Bach’s autograph of the Suites for Solo Violoncello has not come down to us, so we cannot state for certain when exactly these works were composed. Regarded as an original source is a manuscript prepared around the turn of the 1720s and 30s by the composer’s second wife, Anna Magdalena. It is suspected that the first four Suites were written while Bach was still employed as kapellmeister in Köthen, at the court of Prince Leopold, and the other two in Leipzig. Although they were not written at the same time, we may surmise that the composer could have thought about them as parts of a cycle, since they all share the same formal structure. An opening Prelude is followed by an Allemande and a Courante, and the subsequent Sarabande and Gigue are separated by two other dances – minuets, bourrées or gavottes. The instrument for which they are intended is also enigmatic. In those days, the term violoncello did not indicate an instrument of fixed dimensions or requiring a specific playing technique. Particularly interesting in this respect is Suite No. 6 in D major, which according to Anna Magdalena’s manuscript was intended for a five-string instrument with a specified tuning for each of the strings. Such an instrument – viola pomposa, held on the arm while playing, was made at Bach’s request by the Leipzig luthier Johann Christian Hoffmann.
Simply… Philharmonic! Project 2:
Exactly 300 years ago, in May 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach took up the post of cantor at St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig. His duties included providing the musical setting in the city’s principal churches, which led him to compose cantatas for the liturgical year. Yet Bach’s creative path began much earlier, during his teenage years, when he came under the care of his elder brother, Johann Christoph. It was there, as the anecdote goes, that he first tried copying out the works of German masters of keyboard music. In later years, however, he also took an interest in Italian and French music, copying out Charles Dieupart’s Six Suittes de clavessin, for example, and Girolamo Frescobaldi’s Fiori musicali, and he also transcribed concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and others. As a mature composer, he turned to nearly all the musical genres of his time, avoiding only opera. The Leipzig cantor’s compositional path was symbolically crowned with Die Kunst der Fuge, BWV 1080, which assured his standing in the history of music as a peerless master of fugue and counterpoint.