Excerpt – Volume Three – The Six Suites for Cello Solo
The Suites themselves have come to be recognized as a heartfelt and an iconic expression of beauty, depth, and profound meaning to people the world over. Mstislav Rostropovich, a man who knew first-hand the cost of living under Communist tyranny,
played them against the backdrop of the fall of the
When in 1989 I saw on television that the Berlin Wall was being torn down, I took the first plane to go play there. When the taxi left us out in front of the ex-Berlin Wall, I realized that I needed a chair. I went to knock on the door of a house, and someone recognized me. Within ten minutes, there was a little crowd, and a television crew came passing by. I played the most joyous Bach Suites for Solo Cello in order to celebrate the event. But I could not forget all those who had lost their lives on this wall in trying to “cross over it. Hence, I played the Sarabande of Bach’s 2nd Suite in their memory, and I noticed a young man crying.
Yo Yo Ma was chosen to play from the Cello Suites on several occasions of national grief. Unforgettably, he played the Sarabande from the Fifth Suite, “whose harmonies” [Rostropovich once said] “could have
been composed in the twentieth century,” accompanying the reading aloud of the
names of 2,801 victims of the 9/11 terror attack in New York City. Again, on September 11, 2011, in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 barbarity, Yo Yo Ma performed the Sarabande from
the First Suite.
He also played the Sarabande from the Sixth Suite at Edward Kennedy’s funeral. And as I write these words, on April 18, 2013, Yo Yo Ma is called upon to express our collective sorrow at the memorial ser-
vice for the victims of the Boston Marathon terrorist atrocity, at the Boston Cathedral by reprising the hauntingSarabande from the Fifth Suite.
More lightly, Yo Yo Ma also played the Prelude from the First Suite in the television series The West Wing, in an episode meant to dramatize the formality and dignity of a presidential diplomatic black-tie event.
Never Again! A Holocaust Memorial, a PBS and National Endowment for the Arts documentary, chose the Cello Suites as its soundtrack. The Suites were played as well for a commemoration of the victims of Rwandan genocide.
The great Italian cellist, Mario Brunello, climbed Mt. Fuji so that he could play selections from the Suites there, and was quoted saying,
At the summit of the mountain, man is closest to God and the absolute. Bach’s music comes closest to the absolute and to perfection.