Cello Suites (Bach) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
I’ve always just listened to “contemporary” classical music — music written since the 1930s or so. I still do. It’s spellbinding and cunning. In doing so, for a long time, I closed myself off from Bach and Handel, and basically everyone who preceded Wagner. I think my blind logic, pardon my stupidity – this was years ago, went something like this:
“Bach was a slave to theory and form. Contemporary music has blown the theory and form rules to smithereens. Therefore, Bach is no longer relevant.”
A few years ago, I got a copy of Bach’s “6 Suites for Unaccompanied Cello”. Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, all by himself, for 120 minutes or so.
I continually forget the feeling of how amazing it is to witness a genuine master of form. Filmmaker, chef, poet, magician, card shark, shaolin monk, pick-up artist, prima ballerina, freestyle MC — there’s something borderline divine going on. Bach is no different.
Baroque music in particular is difficult to write well because the rules are extremely strict. You can only start on certain notes, end on certain notes, use certain scalar techniques and modulations within a certain range, etc.
Music-making becomes a process of elimination. If you have a basic idea of what you want the melody to sound like and follow the rules, you can nearly always end up with something inoffensive. The rules are the master that defines the product.
Bach, however, reverses the equation. His cello suites (and, ostensibly, every single one of the 1000+ pieces he wrote) sounds as if it were made before the theory existed, and the rules were forged in the hopes that more music would sound like what he wrote.
What he accomplishes with this single instrument, rules aside, is astounding. The cello is its own accompanist, and the melody soars in lovely shuttling designs while the same bow continues to provide chordal backup.
Each departure and arrival of the line is perfect.
That perfection and beauty is what gives Bach’s music its power, just as mathematicians are said to weep at the perfection and beauty of numbers.
And, as much as I adore the mindblowing rule-burying 20th century, I’m reminded again that the importance of a medium lies in its limitations.
Bach’s music embodies this perfection of form.