Bach: Sixth Suite For Unaccompanied Cello (Arr. Viola)

Bach’s Sixth Suite for unaccompanied cello carries an implicit demand for sonority and dignified poise, part of the sociological and musical contexts of the Kapellmeister of Cöthen. The work has particular technical demands due to its original intention to be played on a five-stringed violoncello piccolo (or, some argue, a viola pomposa), This, in addition to thematic and motivic similarities, provides a triumphant asymmetry to the comparatively simplistic first suite, and a decisive completion to the suites as a whole.

Etymologically we take the opening Prelude as a wandering utility in discovering various aspects of the key of the suite, and the following Allemande as a rhythmically rooted German dance. However, in the Sixth Suite, there is a distinct role reversal, with the extensive Prelude announcing a grandiose stance in arpeggiated chords, lower and upper pedal notes and range-stretching motivic sequences. This movement in its foreshadowing element will be essential in tying the suite into one cohesive whole. The Allemande in contrast is exploratory both rhythmically and harmonically. The Courante provides the first traditional feel of the dance, bringing together the arpeggiation of the first movement and use of the scale fragments seen in the second. The brushed chords of the Sarabande and Gavotte expand the implied polyphony in the Prelude, and sets in clear view Bach’s signature compositional attribute of unmatched counterpoint. This voicing and intertwined polyphony is likely the source of Casal’s characterization of the suite as “a symphony for solo cello.” The closing Gigue clearly brings in the spirit of the English Jig, with the use of cross stringing with the open A string – also hinted at at the height of the opening movement – carrying a brisk folksy step to close a magnificent opus.


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