Bach – Cello Suite no. 6 in D Major BWV 1012, Prelude. William Skeen, baroque cello 4K UHD

In this video

William Skeen performs the prelude from the Suite in D Major, BWV 1012 on an original baroque five string cello.
Bach intended this work for a five string cello, an instrument which was fairly standard in the 17th century well into the 18th. The Anna Magdalena manuscript copy shows the disposition of the tuning and the strings written at the top of the score. The title page of the set reads “Suites à Violoncello Solo senza Basso.” (Suites for violoncello with no accompaniment). Although the work can be performed on any number of instruments, there is no evidence that Bach intended it to be played on the viola pomposa or the viola da spalla, in fact, Bach, who knew everything about his craft, did not ever use the term “da spalla.” The viola pomposa, however, is mentioned a generation later in reference to Bach’s works. There were of course instruments of all sizes that were played in Germany with different names, and there are many references to the violoncello piccolo. Typically, smaller, portable cellos were used, for example, when playing in an ensemble in a balcony, where the instrument was lifted above the railings to be heard. Although the evidence is clear that Bach is referring to the cello, one of the great things about baroque performance is the fun in arranging music for different instruments. So for this video, we have chosen what we think is the best instrument to represent the work, while at the same time acknowledging that musicians should have fun playing Bach on their instrument of choice.
The work is considered to be one of the most technically challenging pieces in the repertory.
In addition to the cello, the piece works very well on the baroque lute or theorbo, as is the case with the fifth suite.
Mr. Skeen plays one of the very few surviving original five string cellos from the late 17th century.
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 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 just a guess, based 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.
The history and transmission of manuscripts for the suites begins with one of Bach’s favorite students, the composer Johann Christian Kittel. 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.
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 additions and ornamentation reminiscent of the silent movie era.
The Bach cello suites became a permanent part of the Early Music revival in the 60s when the Musical Heritage Society contracted Nikolaus Harnoncourt to record the set; these were quickly followed by Anner Bylsma and many others.
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.
—David Tayler
#Bach #CelloSuites


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