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Discussions of Bach’s Instrumental Works - No. 3

Cello Suite No. 1 in D major BWV 1007



Francis Browne wrote (May 12, 2002):
Monthly Discussion 3 : May 12th –25th

The work chosen for the next discussion is BWV 1007, the first of the Cello suites - this is simply to give a specific focus and anyone who wants to discuss the other cello suites should of course feel free to do so.

If anyone is unfamiliar with the work, all the suites can be heard online on the Naxos website:

There are performances by Csaba Onczay (8.550677) and - more interestingly - Pablo Casals (8.110915). The quickest way to find them is to use 'Search our catalogue' and enter the reference numbers given.

There is a downloadable score at:

Lists of recordings can be found at:

There is a very interesting article by Tim Janof about some of the issues raised by performing the cello suites at:

Kirk reviews two recordings and Don reviews eighteen ! recordings at:

Don's very detailed reviews are not only, as always, perceptive and judicious about the recordings but also illuminating about the music itself - so much so that it might almost seem to make further discussion superfluous. But the music is so wonderful and recordings so various that it should be very interesting to hear other points of view.

(Please prefix contributions with MD 3:)

Francis Browne wrote (May 15, 2002):
It seems strange for me to start a discussion about Bach's cello suites and it makes me realise how perceptions of music change over the years. When I first came across the Bach cello suites I was an adolescent obsessed with Sixties pop but drawn to some classical music. I remember seeing a television programme in which a cellist (Paul Tortelier ?) sat on a chair in a bare studio and played music that seemed jagged, rebarbitive, angular, the epitome of all I disliked about serious music - a music that I thought no one could really enjoy but might pretend to because it was considered very difficult or worthy in some way, a sort of musical equivalent of taking cod liver oil.

Now many years later the cello suites are among the music that I listen to with most delight. It was the gigue from suite no 3 in C major heard in a radio broadcast that was my way into the works. After the opening bars the music suddenly seemed somehow to take off with an exhilarating, elemental energy . The cellist was Pierre Fournier, whose recording I promptly purchased. After that the preludes were the movements that first won me over, particularly as it happens the preludes to the first and third suites: no matter how often I hear them their free, improvisatory form makes them seem a musical adventure of exploration. As a whole I found it took some persistence in listening to appreciate all the cello suites, but the persistence was very worthwhile. Though each suite has its own character and I would never listen to more than one suite at a time, I think of all the suites as forming one vast work, almost the cello equivalent of the WTC.

The cello suites (and the works for solo violin) possess another quality which gives me great delight. Because of the physical nature of the string instruments and the skills necessary to play them the musical ability of the performer seems exposed in Bach's solo works, put in a clear and sometimes unforgiving light, in a way that does not seem to happen in the keyboard works. There is no support from orchestra, other stringed instruments, continuo or voice - there is only the music and the skills of the musician, and where these match there can be a directness and intimacy of musical communication that is rarely achieved in other works.

The versions of the suites that I know best - Fournier, Bylsma and Yo Yo Ma- all seem to me in different ways and in different degrees to achieve this communication. I find the cello suites so rich and various that I cannot imagine there could be a definitive performance. There is a need for different approaches to reveal different aspects of the music. It will remain inexhaustible., open to fresh interpretation.

(This is a general approach I believe in strongly with Bach. Not either HIP or traditional, either piano or harpsichord etc, but always both.....and)

Whether other's experience of this music is similar to or completely different from mine I would be interested to know. First impressions if anybody is new to the work are also fascinating . Insights gained from playing the music can be particularly illuminating. But I hope people will feel free to discuss whatever aspects interest them either in the first suite or in all six suites.

Thomas Boyce wrote (May 15, 2002):
Every year a little radio station here in New York dedicates a full week to the music of Bach.

One night I came home from work, turned the radio on, and flopped down on the couch. Fournier's performance of a cello suite was on. Don't know which one, but I remember the music taking me to a place I've never been before, and that's saying something. It just seemed to reach a plateau and then stay there. When you think it can't get any better it does. Matchless music.

And I have to surrender myself completely to Bach in order to "get it." Not music to play while you're dusting your apartment.

Suites for Cello Solo BWV 1007-1012: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Cello Suites – Robert Cohen | Cello Suites – John Friesen | MD – Cello Suite No. 1

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