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Bach Cello Suites Nos. 1 and 2

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?

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Getting a buzz from Bach: interview with Elizabeth Anderson

The Australian Chamber Choir is busily rehearsing all six Bach Motets for its recitals in November at the German Church in East Melbourne. We offer you a glimpse behind the scenes courtesy of Elizabeth Anderson, the renowned harpsichordist, alto and choir manager.

Elizabeth, tell us a bit about your background. What brought you to music?

When I was two, my parents immigrated to Australia as “ten pound Poms”. I attended primary school in Launceston and for some reason a lot of the kids there went to Sunday school. I wanted to join in, so my parents took me to the Congregational Church in Launceston. I sang in the church choir from the age of six and started learning piano soon after that. My family wasn’t particularly musical but I always had a feeling for it. On the advice of my wonderful piano teacher, I moved to Melbourne for university and picked up harpsichord as a second instrument. I’ve never looked back. 

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A tribute to the 'Bach' Motif

Based on a presentation by Thomas Bell, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music

Amongst others, Schumann, Rimsky-Korsakov, and Liszt impressively showed their admiration for Bach by composing music on the name 'Bach'. The 'Bach' motif is a succession of notes important or characteristic to a piece, B flat, A, C, B natural. In German musical nomenclature, in which the note B natural is written as H and the B flat as B, it forms Johann Sebastian Bach's family name. Robert Schumann composed the Fugue in B flat on the name 'Bach' in 1845, 95 years after the death of Bach, and it is part of a set of six fugues all based on the same theme.

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