Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello are considered the ‘Bible’ for all cellists as they are some of the most frequently performed works for solo string instrument. They were initially perceived as academic works, mechanical, without warmth. “How could anyone think of them as being cold, when a whole radiance of space and poetry pours forth from them,” wrote Pablo Casals, who found an old copy of the Suites in a Barcelona music shop when he was 13.
Casals practiced the Suites almost every day over the next 13 years of his life before he performed them in public for the first time. The Suites are ideally suited to exploring all the countless colours and harmonic possibilities of the cello. They include amazing Preludes and Allemandes, rapid Courantes, grave Sarabandes, graceful Minuets and lively Gigues. We don’t know much about the origin of the masterpiece as no autographed manuscript has survived. We don’t even know if the Suites were originally composed for the baroque version of the modern cello – the viola da gamba. Some researchers suggest that Bach composed the Suites for an instrument that was not played between the legs - da gamba - but like a violin - da spalla. Countless transcripts for numerous instruments exist, including such famous ones as marimba and ukulele. The only remaining challenge seems to be to create a version for didgeridoo. Maybe it’s a project for the Australian Bach Society?