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Bach Project

Justin is currently recording the complete suites for solo cello by J.S.Bach at Temple Church in London for release in 2020.

The record label, headed by the charismatic Mike and Francoise Valentine, Chasing the Dragon Audiophile Recordings.

The Valentines produce very high quality recordings using only the most advanced equipment, combining 50 year old valve microphones with a high resolution analogue and digital recording. Mike Valentine says “this will take you and your Hi-Fi system on an interesting journey!”

All the performances are one-take, live with no editing, in the extraordinary acoustic of Temple Church. Several formats will be made available; vinyl, reel to reel tape, and digital CD.

Bach Project: Bio
Bach Project: Video

About the Cello Suites

The Bach Cello Suites are some of the most recognizable and well-loved pieces of music in both classical and popular circles. Little is known about the history of the suites. An in-depth analysis of the Bach Cello Suites often comes up with more questions than answers. Confirmed knowledge of the suites, or their composer, is rare, and experts in the field must often make peace with assumptions and educated guesses. So, how does one go about unpacking the suites’ mystery? To begin, we must start by examining the first step of the suites’ inception, with the life and history of the composer who first put them to page.

The brief glimpses into Johann Sebastian Bach’s personal and professional life paint contrasting pictures of the composer. While Bach was reverential to royals, often to an excessive degree, it was only when it suited him. He was known to combat their orders aggressively when it conflicted with his professional pursuits, which in one case, led him to being jailed by his employer, the Duke of Weimar, after aggressively pushing his request for dismissal from his position as the Duke’s organist in 1717. While married to his second wife, Anna Magdalena, Bach was something of a romantic, gifting her with songbirds and yellow carnations. In addition to this, he was a devoted family man, incredibly proud of providing education for his sons and for the musical careers that many of them would pursue.

It seems only right that such an elusive and at times, contradictory, character would produce some of the most lauded pieces of music known today – the Bach Cello Suites. Their story is much like their creator’s, plagued with a history of being mistaken for dull before a sudden and celebrated rediscovery.

To begin the story of the suites, one must begin in Cöthen, Germany, with an older, more confident Bach as Capellmeister for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen. Leopold’s court was nestled in the countryside, but boasted a rather cosmopolitan collection of virtuoso musicians and a very capable Capellmeister in Bach. 

Following the Brandenburg Concertos is the period of time around 1720 that scholars believe Bach composed the cello suites, while he still worked as Capellmeister in Cöthen. The year, though a confident and educated guess, has never been confirmed, as the original manuscript of the cello suites has never been located. Bach later relocated to Leipzig, Germany, to work as cantor and to provide an education for his sons in the nearby university. Though he hoped his relocation would advance his career and bring him recognition, he was disappointed and began looking for new work soon after. Ultimately, this proved unsuccessful and Bach remained in Leipzig for the remainder of his life.

One of the great beauties of the cello suites has also been one of their greatest vexations for scholars and musicians alike: their lack of musical markings or notes. The earliest manuscripts, copies penned by Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, bear no indication of how Bach thought the pieces should be played, and thus are completely up to the interpretation of the performer. It is for this reason that the cello suites are so versatile. Yet, this aspect of the suites gives them their transcendental quality. The necessity of the performer’s interpretation makes them some of the most personal pieces to performers and listeners alike. Pablo Casals, for one, would hold the suites dear for his entire life – making a routine of playing a suite each day of the week (the sixth he would play on both Saturday and Sunday). The suites were the background music for some of the worst moments of social and political strife for Casals. While Francisco Franco’s forces attacked his homeland of Catalonia in the Spanish Civil War, Casals was in the midst of recording the cello suites for the first time. Following this period, Casals boycotted performing in any country that recognized Franco’s regime, with one exception for President John F. Kennedy. Even then, he refused to play the cello suites. In addition to Casals, Mstislav Rostropovich, a Russian cellist and human rights activist, played the suites at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, as a way to welcome East Berliners who were crossing the wall. At the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Yo-Yo Ma performed the Sarabande from the first cello suite to honor the victims.

If anything, the mystery of Bach and his cello suites only amplifies their intrigue. While many have obsessed over the missing manuscript of the suites and the life of the mysterious man who wrote it, often there is only one choice that remains – to accept the little that is known of both, and to listen to the story grounded in the notes, approaching its three-hundredth birthday and just as fresh as the day it was first penned.

Bach Project: Text
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