J. S. Bach’s six Suites for solo cello are among the most cherished works in music.
Neglected for some two hundred years after they were composed, the works have acquired an aura that enthrals audiences worldwide; Bach takes us on a unique spiritual journey, from joy, through tragedy and finally to jubilation.
To celebrate cellist Steven Isserlis’s book, The Bach Cello Suites – A Companion, we have selected six performances or excerpts from YouTube, one from each of the six Suites. Watch and listen here:
Steven Isserlis on the Prelude: ‘There is something about those opening bars, the way Bach sets the natural resonance of the cello alight – but without the grandeur of the low C string – and the way he passes within those first bars from thanksgiving to dissonance, before returning to the comforting embrace of G major, that is true balm for the soul.’
Steven Isserlis on the Prelude from the second suite: ‘This Prelude is touching in a completely different way from all the others, a shared monologue that poses profound questions.’
‘Few writers, and surely even fewer musicians, could common such a range of registers.’ (Times Literary Supplement)
Steven Isserlis on the fourth suite: ‘And so we enter the second half of the cycle, with some more joyous music – or perhaps the word “glorious” is more accurate here than “joyous”.’
Steven Isserlis on the fifth suite: ‘So, from the light into the heart of darkness; for me, as I have suggested earlier, this is the suite most inescapably connected with Christianity: the story of the Passion.’
Steven Isserlis on the sixth suite: ‘And yet, as for Bach: he probably wrote the last notes, signed his name, wrote his customary “Soli Deo gloria”, put down his pen and went out to rehearse, or to repair his harpsichord quill plectrums; or perhaps settled down to a convivial dinner involving singing with his family and friends, his next masterpieces already buzzing around in his head. A true, unarguable, immortal phenomenon of nature, of creation.’