In this post, I'd like to describe another project I'll undertake during the next few months. This one will be a much more involved activity, including practicing, reading and listening.
For many years, I've enjoyed playing and teaching movements from the Bach Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.
Owing to its high musical value, this great music is now played on many different instruments, including the bassoon. Studying the pieces is a great way to stretch yourself musically and learn from the repertoire of another instrument.
Many of the movements fit well on the bassoon, while others require some re-arranging and inventiveness to bring off. While the bassoonist will never sound like a cellist performing them, Bach's music is not so completely tied to string technique that it won't hold up in the hands of a talented and persistent bassoonist.
In fact, Arthur Weisberg has arranged all of the Suites for bassoon and published his own edition of the works.
While having this edition is a great service to bassoonists, I feel (as I do about the Mozart Concerto) that it's vital to know what the original says before consulting a later edition or transcription. Unfortunately, that's not quite possible. Thanks to David Wells for enlightening me on this topic. See his comment to this blog post below and my response.
One great way to reach an understanding of these pieces is to listen to recordings. There is a dizzying number of recordings of the Suites!
Among other choices, there are modern performances vs. historically informed practice performances to consider.
I think this, combined with some reservations about choices Weisberg made in his transcriptions left me wondering about how I was playing and teaching them.
So I've come up with a "little' project that should help!
Spurred on by reading the book, The Cello Suites, by Eric Siblin I decided to revisit the Suites by doing some listening and playing of this music.
In his book, Siblin titles each chapter after a movement from one of the Suites, starting with the Prelude of the First Suite and ending with the Gigue of the Sixth Suite.
This is a great book, by the way. Siblin is a pop music critic and writes from the perspective of a layperson, so the writing is pretty free of musical jargon and very well explained when it is. Everyone can get something out of this book, especially if it leads one to go listen to this great music.
He follows a three-part format.
- His own discovery of the Suites
- Pablo Casals' discovery of them
- What we know about Bach and his time, his influences regarding the Suites
Here are my goals in this project:
1. Become better grounded in the style of this music through listening to different recordings and performances and talking with cellists I know.
2. Become better at teaching this music as a result.
3. Make my own (hopefully enlightened) choices about articulation, dynamics, tempo -- none of which Bach specified in his manuscript.
4. Make my own decisions about how to deal with cello writing that isn't possible to execute on the bassoon. I'll consider questions such as:
- Because this movement has so many double stops in it, should it even really be played on the bassoon?
- How can I make the double stops in this movement sound natural on the bassoon?
- Can this whole Suite be performed legitimately on the bassoon or should just parts of it be performed on bassoon?
- How can I make bowings and phrasing inherent in string bowings sound on the bassoon?
- Where to breathe (!)
By the way, I'll be listening to several different recordings. It was hard to choose from the many out there!
Anner Bylsma (my choice for an historically informed performance)
Do any of you have any suggestions that might add to the value of this project?
I'll try to check in from time to time and share any big insights I have!