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I'll have more about this great multi-media book and CD series a bit later today, but first, Steven wants to answer about Bach and Pablo Casals!
I understand Bach fell into obscurity after his death until his work was largely revived by Felix Mendelssohn. Can you tell us about this and how Pablo Casals discovered Bach’s cello suites in a used music shop?
During his lifetime, Bach was not known as a composer, but rather as a keyboard virtuoso. Fewer than a dozen pieces of his music were published during his lifetime. When he died intestate, his two eldest sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel (who was keyboardist in the orchestra of Frederick the Great) divided their father’s scores between them.
To make a long story short (or you can read the entire amazing legend in Volume 2), Felix Mendelssohn’s great-aunt, Sarah Levy, herself a virtuosic pianist, over a period of many years collected the scores. When Felix, at thirteen years old, entered the Sing Academy to study music, she donated the scores to that school. There, Felix became infatuated with the score to St. Matthew Passion, decided to devote himself to producing it, and six years later (when he was nineteen) presented it to an astonished audience of the Who’s Who of Berlin society. This event, 80 (well, 79) years after Bach’s death, kick-started the revival of Bach’s music in Germany, and then in Europe.
It’s an astounding saga.
It was many years later, in 1889, on the very day that Carlos Casals, the father of the thirteen year old kid Pablo, bought his son his first full-sized cello, the two of them went wandering into a dusty old used book store on the Barcelona docks to find some music for the kid to play.
Casals later said: “Together we set off for the search. For two reasons I shall never forget that afternoon. First, my father bought me my first full-sized ‘cello — how proud I was to have that wonderful instrument! Then we stopped at an old music shop near the harbour. I began browsing through a bundle of musical scores. Suddenly I came upon a sheaf of pages, crumbled and discolored with age. They were unaccompanied suites by Johann Sebastian Bach — for the ‘cello only! I looked at them with wonder: Six Suites For Violoncello Solo. What magic and mystery, I thought, were hidden in those words? I had never heard of the existence of the suites; nobody — not even my teachers —had ever mentioned them to me. I forgot our reason for being at the shop. All I could do was to stare at the pages and caress them.”
He said he practiced them every day for twelve years before he worked up the courage to ever play one in public. There is no record nor any even anecdotal evidence of anyone ever having played them.
So, that is to say they lay dormant from 1720 to 1889 – 170 years until Casals came upon them, plus another twelve years before he played any of them in public. Plus another 50 years before he actually recorded them! That’s a treasure buried for 220 years!
Stay tuned for more on Steven's new book and CD, as well as a giveaway!