When I started studying viola again after a 25+ year hiatus, I re-started with the Bach Cello Suites with the goal of being able to play them all with some level of competancy before I turned 40. Needless to say "some level of competancy" was a stretch of the imagination at the time for some of the movements, especially the 6th Suite. For many years after reaching my initial goal, I put intense study of the Suites aside for the most part, only pulling them out once a year over the winter holidays to keep them under my hand, and to delve into a movement or two every few years.
Flash forward half a decade later...
The teacher of the violinist in the piano quartet I play with puts on a studio recital for her adult students every few months. Over the past year or so it has morphed into a "adult students and friends of the students" studio recital. OK OK.... it is an excuse for us older folks to get together, play some music and socialize.
The latest recital just before Christmas was right about the time when I do my yearly "dusting off of the Suites", so I thought I'd do a "Bingo Bach" for the recital. I wrote on note cards a Suite number in one batch and a movement number on a second batch. The audience then would pick a Suite and then a movement that I would play. Luckily the 6th Suite wasn't pulled. My lucky escape from embarassing myself got me thinking that it was time to finally do the 6th Suite musical justice.
The first major decision was what key to play it in - G or the original D. I decided on G as it was difficult enough and generally sounds better in the transposed G without resorting to buying a 5-string viola.
The second major decision was what edition to work from. I have a total of 5 in my library ranging from a "urtext" for cello to IMH and everywhere in between. I decided upon the Peter's edition, but have kept all the others out for comparison. It is interesting to see how different editors have interpreted this Suite for a 4-stringed instrument as interpretaion can vary quite widely in both bowing and even notes!
My third major decison was how I wanted to interpret the piece. I've been inspired by Lillian Fuch's and Rostropovich's interpretations for years and wanted to take a bit of both and make them my own.
Lillian Fuch playing in original D on viola:
With such a lofty goal, I started slowly and to be honest quite painfully. Bach leaves no room for intonation nor other technical errors. For me there have been three major challenges in this piece: the octave arpeggios (intonation), dynamics (forte-piano-forte within a beat), and phrasing. To my (an my teacher's) surprise and delight, the chords in the final measures were spot-on intonation-wise and only needed a bit of extra oomph.
It took several weeks to get the octave arpeggios in-tune and another week or so to get the dynamic changes closer to where I (and my teacher) want them to be. The phrasing in places still baffle me on how to execute, but I think I'm starting to understand a bit more on how to make it happen.
More than a decade later after first trying this piece, I think I'm finally starting to do it some justice.
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