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Bach’s Unaccompanied Suites for Cello Essay

Bach’s Unaccompanied Suites for Cello have had enormous success over the years. Between 1717-1723 Johann Sebastian Bach composed all six Cello Suites within six years. There is no saying in which chronological order they were composed, although one may say that the suites change and evolve technically and become more difficult. During the baroque period, When composing for a “relatively New Instrument” (Sadie, 2000) the cello, (Woodstra, 2005) Bach’s idea was to simplify and capture the listener by composing suites that were made to represent different emotions and to create imagery in the music.

The simplicity in the composition relies on the lack of markings given to the cellist. With little to none, the sparing use of trills and slurs, allows the performer to interpret how they feel it should go. The use of broken chords and non- stepwise intervals create a polyphonic melody that must be rung out to create a full sounding piece for one individual instrument. The performer uses the lack of markings to show off their technical abilities.

(Wenzinger, 2005) In the first two bars of Suite I, the performer has chosen to use different markings to the original score. It is common in contemporary performance that the cellist will use eight notes slurred, thus creating a legato feel.

Pablo Casals, discoverer of the Bach Unaccompanied Suites for Cello, and author of the book “light and shadow”, brought the Suites back into common repertoire by proving that they were more than just “mechanical studies” (Casals, 1971)

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“These suites had been deemed academic rubbish, mechanical studies without musical warmth – can you imagine that? How could they be considered cold – these works, that positively radiate poetry, warmth and feeling of sound? They are the quintessence of Bach’s work as a composer – and Bach is the quintessence of all music” (Casals, 1971)

The Bach Unaccompanied Suites for Cello have had enduring popularity because of the simplicity in the score, and the association of known cellists that have performed and recorded the suites. The enduring popularity has come from the performers themselves, as they have the ability to interpret and express their own feel.

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