Bach’s Cello Suite #3

The Bach Cello Suites are some of the most well-known and loved compositions for cello ever written.  Though composed prior to 1720 (the provenance is not as great as most of Bach’s work), their popularity is a decidedly 20th century innovation – we owe their existence in the modern cello canon to Pablo Casals.  While 13 years old in the late 1800s, Casals procured a manuscript of the Cello Suites at a second hand shop in Barcelona; he proceeded to work with them until the 1930s, when he laid down the first recordings of all six pieces – those original recordings are still considered to be a standard.  They have since been laid down by many – YoYo Ma won a Grammy for his 1985 effort.

Each suite follows the same movement structure, which Wikipedia presents as follows:

  1. Prelude
  2. Allemande
  3. Courante
  4. Sarabande
  5. Galanteries
  6. Gigue

Galanteries are types of dances, and they vary across the suites.  There are two minuets in suites 1 and 2, two bourrees in suites 3 and 4, and two gavottes in suites 5 and 6.

There seems little doubt that Bach wrote the Suites as a cycle, conceived as related works.  They achieve a great deal musically, but describing their greatness in terms of counter point and chords and such is beyond my abilities.  Many of them have been transposed for many different instruments, which is obviously how I come to be playing the 5th movement of Suite Number 3 as the final piece in Suzuki Book Three for Violin.

I truly can’t believe I’m playing this thing.  It’s just so freaking beautiful that as the notes come out of the violin I stand in awe.  Teacher and I have only worked our way through the first bourree at the moment (the piece as Suzuki arranged it has the two bourrees from the fifth movement arranged as the entirety of the piece he calls, “Bourree”).  Overall, suite number three was written in C major, but this movement of bourrees is in G major then G minor, relatively comfortable keys for me nowadays.

We’ll see if we go any further in the piece here in my lesson in a couple of hours or if we just work on polishing what I’ve got so far.  Either way I’ll be in heaven.  Here’s Mischa Maisky playing the suite, on the cello, of course.  The bourrees begin at 18:12.

Thanks for reading.

Ryan

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