Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) wrote the Cello suites, BWV 1007-1012, six pieces for unaccompanied cello, between 1717 and 1723.
The suites are very technical and complex; not unusual characteristics for Bach’s music. Surviving copies of the original manuscript were not annotated and, therefore, difficult to interpret. The music was not well known or publicly performed until Puerto Rican cellist, conductor and composer Pablo Casals (1876-1973) played them in the early 20th century. Now, they are considered to be among Bach’s most notable musical accomplishments and are frequently performed; they also have been transcribed for other instruments.
American cellist Yo-Yo Ma (b. 1955) has recorded the Cello Suites numerous times. A link in the official video he released in 2019 takes one to stores and services that sell or stream his 2018 Sony Classical album Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites.
The video opens with a quote by Ma, “Culture—the way we express ourselves and understand each other—can bind us together as one world,” and ends with the hashtag #cultureconnectsus. Ma plays the “Prelude” from Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, and the film is interspersed with people of all ages and backgrounds expressing their customs, ideas, art and play. A set of three stylized musical staffs weave together these visual vignettes. There is much diversity and beauty to see and hear.
Ma’s interpretation of the music and his message to the world is essential—especially in the current global overabundance of cynicism, individualism, disconnection and hate—to the survival of our species and, indeed, the entire living world.
The complexity of the “Prelude” brings out many emotions, though perhaps the most important is hope, which I hear building powerfully, starting at about 2:11 in the video, near the end of the piece. (And on a weekend when we’re experiencing what many in Winnipeg, Canada, are calling “fourth winter,” I’m hopeful that I’ll soon be able to take my bike outside… over a month and a half behind last year’s first outdoor ride, which was March 8th.)
Now you know a little about why this is My Song of the Day for Today, on Classical Sunday. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.
Here is the official video from Yo-Yo Ma’s YouTube channel: