All of Bach: a project by the Netherlands Bach Society
Cello Suite No. 6 in D major
Bach makes the cello ascend to heaven.
Six cello suites
The Six Cello Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach belong to the Old Testament of cello literature. Every cellist who looks at the music immediately feels how naturally the notes are draped 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 at least for cello alone? And when did he write it? At the court at Köthen or earlier?
The suites follow a path from simplicity to increasing virtuosity. Suite no. 6 in D major is exceptional in all respects. In this last suite, which is also the longest, Bach makes the instrument ascend to heaven. He does so by using an extra fifth string – ‘a cinq cordes’, as Anna Magdalena Bach described it in the manuscript. The fifth string lies a fifth above the A string, which is usually the highest. You might even argue that Bach allows the cellist to transcend their own instrument. Violinist and viola da spalla player Sergey Malov believes that this suite was intended to be played on a violoncello da spalla – an instrument smaller than the standing cello, which is played on your shoulder, like a violin. However, cellists who are fanatic about the thumb position can also tackle the sixth suite on a four-stringed cello.
Following the sombre mood of Suite no. 5 in C minor, the lightness and radiance of Suite no. 6 is even more striking. The key of D major, which often symbolises triumph and festivity in the Baroque period, is confirmed straight away in the first bar of the Prelude with bouncy excitement. This cheerful movement that skips along in two-eight time is followed by an atypical Allemande, which is introvert and quiet. But this time too, the heart of the suite is formed by the slow Sarabande with its succession of heavenly chords. Here, the performer has to conceal the effort it takes to play these gliding notes. To emphasise the good mood, the second Gavotte is not in the contrasting minor key for once, but remains dominated by the major. And the Gigue is the superlative of virtuoso bliss.
For this performance, Sergey Malov chose to play a violoncello da spalla. He is convinced that this Suite no. 6 in particular, but actually all the cello suites, were written for the violoncello da spalla. It may seem strange that we do not know precisely which instrument Bach had in mind for this music, but in his day there was far more variation than nowadays. Violoncello could refer to the instrument we now know as the ‘standing cello’, but also to an instrument that was played on the shoulder. For instance, Sigiswald Kuijken is also convinced that Bach used the violoncello da spalla much more often than we do today.
All the cello suites will be recorded at remarkable locations in Amsterdam. We recorded this Suite no. 6 in the Gashouder of the former Westergasfabriek gas factory. The Gashouder was built in 1902 and was the largest gasholder in Europe at the time. The gas was stored at the top of the Gashouder in a steel tank that could be extended to a height of forty metres. It is now a listed building, and the huge hall without pillars not only looks magical, but also provides wonderful acoustics.
- Cello Suite no. 6 in D major
- chamber music (solo work)
- Six Cello Suites
- between 1717 and 1723
Cast & Crew
|release date||24 November 2017|
|recording date||4 November 2016|
|Location||Gashouder, Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam|
|Violoncello da spalla||Dmitry Badiarov, The Hague, 2011|
|MUSIC RECORDING||Guido Tichelman, Bastiaan Kuijt|
|Camera||Ben de Graaf, Jonas Sacks|
|Lights||Zen Bloot, Henry Rodgers, Patrick Galvin|
|Focus pull||Danny van Deventer|
|MUSIC EDITOR||Guido Tichelman|
|video editor||Chris Everts|
|interviews||Onno van Ameijde|