Tom Schulte's Reviews > Bach, Casals and The Six Suites For Cello Solo - Volume 1: The Life of J. Sebastian Bach

Bach, Casals and The Six Suites For Cello Solo - Volume 1 by Steve Hancoff
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Oct 18, 2015

it was amazing
bookshelves: bio, music

Bach’s Six Suites for Solo ‘Cello may be the most performed and recognized compositions ever created for unaccompanied cello. If you close your eyes and think back to a time that you enjoyed more than a few minutes of solo cello, it was probably authored by Bach. You owe it to yourself to also enjoy deeply these guitar transcriptions sublimely delivered by Steven Hancoff and draw from them your future memories. Timbre is the unique quality of an instrument’s sound profile distinct from its pitch and intensity. It is how we recognize the same note from trumpet as that from a piano, yet feel the different source. Soul, I dare say, is a good word for how we know that note is from Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk. The timbre of the guitar brightens the intensity of these melodies and the guitarist’s techniques of harmony and syncopation, so natural to that instrument, amplifies a sonic bouquet of colors within that light like a prism or kaleidoscope does sunshine. The Hancoff soul, where the intelligent, poignant, and transcendent grace of these pieces has been internalized and artfully expressed, makes this the triumph of one man who reached through three centuries to telegraph to us Bach’s soul. I can have almost any music play while I read in my library. My default has been a Steffen Basho-Junghans album for over a year. That has now been replaced by this mentally invigorating three-CD opus.

After discovering an edition in a Barcelona thrift shop in, Spain, a thirteen-year-old Pablo Casals began studying these cello solos until in 1936, at the age of sixty he became the first to record all six suites giving them a holistic rebirth on a recording still respected today: Bach, J. S. The 6 Cello Suites, Pablo Casals. EMI Classics 66215 1997. For those fortunate to discover this interpretation, crafted by Hancoff also at sixty years of age, it too will be respected into the future. Without a Bach manuscript surviving, many interpretations of the suites exist with no authoritative version. Among the scholarship that inevitably followed to fill that knowledge gap, Hancoff has gone far from the idea of mere liner notes to a four-volume, immersive iBook series on Bach and his solo suites: Bach, Casals & The Six Suites for 'Cello Solo in volumes 1 through 4. This is my first experience with iBooks and Hancoff has so embraced the possibilities of the format that I suggest they be enjoyed on a platform like a Mac that can properly present all the dimensions involved here. These books feature images, links to pop up more details, and embedded video and audio.

Volume 1: The Life of J. Sebastian Bach is the biography of a man that knew more than his fair share of pain and like trummerflora in the wasteland of the Thirty Years War went from orphaned seed to organ master. He was a well paid and celebrated organmeister (tester, performer, if unrecognized composer) and settling into a life of serial patronage and a wife in second cousin Maria Barbara Bach. The biography starting in Thuringia and from penury to well-paid position jumps to life with the varied content including etchings, commemorating plaques and statues, impressionistic paintings, side treks into “quodlibets” and “intermezzos”, music theory, and mini-biographies of key persons. It is fascinating that in Weimar, a locus of the German Enlightenment and home of writers Goethe and Schiller, Bach found not only a home but imprisonment. Notably, he was for long not commemorated there he way other key places of his life had done. This is one of the chapters of Bach’s formation that make for interesting reading in Volume 1 as well as explanation of the Bach’s technical advancement innovating well-tempered tuning so that a composer might write in any key, and a musician might play in any key. One of the fascinating intermezzo side treks shows how this well-tempered approach to tones was applied to visual hues by Jakob Weder in his Organ of Color and Farbsymphonien (“Color Symphonies”). The entertaining diversions to appendices are actually spot on for relevance and generally overtly germane to Bach’s life. One “amazing story” (as some of the addenda are called) is that of Adolph Busch, refugee from Nazi Germany, and the humble story of the creation, loss, and recovery of the Brandenburg Concertos. (As a child, hearing the theme music of “Firing Line” on PBS, Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, Third Movement, was the first Bach masterpiece that I came to adore.) Incarceration was not the only misfortune suffered by Bach; multiple of his children also died in infancy. Also, his wife passed. Afterward, Bach authored the cantata Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis in meinem Herzen (I Had Great Distress in My Heart). For his second wife, Anna Magdalena, he compiled famous clavier pieces as explored here. Volume 1 makes and supports the case of Bach’s deserved acclaim and presents a life with travails and professional success leaving a body of work that is proof of a genius that may have few equals, if any.
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Reading Progress

October 12, 2015 – Started Reading
October 18, 2015 – Shelved
October 24, 2015 – Shelved as: bio
October 24, 2015 – Shelved as: music
October 24, 2015 – Finished Reading

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