Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites — I hear a swoon even at the mention of the work – is a series of six suites, each with six movements, for solo cello. One musician. One instrument. One performance space.
A significant part of Bach’s genius, and one reason why his music is loved by so many, is that he could write for both beginners and experts. The beginners never feel cheated, because his “easy” works embody the same rich, resonant melodies and harmonies of his most challenging and technically difficult writing. And the true experts make even the simpler suites and preludes sound spectacular.
The Unaccompanied Cello Suites have elements of both relative simplicity and real complexity.
I have provided three examples of the entire collection this week by three incredible musicians. If you’re interested in different approaches to the work, these three offer many opportunities to compare and contrast their interpretations.
The one that interests me the most is the live performance by Yo-Yo Ma at this year’s BBC Proms. He is tackling the entire 2-hour long work in one sitting, which means there are bound to be many surprises!
Only five of the 36 movements in this work are comprised entirely of a single melodic line. And although the others include chords or multi-stop sections, the work is, fundamentally, a solo line of music.
But solo does not mean alone.
Because of echoes and resonances, our ears create the harmonies and counter melodies, and the single performer creates much more than a collection of single notes. When you’re singing your song and making your melody, those notes float out into the sea of echoes and create harmony. And even if they momentarily create dissonance, everything resolves eventually, so just keep singing. (Did you hear the echo of ‘love wins’ in that statement? All things hold together – resonate – in Christ!)
Solos always echo into the world. Sometimes they return to make your own song richer, sometimes they join the songs of others to uplift and support a song you will never audibly hear.
It all starts with being able to make music where you are, whatever your circumstance or level of experience. Let your song be heard. A single melody of beauty.
Then listen for the echoes.
at Royal Albert Hall, the BBC Proms, 2015