Day 15: Suite No. 3 in C major, Courante

Owing to a dream featuring both an octopus and a crocodile, I woke up with a start at two in the morning and couldn’t sleep for another two hours. This caused me not to wake up until half past nine. Although I am temperamentally rather lazy, I dislike sleeping in, because I do my best work in the morning and I feel as if I’ve lost half the day if I don’t get up until ten. To add to this frustrating inconvenience, I woke up with a tension headache and a fierce case of the don’t-wannas. When I made up the rules to this project, I decided I could take days off if I were ill, and this would have been a perfect out. But when I asked myself sternly if I were so incapacitated that I couldn’t play the cello, I had to answer truthfully that I was not. I took a Tylenol with my muesli and strawberries, and drove off to the university with a very bad grace to make my daily video.

The Courante is one of those pieces that looks simple on the page, but takes quite a lot of thinking about. Constructed almost exclusively from quavers/eighth notes, it would be easy to play it exercise-style. Sometimes I wonder if the reason Schumann and other nineteenth-century musicians thought the Suites weren’t suitable for public performance without a piano part was that the cellists of the time possibly were playing them like exercises, rather than trying to distinguish between the different voices that are at play within the single lines.

We often hear the first two bars, for example, played neatly and evenly with controlled spiccato bowstrokes.

But to my mind, there are two distinct voices at play here. I’m going to write them on two lines to illustrate what I mean:

With this in mind, I tried to play the Courante with a variety of different bowstrokes: controlled spiccatodétaché, slurs where specified, etc. The idea was to find as many different shapes and different voices as possible within the very simple rhythmic context of this movement.

Somewhat unusually for me, I ended up using Take 2 today. This was because I was experimenting in all the takes with different tempi. I took Take 1 relatively slowly, because I wanted to try out the idea of the dignified, not-too-fast French-style courante rather than the dashing Italian corrente. It wasn’t bad, but I felt that it ultimately sounded a bit dull. I took Take 2 a bit faster, and Take 3 really fast, just to see if that would work. Take 3 ended up sounding more rushed than I’d hoped, so I settled for Take 2.

Today’s video.

Today’s practice list: C major Courante, Sarabande, Bourrées I & II; E flat major Bourrées I & II.

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