Our music for this week comes from Sergey Malov, a Russian violinist and violist who won the Michael Hill International Competition in 2015. (I would very highly recommend his recording of the Bartok concerto – https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=126&v=mJj8vE5Z4uc– for anyone who is interested). However, he will actually be performing one of Bach’s cello suites for us today, despite not playing the cello. To do this, he will be playing the cello de spalla, a 6-stringed 17th century Baroque instrument that is reminiscent of a cello’s sound and size but is held under the chin like a violin or viola. It’s large size makes it impossible to hold as one would hold a violin, so Malov utilizes a strap to keep it secured around his chest.
Legend has it that Bach wrote his sixth cello suite with the cello de spalla in mind. Listening to the suite, it doesn’t sound too far-fetched to imagine that he might have written it for a six-stringed instrument. Of all the cello suites, the sixth suite requires the performer to go higher on the fingerboard than any of the other suites. Perhaps the six strings of the cello de spalla were what encouraged Bach to stretch the range of the music to such an unusually high level.
Malov is a masterful musician, and we are fortunate to be able to hear him play this rare instrument. Listen for the bass line that is constantly present throughout the work. Whether it is simply touched upon during a running line or sustained throughout a string of chords, the bass line is the foundation of everything Bach composed. Once you start listening for it, you’ll see that the music is remarkably simple when stripped down to it’s basic elements. That’s the genius of Bach – he can create embellishment and beauty out of the simplest of melodies.