Treasure Trove: Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G

Bach Cello Suite 1This piece is another of those things I never would have discovered without the Culture Project. Bach (Johann Sebastian) composed six cello suites between 1717 and 1723. They’ve been described as “monophonic music wherein a man has created a dance of God.” It’s a beautiful description of beautiful music.

The cello is a ‘monophonic’ instrument, meaning that it can only produce one sound at a time (unlike, say, the piano or harp, which can play multiple notes at the same time and are therefore described as ‘polyphonic’), but this didn’t prevent Bach from creating the impression of chords, and harmony, and all the other effects that can’t actually be achieved on a monophonic instrument.

Pablo Casals c1917
Pablo Casals 1917

The Suite progresses with an ease and grace which belies how difficult it (apparently – I can’t play the cello) is to play. In fact, it’s considered so difficult that it was virtually unknown until a Spanish cellist named Pablo Casals revived the Suites in the early 20th century. Between 1936 and 1939 he made recordings of all the Suites, and they’ve been popular with accomplished cellists ever since.

All the suites progress through six movements, each representing popular dance forms of the day. Cello Suite #1 goes Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Galanteries (two Minuets in Suite #1), and a Gigue. No, I don’t know what they look like. They’re dances, so probably people moving rhythmically to music.

I don’t dance to the Suite. In fact, it’s something I like to play late in the evening, when I’m having trouble winding down before bed. To me, there’s something wonderfully soothing in the way it unfolds in unhurried grace.

Have a listen. What do you think?

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