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Sound Theology #183 – Lent 4

In the fourth Cello Suite, Bach takes us on an unexpected journey. The suite is nominally in the key of E-flat major throughout its seven movements, returning to the home key at the end of each movement. It is grounded and solid, exhibiting the characteristic ‘heroic’ feeling of many works written in E-flat. But between double bar lines, the instrumentalist follows Bach through a rugged terrain.

Of the suites so far, this is the most challenging. The harmonic foundation of double-stops and repetition of the ‘home’ key that are crucial in a solo suite are missing through most of this work. Because of this, the music can feel disjointed or angular. The focus on the single melodic line gives the performer artistic license to emphasize different parts of the melody. If you listen to different performances, you will find a wide variety of tempos and interpretations; each unique yet convincing.

This week’s musician is Bruno Cocset, a member of the Netherlands Bach Society which has undertaken to record Bach’s entire catalog, called All of Bach. NBS started performing and recording all of Bach’s works in September 2013 and the first concert recordings were made available in May, 2014. Each piece of music by Bach has its own page where people can watch and listen to the work, read background information, and hear what the piece means to the musicians. You can find the free online performances at