Edgar Meyer's view to Bach's cello suites

Discussion in 'Recordings [DB]' started by FengZhou, Feb 24, 2002.

  1. FengZhou


    Feb 24, 2002
    China PR

    A double bassist's view: Edgar Meyer

    The Suites are central to bass-playing. There are no pieces more fulfilling to play, and what you learn from them you can apply to other pieces. For the bassist the most difficult thing is playing the Suites in tune, in rhythm and with a pleasing expression that isn't unnecessarily complicated.

    I first started playing the Suites at 12, and I've always played from editions for cello. There is much more common ground between bass and cello than not ?the structure of your interpretation, the phrasing and much of the bowing. A version for double bass exists but I wouldn't let any advanced students use it; they should be informed about the whole background ?the historical context ?and work out their own ideas. I would hate to deny anyone the experience of exploring what's there.

    To work the Suites out, I never write anything down. Occasionally I play a section on the piano to see what it sounds like without worrying about string-crossings and bowings. The Suites can be too much the cellist's own interpretation, whereas keyboard players tend to have a better overview of Bach.

    I have played the music as it was best understood to have been written in the Anna Magdalena Notebook, changing no more than about one or two less significant notes per suite. Occasionally I have had to adapt the bowing where it's written for the specific tuning of the cello; at the beginning of the First Suite, for instance (see above). Studying the violin sonatas is useful because you can see Bach's own bowings.

    Transcriptions were very much in Bach's thinking ?when Beethoven wrote for the cello, he was hearing the cello, but to Bach the musical lines are more abstract and he was less concerned with their individual sonorities. The essence of what makes Bach work is not just the style it's played in or instrument it's played on. I’m not terribly worried about being historically accurate. I don't try to be a cello, either. I am not afraid to take advantage of what the bass has to offer ?its darker and more resonant sound ?and revel in it.

    Since the age of 23 I have been tuning the strings of my bass E-B-E-A from the bottom, rather than the standard E-A-D-G. It allows for clearer, more agile playing and greater resonance. For the Fifth Suite (C minor), I use an extension on my bottom string and tune it down to a B so my strings are B-B-E-A. I've had to re-adapt and change the techniques I used when I was 12; I used to be up and down the top string where now I’d cross three strings, if not four. I used to be more lyrical and not have as much regard for dance-like qualities and the separation of voices.

    Bach's music withstands different points of view; it's about how it sounds, not how it looks on the page. You can get excited about the complexity of the violin works and keyboard sonatas. But it's easy to come back to the cello writing and see how someone couldn't have written a more beautiful piece of music.

    Interview by Abigail Frymann
    dbass87 and LongshotBassist like this.
  2. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    this is unrelated to your (interesting) post, but i would like to take the opportunity to welcome you to talkbass.

    welcome :)
  3. FengZhou


    Feb 24, 2002
    China PR
    Thanks! I was very excited when I found this website. You know, the communication of music is not very advanced in my country.I think I can learn many things here:)
  4. Thank you for posting this helpful article. I'm beginning to work the Bach Cello Suites with my bass students and was happy to find this. Welcome to TalkBass! Mike