Johann Sebastian Bach was better known as a virtuoso
organist than as a composer in his day. His sacred
music, organ and choral works, and other instrumental
music had an enthusiasm and seeming freedom that
concealed immense rigor. Bach's use of counterpoint was
brilliant and innovative, and the immense complexities
of his compositional style -- which often included
religious and numerological symbols that seem to fit
perfectly together in a profound puzzle of special
codes -- still amaze musicians today. Many consider him
the greatest composer of all time.
The Suite in C major is probably the most popular of
Bach's six suites for solo cello, among cellists and
listeners alike. How could one resist the work's mix of
nobility, exuberance, and relative contrapuntal
simplicity? Casals, who more than any other performer
brought these suites to the forefront of the cello
repertory, found in it a heroic quality. Yet this suite
also has close ties to its brethren. The Prelude
recalls the discursive improvisatory flavor of the
second suite, but opens with a descending figure and a
mood of bright sunshine instead of the study in tragedy
and tension that the second suite undertakes from the
beginning. The Prelude also makes brilliant use of a
mighty pedal point; a single note is held in the bass
register while a series of progressively richer and
richer figures build tension, pushing harder and harder
for resolution. A similar figure is used to heighten a
sense of pathos in the Prelude to the St. John Passion.
Here, however, the pedal point develops instead into an
expression of great warmth and happiness.
After the Prelude come a lively Allemande, a Courante,
a Sarabande, a double Bourrée, and a Gigue. The
Sarabande proceeds in a series of triple and quadruple
stops that offer the cellist plenty of room for gutsy
expressiveness and at the same time outline the implied
polyphony that so fascinates those who hear these
works. For this suite, as in the fourth suite, Bach
uses a pair of Bourrées for the galant element. These
reinforce the sense of buoyant optimism that pervades
the work, though a sudden minor-key turn in the second
Bourrée reminds us that no triumph is ever complete.
But the final Gigue restores the lightness of this
bouncy, virtuosic suite, perhaps the most idiomatic to
the cello of all six suites.
Although originally written for Solo Cello. I created
this Arrangement of the Suite No. 3 in C Major (BWV
1009) transposed to G Major for Classical Guitar.