For the first time in my life I have listened to all six suites of Bach’s Six Suites for Cello back to back. Actually, I’ve been at it for hours. Three different sets of recordings, Shiff, Ma, and Gendron, each of the full set of suites. As cliché as it may be, I prefer Yo-Yo Ma’s renditions.
While in college I attended a recital which had one of my professor’s cello compositions on the program alongside selections from Bach’s suites. I remember my professor (David Feurzeig), discussing how each of Bach’s movements were like “worlds unto themselves.” Even a passive listening reveals the brilliance of each. The lack of authoritative slurs and articulation marks allows the performer a great deal of freedom in realising the pieces, and the respective presentations each turn the piece over differently, exposing new facets.
As a composer with writer’s block, this is helpful. Due to my writing process, which has to do more with transcription, perfection, and the metronomic feedback of MIDI sequencers, coupled with my early training in composition from a neo-positivist (T. L. Read), the lack of performance information in Bach’s cello works are perhaps the greatest asset to their success. Performers find within themselves, via taste, convention, or technique, an avenue by which they create the magic of the piece.
Listening to recordings of my favorite contemporary composers, I feel lost in a way - it is not the structure, the harmonies, or the lines in the piece that I fall in love with - it is the particular sharpness that the harp comes off in the mix, it is in way one particular lift of the bow comes off of a viola string that I fall in love with. The TONE of the instrument itself creates a magic that lifts a simple minor chord out from the mundanity of theory and into a kind of transcendental space. I need to give the simple ideas in my mind credit for what the world will do to it once it is released from my (proverbial) womb. Psycho-acoustics, dry, misshapen reeds, breathes from the performer quietly exerted in the spaces between the notes, all of this makes my music real, and as yet I haven’t made a place for it.
How many ideas have I shot down because there was no “genius” in them?