All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society

Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor

BWV 1011 performed by Hidemi Suzuki
KIT Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam

"You should make it sound as if several people are speaking."

"If people hear only the instrument, that's a tragedy."


Nowhere in the six suites does the cello sound lonelier than in the Sarabande of no. 5.

Bach could make a cello throb like an organ, as shown in the Cello Suite no. 5 in C minor, the darkest of the set of Six Cello Suites. The Prelude arises from the depths like an organ prelude, culminating in what appears to be a fugue, however difficult it may be in practice to play a fugue on one cello. Yet Bach manages to suggest here that a new part keeps entering, and that parts that entered earlier move along with it, albeit inaudibly. It is precisely this multiplicity of parts and the ensuing conversation that inspires cellist Hidemi Suzuki when he plays this piece.
Besides the key of C minor, there is another explanation of the dark character of this suite. That is the fact that the highest A string is tuned a tone lower: scordatura. It gives the A string (now the G string) a slightly murkier sound and makes it a bit easier to play chords. Moreover, the weightiness of the key is confirmed. The dominant of C minor is G, a tone that is now heard in two separate strings – as the cello also has a low G string.
The Cello Suite no. 5 follows the usual structure of a Prelude followed by six dances (divided over five sections). The elaborate Allemande and the lusty Courante are followed by a desolate Sarabande. Suddenly, there are no chords or double stops at all, and the mournful melody has to provide its own root note. Nowhere in the six suites does the cello sound lonelier than here.
The French character of the suite, emphasised in dotted rhythms, is further confirmed in the fourth section; a two-part Gavotte. This dance in duple time, which originated in France, is very robust in character, thanks to its numerous chords on strong parts of the bar. And the dotted rhythm of the Gigue is also French in style.

Six Cello Suites
The Six Cello Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach are part of the Old Testament of cello literature. Every cellist who looks at the music senses immediately how naturally the notes are arranged around the strings of the instrument. Yet there are many questions and discussions about these ‘Suites a Violoncello Solo senza Basso’. Did Bach really write the music for cello, or for cello alone? When did he write this music – at the court of Cöthen or earlier? Even the authorship is called into question sometimes, although claims that Anna Magdalena Bach (who notated the only surviving manuscript) could be the author herself cannot be taken very seriously. The suites take a route from simplicity to increasing virtuosity: from the usually open strings of the first three suites, via the more complex key of E-flat major of the enigmatic Suite no. 4 to the dark Suite no. 5, which requires the cellist to tune the highest string one tone lower. Suite no. 6 is the most unusual, as it requires a five-stringed instrument – probably the viola pomposa, or otherwise the cello piccolo.


Cello Suite no. 5 in C minor

chamber music (solo work)

Six Cello Suites

between 1717 and 1723


Special Notes
In this suite, the tuning of the highest string of the cello must be changed from A to G.

Cast & Crew

Release date 23 February 2018
Recording date 25 August 2017
Location KIT Royal Tropical Institute, Amsterdam
Cellist Hidemi Suzuki
Cello Andrea Amati, Cremona, approx. 1570?
Director and editor Bas Wielenga
Music recording Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt
Music edit and mix Guido Tichelman
Camera Jeroen Simons
Focus Pull Luc Brefeld
Grip Kaspar Burghard
Gaffer Gregoor van de Kamp, Patrick Galvin
Data Handling Eline Eestermans
Interview Shunske Sato, Onno van Ameijde
Translation Geert van Bremen, Atsuko Kohashi
Production Jessie Verbrugh
Supported by Ammodo

Vocal Texts




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