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Mendy Smith

When the Shoe Fits...

May 21, 2010 at 4:25 AM

It seems ironic that after spending so many years studying the Bach Cello Suites, it is one set of works that I have yet to truly perform. The one time I did play one of the movements publicly, it was for an audition and it was cut-off due to time constraints.  This Sunday, I will finally be performing a complete movement from one of my favorite Suites - #5 Allemande in C-Minor.

When I first studied this movement a few years ago, I fell in love with its tonal 'colour',  being rich in chords creating a sense of being accompanied by a second instrument..  Those chords however were difficult to learn -  intonation-wise and stylistically.  Stopped 5ths are tricky on viola.  It takes just the right angle of the left hand and placing the finger between the strings "just so"  to create a perfect 5th.  The thirds need to be played with one of the notes a little "out of tune" to make the chord sound perfectly in tune.   Bow speed, angle and distribution is critical.  Too much speed at the beginning of the stroke makes for an unintended accent.  The chords must be played "broken" but fluid.  All this makes the art of bowing into an exercise of supreme bow control while remaining relaxed at all times.

Picking this piece up again was like slipping into a pair of comfortable old shoes.  Two years ago those shoes were new and there were a few spots that caused discomfort and a blister or two.  I've walked many miles in those shoes. Over time they have become a part of me, a perfect fit between the shoe and the shoe-wearer - soft and comfortable. 

It will be nice to go on a walk with Bach again.


From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 21, 2010 at 6:17 AM

I always love returning to Bach.  When I teach something by Bach, the fingers of my left hand play along with the student although I don't consciously tell them to.

I've never heard Bach's Cello Suites played on the viola, but I love them played on the cello (www.violinist.com/blog/paulinefiddle/20105/11213/)  I'll look for some recordings of them on the viola.

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From Christina C.
Posted on May 25, 2010 at 7:53 PM

I love the suites & am a sucker for the cello so I have several recordings on cello, but I also have a couple on viola- Nobuko Imai & Patricia McCarty

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