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The Courante from the Suite in D Minor, performed on an original baroque cello by Eva Lymenstull. Eva is the winner of the 2017 Voices of Music International Bach Competition. Support these videos with a donation 🙂 https://voicesofmusic.org/donate.html
Ms. Lymenstull plays an original, anonymous English cello ca. 1730. Baroque bow by Kees van Hemert, the Hague, the Netherlands.
In his cello suites, Bach creates the perfect blend of five musical senses: individual expression, technique, counterpoint, rhythm and harmony; the music has been endlessly adapted and arranged, and every cellist studies these compositions at different points in their lives.
Much has been written about the suites, yet little is known. It seems impossible that entire books could be written about a few dog-eared scraps of historical records, yet such is the nature of these works: they create stories of their own accord. Without knowing anything for certain, it seems likely that the music was composed by Bach in his usual grouping of a set of six around the year 1720, when Bach was Kapellmeister at Köthen. The date is really just a guess, based partly on the style of the music as well as the fact that we *do* have a date—1720—for the autograph copy of the violin sonatas. We are fortunate indeed to have the copy of the music written down by Bach’s wife, Anna Magdalena, as well as an autograph version of one of the suites in an arrangement for lute in Bach’s own handwriting.
According to legend, the suites were unknown until the cellist Pablo Casals discovered them in a thrift store in Barcelona at the age of thirteen; the legend does not explain how the music could be completely unknown even if it was readily available in several printed editions. As is the case with the Brandenburg concertos, highly embellished histories of many of Bach’s works appear in the 1930s coinciding with the marketing of recordings and concert tours; invariably, these stories take the form of a “rescue,” in which masterpieces are first overlooked and then saved from perpetual obscurity owing to an improbable series of events. Such stories have made good liner notes for decades: a more balanced view is that many of Bach’s works were continuously performed and studied after the composer’s death; for example, the Well Tempered Clavier influenced generations of composers.
The performance history and transmission of manuscripts for the cello suites begins with one of Bach’s favorite students, the composer and organist Johann Christian Kittel; Kittel was devoted to Bach’s musical style and shared Bach’s works with his own students, including the virtuoso cellist and composer Johann Friedrich Dotzauer. The other major historical figure is one Johann Peter Kellner, who copied many of Bach’s works in the late 1720s. Anna Magdalena and Kellner provide the two contemporaneous sources for the suites that survive to the present day. Kittel’s student, Dotzauer, may have been working from one of these copies or a later copy when he began the study of the works, and by 1826 demand for the music of Bach as well as for works for the cello in general had grown to the point where the suites were published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1826. Even though Dotzauer could trace his musical style directly back to Bach, by the 1820s—one hundred years after Bach composed the suites—performers were more interested in adapting the music to the style and taste of the time as opposed to recreating a performance from the time of Bach, and Dotzauer’s influential version had the effect of obscuring the two primary sources of the music until the 1960s.
Tracing the “thrift store” copy, we see that Dotzauer’s version was most likely passed down to his student, Karl Dreschler, and thence to Dreschler’s student, Friedrich Wilhelm Grützmacher who “edited” the copy found by Casals, bringing the suites into the 20th century complete with a turgid layer of markings, additional chords, and ornamentation reminiscent of the silent movie era. In addition to being an outstanding cellist, Grützmacher arranged and re-arranged a number of important historical works including Boccherini’s Cello Concerto in B flat Major: Grützmacher’s work fits the pattern in which composers throughout the 19th century adapted the works of Bach, Handel, Boccherini and many others for contemporaneous audiences, often adding their own musical material.
Voices of Music will film all six suites using our innovative 4K, ultra-high definition video process. The videos will be part of our digital library and will be free for anyone to view, anywhere in the world.