Bach makes me happy. Let me say it again: Bach makes me happy. It makes me feel connected to earth. It reconciles me with mankind. It makes me feel being part of a whole. The last time I made that experience, was two month ago when I listened to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major (BWV 1007). A piece written for one string instrument only – beautiful! The fact that there is only one instrument creates an intimacy between the player and the audience equal only to a piano recital, a Schubert sonata for example. Whenever I listen to that cello suite, it feels like coming home. Returning to a safe place where body and mind can rest.
I remember the moment when I shot the picture that illustrates this post. A year ago, I was on my way to work, I was early and from the car I saw that field with those huge round straw bales. The geometry attracted me, and I had to stop. In nature nothing is perfectly rectangular or circular, my biology teacher used to say. Right and wrong. Natural elements shaped by men’s hand (or machines in this case) can give nature a geometrical aspect without destroying its natural character. Anyway, I found this geometrical aspect in a natural environment interesting… and charming.
Six suites, six movements
So what has it got to with Bach? Bach’s cello suite has a lot of geometry: Suite No. 1 is one of six such suites. Each is written in the traditional structure of Baroque dances. Bach inserts two movements between the typical four which gives us… six movements. For BWV 1007, that would be a Prelude, an Allemande, a Courante, a Sarabande, two Minuets, that would not be part of a traditional suite, and a Gigue. Six suites with six movements. Finally, the structure of each of the movements shows the mathematical rigour that is so typical for Bach’s works.
From a technical point of view, Bach’s suites become increasingly demanding, the first one being the least sophisticated one. But while the difficulty increases, the freedom of the player in shaping the sound of the cello increases at the same rate. Two parallel linear movements – more geometry.
Catching a glimpse of God
But the secret of Bach’s genius lies in the emotional content of the suite despite all the mathematical calculation that forms its backbone. The music is very dense, very intensive, there is no superfluous note, you get to the essence of music. Bach’s objective was to create musical perfection mirroring the divine order of the world. Bach translated religion into music and perhaps this is why his music makes me so happy. Listening to it is like absorbing the sound waves with the body, they travel through the skin and the nerves to the brain and through the blood to your heart. And when it all comes together, I catch a glimpse of God, of Eternity. A singular musical experience. One that makes me happy. Always.
Bach wrote the first five suites for the cello, the last one for the viol. He composed them while he worked as Kapellmeister at the court of Anhalt-Köthen, between 1717 and 1723. No original scores have survived, all historical copies have been written or printed later. While serving Earl Leopold, he chiefly composed non-religious music. Earl Leopold was a great patron of arts and, as an adherent of the Calvinist faith, he had embraced a conservative view on liturgy that excluded instrumental music from church services.
© Charles Thibo