The Influence of the Unaccompanied Bach Suites

Meredith Lawrence


Bach was very influential in changing the function of the violoncello from an accompanying instrument to a solo instrument, showing the cello’s potential in his writing of the unaccompanied cello suites. Throughout the cello’s history, the instrument was considered to be primarily an accompanying instrument, playing the basso continuo line of most music. Through research of primary and secondary sources, it was found that during Bach’s time in Cöthen, he was given freedom and the resources to compose what he wished. These resources included excellent musicians such as the gambist, played by Abel and the cellist, Linigke. It was most likely that Bach used their knowledge to compose the cello suites and through these suites, Bach helped change the role of the cello to a solo instrument. Although Bach used previous composition styles, such as the dance suite form, he incorporated elements of cello playing that had not been used before. A few examples of these elements include the scordatura tuning of the fifth suite, as well as the call for a five-stringed instrument in the six suite. More detailed elements are the ways in which Bach created different voices in one melodic line. In many of the suites, a two-level line or a theme and accompaniment can be found. Bach creates an accompanying line within the solo line, allowing the cello to display its soloistic possibilities and not to be confined simply playing an accompanying line. Another interesting element would be the different moods and emotions that can be seen in the different suites. Through different keys, rhythms, notes, and compositional styles, Bach creates a unique setting for each suite. Through these different moods, the cello was seen as an expressive and significant instrument that enabled future composers to see the potential in cello composition.


J.S. Bach; Unaccompanied Cello Suites; Cello

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