Cello Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012 - Bach, perf. by Colin Carr [HD]<< Previous classical music pieceNext classical music piece >>
The Six suites for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello. They were most likely composed during the period 1717--1723, when Bach served as a Kapellmeister in Köthen. The title of Anna Magdalena Bach's manuscript was Suites á Violoncello Solo senza Basso.
The suites have been transcribed for numerous instruments, including the violin, viola, double bass, viola da gamba, mandolin, piano, marimba, classical guitar, recorder, flute, electric bass, horn, saxophone, bass clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, ukulele, and charango.
The suites have been performed and recorded by many renowned cellists such as Jacqueline du Pré, Pablo Casals, János Starker, Pierre Fournier, Paul Tortelier, Mstislav Rostropovich, Steven Isserlis, Yo-Yo Ma, Mischa Maisky, Daniil Shafran, Anner Bylsma, and Pieter Wispelwey. Ma won the 1985 Best Instrumental Soloist Grammy Award for his bestselling album "Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites".
Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012
It is widely believed that the sixth suite was composed specifically for a five-stringed violoncello piccolo, a smaller cello, roughly the size of a 7/8 normal cello that has a fifth upper string tuned to E, a perfect fifth above the otherwise top string. However, some say there is no substantial evidence to support this claim: whilst three of the sources inform the player that it is written for an instrument à cinq cordes, only Anna Magdalena Bach's manuscript indicates the tunings of the strings, and the other sources do not mention any intended instrument at all.
Other possible instruments for the suite include a cello da spalla, a version of the violoncello piccolo played on the shoulder like a viola, as well as a viola with a fifth string tuned to E, called a viola pomposa. As the range required in this piece is very large, the suite was probably intended for a larger instrument, although it is conceivable that Bach—who was fond of the viola—may have performed the work himself on an arm-held violoncello piccolo. However, it is equally likely that beyond hinting the number of strings, Bach did not intend any specific instrument at all as the construction of instruments in the early 18th century was highly variable.
Cellists wishing to play the piece on a modern four-string cello encounter difficulties as they are forced to use very high positions to reach many of the notes, though modern cellists regularly perform the suite on the 4-string instrument. Performers specialising in early music and using authentic instruments generally use the 5-string cello for this suite, including Anner Bylsma, Pieter Wispelwey, Jaap ter Linden and Josephine van Lier. The approach of Watson Forbes, in his transcription of this suite for viola, was to transpose the entire suite to G major, avoiding "a tone colour which is not very suitable for this type of music" and making most of the original chords playable on a four-stringed instrument.
This suite is written in much more free form than the others, containing more cadenza-like movements and virtuosic passages. It is also the only one of the suites that is partly notated in the Tenor C clef, which is not needed for the others since they never go above the note G4 (G above middle C).
Mstislav Rostropovich called the 6th suite "a symphony for solo cello" and characterised its D major tonality as evoking joy and triumph.
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Performed by: Colin Carr
Music by courtesy and under copyright of: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Music license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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