Cello Suites

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Question 3

Bach’s unaccompanied suites for cello are amongst the composer’s most celebrated and important works. What are the reasons for the suite’s enduring popularity?

Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites are highly celebrated works in the modern era. They have been used successfully in advertising campaigns and proven to be popular in classical music consumer’s playlists. However when they were originally written the pieces were not as well appreciated as they are today. Why was this the case? I will argue that it was due to one exceptional cellist, Pablo Casals who helped bring the pieces to the attention of the classical music community and express their musical appeal in the concert hall idiom. With Casals’ intuitive styling’s, the cello suites infiltrated their way into popular culture.

Bach’s cello suites are among the best known works of classical music (Siblin, 2009: Winold, 2007), however, this was not always the case. It was not until a young Catalan cellist, Pablo Casals, discovered these monumental baritone works and performed them in 1901, that they rose onto concert platforms, “justified as real music”(Johnson, 2000, p. 660: Siblin, 2009). This exploration of the unaccompanied cello suites was a new revelation in the music community, partly because for the best part of two centuries they were only used, almost exclusively as common practice exercises (Johnson, 2000, p.660: Blum, 1980, p.). After a decade and a half of perfecting the pieces, Casals toured over twelve cities in 1903 and 1904 promoting his evident romance with the suites (Siblin, 2009). As the knowledge of the suites increased, more cellists took on the challenge of perfecting these works, like Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma, who dedicated a good part of his life to the cello suites. In this way, a new medium emerged which saw composers become more interested in the cello as a solo instrument. Thus Bach’s cello works consequently became more popular among performers and

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