Cello Suite No.4

Johann Sebastian Bach

Cello Suite No.4 in Eb major


About this work

The six Bach suites for solo cello may be arranged according to their modern, galant dance movements into three pairs (Nos. 1 and 2 use Minuets, Nos. 3 and 4 Bourrées, and Nos. 5 and 6 Gavottes). They also form two sequences of three in terms of key and mood (major-minor-major), and the Suite in E flat major opens the second group of three. This second group goes beyond the first group of three in its contrapuntal density and in its sense of untrammeled imagination. So we encounter in the opening movement the use of a repetitive arpeggio to build complex phrases, as in the first suite. But here the sense of improvisatory fantasy is stronger: the arpeggio descends in a gradual figure and varies negligibly as it explores a range of keys. Bach alternates this descending arpeggio pattern with three wave-like cadenzas that rise and fall in a faster rhythm and gradually begin to sound more and more like the arpeggio figures, until both emerge in a triumphant E flat major. The broken-up texture and the structural ambition remind one of Bach's large, quasi-improvisatory organ pieces.

This extension and stretching of ideas from the earlier suites pervades the remainder of the fourth suite. The Allemande and Courante have simple lines, like those in the first suite, and the stately Sarabande seems like an optimistic take on its counterpart in the second suite. The Sarabande is noteworthy for its startlingly consistent maintenance of the texture of melody line with harmonic accompaniment -- on a single cello! The main section of the double Bourrée seems to implement a call-and-response illusion with a single line, while the second section offers a lovely contrast with a limpid, quiet succession of quarter notes and textural simplicity. The quirky rhythms of the Gigue confirm that this is new ground, deeper in its multi-instrument contrapuntal illusions, more ambitious in scope and depth. And this finale in turn prepares us for the glories of the final two suites.