Magazine article Strings

Bassist Rises to Challenge Bach's Suites for Solo Cello

Magazine article Strings

Bassist Rises to Challenge Bach's Suites for Solo Cello

Article excerpt

Scholarship is important, but don't let it get in the way of musicality

THE BACH CELLO SUITES are an incredible group of works that are accessible at a variety of different levels: both on the surface for their innate beauty and grace, and also, upon deeper inspection, for the harmonies and implied voices, the clarity of form, and the details of phrasing. As a bassist, one also has to grapple with techniques that are beyond what the traditional repertoire requires, especially if they are to be played at pitch. Edgar Meyer, for instance, has often said that he developed much of his own (incredible) technique through study of the Bach suites.

For me, these pieces are the ultimate musical challenge that will always offer something new to discover, as well as an opportunity to improve my technique particularly since the suites are extremely transparent and don't offer anywhere to hide in terms of poor intonation, uneven tone, or indecisive bowing choices.

I have performed the First Suite (at pitch) and the Third Suite (transposed down a fourth), but while I have pulled the Second Suite out from time to time, I have never actually worked it up to performance level.

The 1950 Bärenreiter is the best place to start your studies. Since there is no surviving manuscript in Bach's hand for this music, we have to rely on various other sources - none of which completely agree on bowings. This edition uses the most reliable source (the Anna Magdalena Bach manuscript), but the editors do a good job of interpreting her sometimeshaphazard markings.

I also own the fascinating 2000 Bärenreiter urtext edition, which includes five manuscripts and a full text volume. In order to glean the most from this, though, one has to do a great deal of cross-checking and hypothesizing about reasons for variances. In the end, I often agree with the choices that the editors made in the 1950 edition, and so I start from that, and then go back to the manuscripts to check passages that still raise questions. …

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