Cello Suite No.1 in G major BWV 1007

Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)
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Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685 - d. 1750)

Performance date: 28/06/2015

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1720

Duration: 00:14:18

Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: vc

Instrumentation Category:Solo

Artists: David Cohen - [cello]

It is magical music and possibly biblical in the sense that
it narrates stories in a comprehensible language from the archaic to the
refined, about the immeasurable dimensions and variations of the human
experiment. For that reason we are grateful: grateful that these pieces exist,
that they seem to be about everything, that we are moved without being able to
grasp them or even know whether we are meant to grasp them, that we enjoy them
quia absurdam est.

The Cello Suites have had
a chequered history. They were composed in the early 1720s at the same time as
the sonatas and partitas for solo violin, when Bach was court composer at
Cöthen and surrounded by superb musicians. No manuscript survives and we rely
on a copy written by his second wife, Anna Magdalena, who was both a musician
and a precise copyist. There is strong evidence that the two sets were written
as a school for string players. And until the young Pablo Casals discovered a
nineteenth century edition of the suites in a second-hand bookshop, they were
considered to be no more than this – unperformable studies for the cellist’s
private laboratory.

Each suite begins with a Prélude, where the performer is given
the greatest interpretative freedom due to its improvisatory character. This is
followed by the traditional sequence of dance movements, an Allemande in moderate quadruple metre, a
faster Courante in triple time, a
slow Sarabande also in triple time
with its characteristic stress on the second beat and a more animated Gigue. In addition Bach inserts a pair
of lighter dances between the Sarabande
and the Gigue, the first dance being
repeated after the second. There is also a strong sense of development from the
serene but straightforward first suite, the self-doubt of the second, the
generosity of the third, the awkward key of the fourth to the ferocious demands
of the last two, with the special tuning of the fifth and the five strings of
the sixth.

None of this explains the hypnotic effect
these works exert on modern cellists and audiences alike. A set of archaic
courtly dances nearly 300 years old seems an unlikely obsession for our
speed-driven age but their grip on our taste is unwavering. In the case of the
G major Suite there is the combination of rhythmic energy with what we could
call the eternal spirit of the dance, which seems to work unbidden into every
crevice of our minds and leaves us elated and purified.