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M4117 - Six Suites for Violoncello Solo
BWV 1007 - 1012
by BACH, Johann Sebastian (1685-1750) (Composer), BAILEY, Zuill (b. 1972) (Editor)
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About Six Suites for Violoncello Solo
The legendary Catalan 'cellist, Pablo Casals, first found a copy of the Bach 'Cello Suites in a second-hand music shop in Barcelona in 1890. He was taken aback by his discovery because none of his teachers had ever mentioned these works to him. It was with “indescribable excitement” that he began playing them, and after twelve years of intense study he finally found the courage to perform them in public. At that point it was rare that the Suites were played in concert, other than the occasional isolated movement, so Casals’s practice of playing entire Suites, with all repeats, was considered revolutionary. 

Johann Sebastian Bach likely composed the Suites for Solo Violoncello around 1720. It was during this time, 1717 to 1723, that he was employed as Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Some believe that he continued working on the Suites after 1723 while in Leipzig, since the Sixth Suite uses a five-string instrument, which didn’t appear in his music until the times of the Leipzig cantatas. 

Unlike other phases in his career, Bach’s main focus in Cöthen was on creating instrumental works for the royal court rather than music for church services. It was during this period that he also completed the Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin. It is not known whether the 'cello works were written before or after the violin works, though neo-baroque 'cellist Anner Bylsma believes that the 'Cello Suites may have been written later, suggesting that Bach may have been experimenting in the 'cello works with reducing music to its bare essence. 

It is not known for whom Bach composed his 'Cello Suites. He had several excellent musicians at his disposal while in Cöthen, including those who came from Berlin’s court chapel when Friedrich Wilhelm I disbanded it in 1713. Two musicians have been proposed: Christian Ferdinand Abel, gambist at the Cöthen court chapel, and Christian Bernhard Linike, a 'cellist. The 'Cello Suites were not published for another hundred years, and remained practically a secret among cellists for an additional eighty, seemingly waiting for a champion who would bring them to the public’s attention. 

After decades of performing the 'Cello Suites, Casals chose not to publish his own edition, despite the 'cello world’s cravings. He told his former student, Bonnie Hampton, “If I make an edition, it will be carved in stone.” He believed that music-making should be a constantly living experience, full of the kind of spontaneity and vitality that comes from deep study and internalizing the music. Since he was able to convey the same sense of structure and character with numerous bowings and fingerings, writing things down ran contrary to his artistic concept. He told Bernard Greenhouse, his former student and 'cellist in the Beaux Arts Trio, “You must learn it so well that you remember every single idea that you have had in your practice. Then you forget everything and improvise.” The Suites had found their champion–Pablo Casals.
Quick Facts
Violoncello(s) - Unaccompanied, Violoncello, Strings, Instrumental
Zuill Bailey Signature Editions
Copyright Year
Instrumentation – Vc unacc
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