites may well have been composed for a smaller version of the cello with five strings rather than four, called a violoncello piccolo. The tune is higher than the other suites, giving the music a different feel from the heavier minor suites which come before it. The ‘Gigue’ is a great mix of mischief and virtuosity in equal measure – listening to the number of chords in the music, it’s almost hard to believe there’s only one instrument playing. Listen for this final suite on The Morning Blend Saturday morning with Simeon Rusnak.