Written by Anna Clyne
My earliest memory of Bach’s music is playing his Cello Suites as a young cellist – in particular the prelude for the Second Suite in D minor, which you can hear performed live by Yo-Yo Ma at the BBC Proms in 2015. It is incredibly satisfying to play this particular movement and I always find myself lost in Bach’s sound world – it really makes the instrument sing and sits so perfectly on the range of the cello.
I had the pleasure of hearing Yo-Yo Ma perform the complete Bach Suites from memory at the Greek Theater in Berkeley in 2018. I was particularly struck by the Sarabande from the Fifth Suite in C minor. At the time I was writing my cello concerto, DANCE, and I tucked a quote from that movement into the woodwinds in the third movement of my concerto.
The Cello Suites cover such a broad range of emotions and are crafted with such intricate and organic voice leading. There is always a sense of journey within each movement, between the movements, and between the six suites. Bach’s musical architecture is a source of great inspiration and I enjoy listening to his music over and over again. It never becomes tiring.
I am also drawn to the Cello Suites for their use of dance forms and rhythms. Finding the shared DNA between the movements of a suite also brings an element of discovery whilst learning and playing them. After the prelude, all other movements are based around baroque dance forms such as sarabandes, courantes and allemandes. As a composer I have enjoyed collaborating with choreographers, so this music really resonates with me. I recently composed a symphonic ballet, RIFT, which includes a baroque-like movement that draws on my experiences with Bach’s music. RIFT will be performed this Summer at the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music’s virtual season.
Johann Sebastian Bach
Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1008: I. Prelude