The suite as a genre has previously been described in the Instrumental Music in the Baroque section. Bach composed many suites for various instruments. His six suites for unaccompanied cello are some of the best known works written for the instrument. You’ll notice that there are recordings of every movement of Suite No. 1. You only have the Prelude (1st movement) on your playlist, though at some point I highly recommend listening to more for your own enjoyment.
The Six suites for unaccompanied cello by Johann Sebastian Bach are some of the most frequently performed and recognizable solo compositions ever written for cello. They were most likely composed during the period 1717–1723, when Bach served as a Kapellmeister in Köthen. The title of Anna Magdalena Bach’s manuscript was Suites á Violoncello Solo senza Basso.
The suites have been transcribed for numerous instruments, including the violin, viola, double bass, viola da gamba, mandolin, piano, marimba, classical guitar, recorder, flute, electric bass, horn, saxophone, bass clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba, ukulele, and charango and Rap.
The suites have been performed and recorded by many renowned cellists; Yo-Yo Ma won the 1985 Best Instrumental Soloist Grammy Award for his bestselling album Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites.
The suites are in six movements each, and have the following structure and order of movements.
- Galanteries: Minuets for Suites 1 and 2, Bourrées for 3 and 4, Gavottes for 5 and 6
Scholars believe that Bach intended the works to be considered as a systematically conceived cycle, rather than an arbitrary series of pieces. Compared to Bach’s other suite collections, the cello suites are the most consistent in order of their movements. In addition, to achieve a symmetrical design and go beyond the traditional layout, Bach inserted intermezzo or galanterie movements in the form of pairs between theSarabande and the Gigue.
Only five movements in the entire set of suites are completely non-chordal, meaning that they consist only of a single melodic line. These are the second Minuet of the 1st Suite, the second Minuet of the 2nd suite, the second Bourrée of the 3rd suite, the Gigue of the 4th suite, and theSarabande of the 5th Suite. The 2nd Gavotte of the 5th Suite has but one prim-chord (the same note played on two strings at the same time), but only in the original scordatura version of the suite; in the standard tuning version it is completely free of chords.
Suite No. 1 in G major
The Prelude, mainly consisting of arpeggiated chords, is probably the best known movement from the entire set of suites and is regularly heard on television and in films.
Listen: Cello Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007
Please listen to the following performance of prelude from Cello Suite No. 1, by John Michel.