Meditations on Bach #1: Wonder

by Peter Saint-Andre


Wonder is what I've long felt about Bach's Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. I'm not sure when I first heard them, but over time they have become ever more meaningful to me. I regularly listen to various recorded renditions; some of my favorites are by Stephen Isserlis (cello), Patricia McCarty (viola), Edgar Meyer (double bass), Michael Nicolella (guitar), Jean-Guihen Queyras (cello), Hopkinson Smith (lute), Janos Starker (cello), and Pieter Wispelwey (cello). So far, that is - I'm actively adding more recordings to my collection as I explore these works ever more deeply.

Naturally, you can't understand a piece of music inside and out unless you can play it. Thus twelve years ago was born my aspiration to learn the cello suites on electric bass (more realistic for me than an arrangement for guitar or than learning a new instrument such as the double bass). Until now I haven't done much in pursuit of that goal, other than learn the Sarabande of the 5th Suite. However, I'm now getting serious about it and will use this journal to recount the long process of climbing the mountain (Stephen Isserlis once described these pieces as the Himalayas of the cello repertoire). If I ever reach the summit, I might even record them someday.

Aristotle said that philosophy - the love of wisdom, the quest for insight, the reaching out for understanding - begins in wonder. This is just as true in the realm of music as it is in the world of ideas. Perhaps in extraordinary works like Bach's Cello Suites these two universes merge and become one.


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