My husband and I used to be very fond of the now-defunct television comedy Scrubs, which was set in a hospital and featured the clownish antics of a bunch of young doctors. Somewhere toward the end of the series, the makers of the show started showing montages of out-takes as the end credits were playing. I have thought several times during this project of compiling a similar montage of my bloopers and false starts, complete with the heavy sighs, stamped feet and outbursts of “Rats!” (my oath of choice now that I’m a lady professor and must set a good example to the youth of tomorrow). This would probably only be of amusement to me, however.
The late Mstislav Rostropovich used to describe the C minor Sarabande as “the most genius composition.” All the movements of the C minor suite are characterized by their extraordinary economy of motivic means, but surely none more so than the heart-stopping Sarabande, restricted as it is to linear motion, unrelieved by a single chord or double-stop.
Today was another tempo-rethinking day. My impulse is to play both the Allemande and Courante of the C minor suite slowly, because the melancholy turns of the melodies in both seem to beg to be lingered on. Still, I think it’s preferable to pull the Courante’s tempo up a bit so that you can bring out the full effect of the ascending pentachord in the bassline.
Today’s C minor Allemande recording featured one of the biggest tempo rethinks I’ve done in this project. I used to play it very, very slowly, lingering over every nuance and trying madly to bring out all the different voices using bow speed, dynamics, and so on. I was actually rather pleased with it the last time I played it several years ago.
Two things caused the rethink. The first was that I noticed (having somehow overlooked it before) the time signature.
The C minor Prelude is quite unlike any of its predecessors in the cello suites. While the first four are different in their own ways, they all follow an overall pattern of a) working through various harmonies, b) building up to some kind of climax in the middle, c) winding down in a more improvisatory style than before. The C minor Prelude does none of these things.
I’m partly mightily relieved at finishing my recordings of the E flat suite, because I find it the most wretchedly hard to tune, hard to phrase thing in the world. I’ve had nightmares about E flat major these past six days. E flat major is just hard.
I watched Milos Forman’s Valmont (1989) last night, a film that had the disadvantage of coming out at the same time as Stephen Frears’ more famous Dangerous Liaisons, another adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ Les liaisons dangereuses. I’d not heard of this other version until my Netflix Instant Queue recommended it to me, and I had high hopes, since most of the reviews on the site said it was much better than the Frears film.
Today’s set of three takes was notable for being the most different (from each other, that is) set of takes I’ve made in this project. This was largely because of tempo, though it had other ramifications for phrasing, dynamics and so on. I’d practised the Sarabande at a tempo that I thought conveyed the timeless marvel of the suspended tension-resolution that characterizes the Sarabande.
I outlined the general system I use for intonation on Day 19 when I was recording the E flat major Prelude. However, this system works best on chordal passages, and isn’t so successful for linear ones.
Sometimes there are movements in the Bach suites where the notes themselves are highly debated. This can be because of discrepancies between Anna Magdalena Bach’s manuscript and that of Johann Peter Kellner, and/or those of the two anonymous eighteenth-century copies included in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe. Or sometimes it’s just because we’re not sure what the copyists meant by a certain marking.