This week’s Suite #5 in C minor echoes a journey of pain or worry, sadness or contemplation. Unlike the D minor suite (#2), which sometimes feely jaunty, C minor settles into the weightiness of the minor key. In this suite, Bach uses a special technique to emphasize the resonance and depth of the music. The musician is instructed to retune the cello (called scordatura), to bring the pitch of the A string (the highest string on the instrument) down one whole step to a G, resulting in these open strings: C-G-D-G. This tuning causes the cello to vibrate and resonate quite differently from the way it does with the normal C-G-D-A setup; one can easily hear the dark pureness that this tuning provides.
There are two other elements in the C minor that are unique to the Cello Suites cycle. The first is the inclusion of a fugue in the prelude. Bach is certainly known for his fugues; there are the 48 preludes and fugues in the Well-Tempered Clavier, 30+ fugues for organ, plus many other fugues and fugue-like components in other works. However, there is only one fugue in this Cello cycle. The second surprise in this suite is that the prelude ends on an arpeggiated C major chord. Despite the depth of the commitment to the minor key, Bach shakes us from our contemplation with a sunbeam of hope. Hope. In the midst of the storm, there is hope. In the last days of Lent we remind ourselves of the story and take hope in the unfolding to come.
This week’s playlist also include a movement from another well-known C minor work: Mozart’s Mass in C minor (the Kyrie).