Music has charms to soothe the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
(William Congreve, The Mourning Bride)
One wintry day, when a severe snowstorm puts a stop to outdoor activities, I prepare to enjoy the rich and timeless music of Bach as I work at indoor tasks. Listening to Bach gives an incentive to try to accomplish a job in good fashion. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by the amount of work, Bach soothingly restores a bit of my common sense.
It has taken me a long time to learn how to listen to Bach’s six cello suites all at once, without interspersing other music to break up what I once considered the monotony of the solo cello. But my years of practicing Bach on the piano and listening to his other music slowly ripened my ears for the delights of the cello suites. Today, as I listen, I begin to appreciate them as a synthesis of all the wealth of Bach’s music. In these suites, we find a mirror of the varied experience of our own particular life story. All of life, from birth to death, is contained in this music. Bach purposely used these unaccompanied suites to convey vividly what he considered the fundamental aspects of life. He avoids the decorative effects which he so often used in his other music. When it came to the cello solo, Bach was uncompromising; he wished nothing to hamper its distinct clear voice. Further, in his use and choice of the cello’s continuo, that is, its uninterrupted playing, Bach portrayed without ambiguity the rhythm of human life as a continuum, a progressive whole.
Bach’s cello suites, composed with a disciplined, ascetic directness, have a unique way of penetrating the soul of a person who is truly attuned. They comfort and nurture the human spirit and help us walk without fear, through all of the varied, mysterious, inner landscape of the soul.