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Siete qui: Home Festival Festival 2010 The extraordinary atmospheres of the Bach cello
The extraordinary atmospheres of the Bach cello PDF Print E-mail
In an age when the bass viol and the cello were living out their final season, namely before the bass viol disappeared from the great instrumental repertoire to leave enough room for the more modern cello, Bach wrote his Six suites for solo cello BWV1007-1012. We do not know the exact date of their composition since the autograph manuscript was lost and we only possess a patiently realised copy by Anna Magdalena, Bach’s second wife, but we know that these were published posthumously in 1825 with the grim title Six Sonates ou Etudes pour le Violoncello solo. In fact, a clearly didactic atmosphere pervades these compositions, at least in the six introductory Préludes, conceived as a sample of technical difficulties, but also marked by a thick compositional texture of hurled phrases, thrown out forward, not held back and formulated with great simplicity (if we exclude the complex Prelude to Suite no. 5) and inventive lightness. It is a lightness which owes its origin to a search for speed and to a search for a timbre element, where each string has a different colour and tone. And this weightlessness and expressive purity was first recognised by the great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals who in 1889 discovered a copy of the Six suites in a shop in Barcelona and later recorded them in 1936. Since then, all the great cellists of the 20th century went off competing against each other, often recording them, and their fame steadfastly grew until it became one of the most loved Bach compositions.

«They have been judged to be pedantic, mechanical, warmless works. Yet how can you feel them cool once they give off such splendour of space and poetry», Casals himself wrote.
Another causative principle of these masterpieces is the symmetry, based on the central theme of the Saraband, it being a movement which always possesses an intensively expressive character, while keeping itself to quite a contained number of beats. It is from this central axis that the Italian style dances take off, from a distinctly serene and joyful character. Quite a different argument applies for the last two Suites, the Fifth, conceived for a cello which is attuned differently from the habitual way (C, G, D, G, where the final G substitutes the usual A) opens with a Prélude, having the French characteristics of the Ouverture, from which it moreover unravels into a spacious fugue characterised by its austere nature. This is a French cosmos which travels across the other movements and finds its full expression in the flowing Courante. Finally, the Suite VI which was originally conceived for a five-stringed cello, which many would have liked to be the viola pomposa, an instrument which was invented by a Leipzig luthier, a certain Johann Christian Hoffmann, on commission by Bach himself, but which most probably was, instead, the so called “violoncello piccolo”, which is a five-stringed instrument with which it is much easier to play this score.

Carlo Bellora