The Bach Suites as you Have Never Seen Them Before – By Antonio Lysy

Hundreds of scholars have studied and written about the Bach Suites, yet we can only speculate about how or when they were first performed. The original manuscript is lost, leaving us with various facsimiles to decipher, and there are no written accounts by Bach’s contemporaries. The one advantage of this predicament is the wide spectrum of artistic decisions on which a cellist is compelled to ruminate, in order to make them “their own”. Apparently the suites were not intended to be performed as a cycle, although this approach has become increasingly common in the last couple of decades. My current perspective, developed over many years of performing and teaching the suites, is that each of the six tells a distinctive story. And, like a series of books or films, each [...]

If it ain’t Baroque, don’t Break it? Thoughts about Playing Bach Today…. – By Inbal Segev

When I decided to record the Bach cello suites a couple of years ago, I started not by playing but by reading. I read Bach's biography, and then a few Baroque practice books (extremely dense and quite boring) and then I became inspired to change almost everything about the way I played Bach. I eventually came back to doing things the way that had been a part of my DNA after years of playing Bach the "modern" way (but improved), and I'd like to share some of my experiments with you. I never played from a manuscript copy before. The notes are difficult to decipher and so the work is slow and cumbersome. Worth it! Playing from copies of the surviving manuscripts by Anna Magdalena and Kellner taught me so [...]

B A C H S U I T E S – by Colin Carr

Bowings, beats, bass, bowings and fingerings fit together, bow distribution, bible? Articulation and Anna Magdelena Chords, cadences. common themes within each suite, comfort? Harmony, harmonics? Slurs, scales, sequences, spontaneity Understanding direction of phrases. Up bow or down bow? Intonation Tension from dissonance. tempo choices, trills Extremes? Surprise I was asked to choose a Bach related topic for this live Facebook chat, but I couldn’t think of justone. Instead I thought I would try to cover as many issues as I can think of, using this (gimmicky) chart as a starting point. I will talk about each of the sub-headings, and in doing so hope to answer a lot of questions before they have been asked! I have been playing and teaching the suites all my life. There have been countless [...]

Some Thoughts About My Bach Recordings

>When anyone approaches the Bach Cello Suites, it’s natural to begin thinking about a “correct” way to play them.   My teacher, Gregor Piatigorsky, used to say:  “Never play for the cellists in the audience - they always have a different idea.”  Start that instead with “Never play Bach for . . .” and life gets even harder! Like every young cellist of my generation, I was very influenced by the recordings of Pablo Casals.  How could I not be?  He was considered the “greatest” cellist of his day and my then teacher, Gabor Rejto, had studied with him.  And how could one deny the performances of an artist who always convinced you, at least as long as his sounds were in your ears.  I was lucky enough to play the [...]

A Return to “What Makes a Baroque Cellist”: A Slight Digression about Textbooks, continued

I ended last week’s post by qualifying the common sobriquet for the period between 1600 and 1750, “Baroque,” with a “so-called.” I didn’t mean to incite controversy, but I said “so-called Baroque period” because I meant just that. It is so called. It simply does not exist beyond us calling it so in textbooks and elsewhere. Or more accurately, we repeat some music critics’ derogatory epithet for music written during this time, an aspersion that can be found as early as 1753. The word is evidently based on the Portuguese word for “misshapen pearl.” Clearly to some, reading through a concerto of Vivaldi was comparable to risking one’s life by diving in search of a coveted calcite bead only to come up with a deformed and therefore worthless specimen. I say [...]

A Return to “What Makes a Baroque Cellist”: A Slight Digression about Textbooks

My recent posts about “How to Play the Baroque Cello” were brought about by earlier posts in which I attempted to answer the question, “What Makes a Baroque Cellist.” I spent almost as much time contemplating my difficulty in answering this very interesting question as I have finally trying to answer it. Undoubtedly, there are concrete topics that may make up an answer, and I have tried and will continue to discuss these. But my struggle was palpable. That may be because, despite what we all know, see, and hear, ultimately there may not be such a thing as a “baroque cellist,” nor did such a person ever exist. Not now, nor in 1697 or 1732, nor at any other time. And this is because there may not have ever [...]

On How to Play the Baroque Cello: Vibrato, continued

In last week’s post, I attempted to set out the basic arguments made by those musicians who, for over four centuries, advocated a judicious approach to the application of vibrato to stringed instrument sound, and those who, for the last ninety years or so, have championed a more continuous presence for this expressive tool. Members of the former group adhered to the original attribution of vibrato as an ornament that is most highly effective when employed sparingly, where those who belong to the latter group see it as an indispensable component of good tone production. Two things should be kept in mind. The first is that each statement constitutes what is largely a philosophical stance, although the latter is supported by the overwhelming majority of live and recorded playing on [...]

On How to Play the Baroque Cello: Vibrato

In my first blog entry I described a coaching I had gotten on the F major sonata by Brahms, during which I was told I sounded like a “baroque” cellist. I think this was because I disappointed her expectations as to what good cello sound should be, because I’m familiar with some of the excellent players in her circle and with how they play. More than anything else, I think it was my use of vibrato that gave her pause. I should say, however, that my playing at that time did not evince any provocative stance on this topic. But what vibrato I did apply to Brahms clearly did not near her idea of what is appropriate for romantic music. In her defense, I concede that this idea is shared [...]

On How To Play The Baroque Cello: The Baroque Bow, or, What Your Ear Imagines, Your Bow Should Do, part III

This illustration and text come from the Methode by Michelle Corrette, published in 1741. The work remains the earliest extant treatise that deals with every technical aspect of playing the violoncello. This section details the variations in the manner of holding the bow that Corrette found acceptable. The areas that he prescribes for placing the right hand upon the bow are familiar: A player may hold the stick at the frog, or may “choke” the bow higher on the stick. The exact distance depends on the balance point of the particular bow, which in any case would be different from that of a Tourte-style stick. (I caution against taking Corrette’s illustration where “ABCD” are concerned literally, that is, placed almost in the middle of the bow. I rather believe he means [...]

On How To Play The Baroque Cello: The Baroque Bow, or, What Your Ear Imagines, Your Bow Should Do, continued

For the continuation of my brief discussion of the baroque bow, I’d like to begin by listing several descriptions that I believe only faintly hide a prejudice towards it as a primitive tool. “The baroque bow is for speaking, while the modern bow is for singing.” “The baroque bow articulates while the modern bow sustains.” “The baroque bow makes a lean, silvery tone, while the modern bow creates a round, lush sound.” And my favorite, “the baroque bow naturally weakens as it is pulled towards the tip.” Before I continue, a quick reminder of two things I mentioned in my previous post: First, what your ear imagines, your bow should be able to do. That last description is usually left where it ends because in this case, the comparison to [...]