“THAT” CELLO SONG
By Amy Cassaniti
Type “Cello Song” into Google, and you will immediately be given the result “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude” by Johann Sebastian Bach. Likely composed during the years of 1717-1723, “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude” is but the first of six cello suites composed by Bach for unaccompanied cello. The portion most often played is the first movement of the suite – the prelude. Each of the six suites is composed of a prelude, an allemande, a courante, a sarabande, two minuets or bourrées or gavottes, and lastly a gigue. Following the prelude, the unusually named five movements are really just different types of baroque dances utilizing different meters. The cello suites are “etudes,” the French word for study, and were designed to provide practice material for aspiring celloists. In other words, Bach probably never intended these pieces as performance pieces. Bach simply wrote the suites to give cello students something to use to practice their technique.
As often happens, one century’s trash is another century’s treasure. During Bach’s lifetime and for centuries after, the cello suites were little known and rarely publicly performed. It was not until Pablo Casals (1876-1973) recorded the suites in 1936 that the suites were rediscovered and enjoyed by a modern audience. The suites have become so popular that they have been transcribed for other instruments. In fact, the suites are now considered some of Bach’s greatest compositions.
But none of this information really answers the question, why is “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude” so beloved by modern audiences? The answer might lie in the concept of “Flow.” In 1975, the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the idea of “Flow.” Flow occurs when a person is so completely involved and focused on what he is doing that he loses a sense of time and the progression of time. In other words, flow occurs when you are completely lost and immersed in what you are doing. For many people, “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude” is the musical sound of flow. For the musician, playing the suite, he is instantly in a state of flow. And for the audience, the developing melody line creates a sense of flow and movement. According to Yo-Yo Ma, the cello song is the “infinitude of what we have in the natural world represents flow [as in clouds and water moving]; sunlight sparkling on leaves of trees on a fall day. We can all imagine something that is both constant and always changing. This music actually helps in films to set a tone for what the movie is trying to say. That music can help people to get to a certain state of mind.” Listening to “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude” can get us to flow.
So, the next time you want to be transported to a certain state of mind, Google “Cello Song,” and listen to a rendition. Or click on the link below and enjoy Yo-Yo Ma’s interpretation of this most iconic composition.