Excerpt reveal: ‘Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for ’Cello’ by Steven Hancoff

Bach ibook vol 1_0504.pdfTitle: Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for Cello Solo

Author: Steven Hancoff

Genre: multimedia 4-volume CD

Purchase on iTunes.

Website: www.stevenhancoff.com

I have transcribed and recorded the thirty-six masterpieces that comprise J. S. Bach’s Cello Suites on acoustic guitar—almost three hours of music. 

I have also written a four-volume, highly interactive e-book: Bach, Casals and The Six Suites for ‘Cello Solo — biographies of Bach and of Pablo Casals, the man who rescued the Suites from oblivion. This work is anecdotal rather than technical, describing the lives of these great men in the context of their times as I have come to fathom them—as fascinating, illuminating, and inspiring artists, and as human beings challenged, like all of us, by the demands life. 

In addition to the storytelling, the book is highly illustrated, with about 1,000 period pictures – portraits, oils, watercolors, stained glass, photographs, etchings and engravings, documents, sculptures, statues and monuments. These pictures illustrate the text, and make the e-book very colorful and accessible.         

In addition, more than 300 contemporary artists have contributed hundreds of works of contemporary art, all of which is inspired by J. S. Bach and Pablo Casals. This is the most comprehensive art book devoted to Bach and Casals that has ever been compiled. 

To tell the story of the Cello Suites, I have also created and embedded 25 beautiful and compelling videos. 

Not only that but the written transcriptions — the scores – will be made available for free so that guitarists who wish to learn these pieces can try their hands at them. 

Here we have a set of music by Bach never before performed on acoustic guitar, accompanied by entertaining, easy-to-read, stunning and informative biographies in the form of a visually bountiful, highly interactive e-book.


To me, the mystery and the greatness of Bach’s music lie in his unerring mastery, his ability to unify the expression of breathtaking beauty, primal emotion, vast power, and intel-lectual rigor, and to do so on a giant canvas. The confluence of these elements evokes the feeling of flow, the feeling that each note inevitably follows the preceding one, such that there is never a wrong” note, only “right” ones – never a random note, only meaningful ones.  The music of Bach has no trace of negativity, only exaltation and upliftedness – the permissible delights of the soul, as Bach himself put it.  He seems to have created music from a state of reverence, awe, and wonder at Creation itself, as an act of gratitude for having been created to witness and participate in it, and with an innate feeling of personal proximity to eternity itself.  One feels exposed to unveiled cosmic truth by means of transparent musical purity.”

It is almost as though rather than having been composed, the music emanated from some exalted plane to which Bach was somehow attuned, perhaps something like The Music of the Spheres, the Keplerian notion contemporaneous with Bach, that ultimately music is the sound of Universal relationship – “the movements of the planets are modulated according to harmonic proportions… as God, the Creator Himself, has expressed it in harmonizing the heavenly motions.”  [Harmonices Mundi, Johannes Kepler, 1619]  Or as the great Casals most elegantly and succinctly put it, “Music is the Divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.”  Like some bodhisattva, Bach seemed born to translate and transmit this music to us all.  The more I play the Suites, the more certain I am that the Six Suites for Cello Solo is one piece of music that becomes majestic, more beautiful, more powerful, and more profound as one journeys from the first notes of the First Prelude through the last ones of the Sixth Gigue.”

“Not only are there six Cello Suites, but there are also six movements that comprise each Suite.  So many of the masterpieces Bach composed during his time in Cöthen – Six Solo and Double Violin Concertos, Six English Suites for Harpsichord, Six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, Six Partitas and Sonatas for Violin Solo – are likewise constructed of six parts.

So, I began to wonder whether the number six in and of itself May have held specific and important meaning for Bach, an Extraordinarily devout man who spent much of his life engaged In the study of texts, both orthodox and mystical, sacred to him, for use as libretto for his hundreds of cantatas and the Passions, as well as for inspired instruction as to how to conduct a just and balanced life.  Did he compose so regularly in six movements because of purely aesthetic considerations, or were there also “metaphysical underpinnings?  For as Marcel Proust rightly wrote, “Art is a selective recreation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value judgments. An artist recreates those aspects of reality which represent his Fundamental view of man’s nature.”

Categories: Non-Fiction | Tags: | Leave a comment

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