Charlie Chaplin, playing the cello, ca. 1915

Charlie Chaplin, playing the cello, ca. 1915

Photo: Library of Congress Washington

Concert
Afternoon Concert

Nicolas Altstaedt plays J.S. Bach

Far into the 20th century, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Cello Suites have remained the measure of all things when it comes to composition and the skills they demand of the musicians who play them. They transported the musical and technical development of the cello into new spheres. In this concert, Franco-German cellist Nicolas Altstaedt will venture into the centre of the cello’s cosmos with a solo that is by far more complex than the term may suggest.

16:10 work introduction

At Musikfest 2014 Isabel Faust performed all six sonatas and partitas that Johann Sebastian Bach composed for solo violin. This year Nicolas Altstaedt continues that series with its equivalent: the performance of the six suites for solo cello. With these Bach created an exemplary compendium for the deepest stringed instrument that is in no way inferior to the sonatas and partitas for violin or the “Wohltemperierte Klavier”. In addition to what remains to this day a commonplace instrument, for the fifth suite he requires a so-called scordatura: the uppermost string is tuned down a note from A to G, thus making the underlying sound more muted. Bach accordingly chooses the key of C minor, the darkest of the entire group. The sixth suite in the celebratory key of D major was written for a violoncello piccolo, a five-stringed instrument with an E string above the A string with which it can control higher registers that Bach also prefers. Each suite begins with a “preludio”; the musical range extending from a fantasy-like virtuoso piece close to improvisation to French type of overture with integrated fugue. In the following dance movements Bach chose the standard sequence of (relatively fast) allemande, (quick) courante, (slow) sarabande and (mostly very fast) gigue. Each of the suites stylizes its respective type in a special way. In all of them he includes an additional movement before the final gigue: a minuet, a bourrée or a gavotte. Both in terms of their composition and the demands they made on their performers, these works remained the measure of all things until deep into the 20th century: the very centre of the cello universe.

Concert Programme

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750)
6 Suites for cello solo BWV 1007-1012 (before 1719)

Suite No. I in G major BWV 1007
Suite No. II in d minor BWV 1008
Suite No. III in C major BWV 1009
Suite No. IV in E flat major BWV 1010
Suite No. V in C minor BWV 1011
Suite No. VI in D major BWV 1012

Cast

Nicolas Altstaedt cello and cello piccolo

A Berliner Festspiele / Musikfest Berlin event