Friday, October 30, 2015

Excerpt reveal: ‘Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for ’Cello’ by Steven Hancoff

Title: Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for Cello Solo
Author: Steven Hancoff
Genre: multimedia 4-volume ebook and CD
Purchase on iTunes.
I have transcribed and recorded the thirty-six masterpieces that comprise J. S. Bach’s Cello Suites on acoustic guitar—almost three hours of music. 
I have also written a four-volume, highly interactive e-book: Bach, Casals and The Six Suites for ‘Cello Solo — biographies of Bach and of Pablo Casals, the man who rescued the Suites from oblivion. This work is anecdotal rather than technical, describing the lives of these great men in the context of their times as I have come to fathom them—as fascinating, illuminating, and inspiring artists, and as human beings challenged, like all of us, by the demands life. 
In addition to the storytelling, the book is highly illustrated, with about 1,000 period pictures – portraits, oils, watercolors, stained glass, photographs, etchings and engravings, documents, sculptures, statues and monuments. These pictures illustrate the text, and make the e-book very colorful and accessible.     
In addition, more than 300 contemporary artists have contributed hundreds of works of contemporary art, all of which is inspired by J. S. Bach and Pablo Casals. This is the most comprehensive art book devoted to Bach and Casals that has ever been compiled. 
To tell the story of the Cello Suites, I have also created and embedded 25 beautiful and compelling videos. 
Not only that but the written transcriptions — the scores – will be made available for free so that guitarists who wish to learn these pieces can try their hands at them. 
Here we have a set of music by Bach never before performed on acoustic guitar, accompanied by entertaining, easy-to-read, stunning and informative biographies in the form of a visually bountiful, highly interactive e-book.
 Excerpt from Volume One:   Cöthen: Contentment and Despair

The personal relationship between Sebastian and his Prince must have been extremely convivial, and there is every indication that the Prince treated Sebastian as a revered and cherished friend. His 400-thaler salary (about $28,800) was equal to that of the Court Marshall, the second highest official at the court. Surely Bach and the Prince must have shared plenty of good times playing music together at Leopold’s palace, the keyboard virtuoso accompanying the violinist and gambist, who was playing music composed especially for him!

The very first official piece of business Bach concluded immediately upon his arrival in Cöthen was to present to his new sovereign a secular song, Durchlauchtster Leopold (“Serene Leopold”). And far more meaningful, in 1718, when Maria Barbara gave birth to their only child born in Cöthen, not only did he name the infant Leopold after the Prince, but Prince Leopold accepted the responsibility and honor as godfather to the child. Bach being no stranger to tragedy, baby Leopold was the third Bach child to die before his first birthday.

Always a practical man, Bach made an early decision to move rehearsals to his own home so that he could augment his salary by collecting an extra stipend — 12 thalers per year (about $864) — for rental of rehearsal space.

And the terms of his employment prove the high estimation in which the “Prince held him, for it was dated, and the salary paid, from August 1, 1717, “hough Bach cannot have entered his service before the end of November. This, with a few other meager notices, is all that is known to us concerning his official position in Cöthen. Time has effaced or overgrown almost every trace of his labours, as the grass has overgrown the castle-yard which the master must have so often crossed; and his name has died out among the people of the place almost as completely as the sounds with which he once roused the echoes of the now empty and
deserted halls. [Bib. 3]

As for Bach’s creative output in Cöthen:

... the accounts of the bookbinders who bound the parts copied from Bach’s scores attest the new conductor’s frenzy of productivity.... A great part of Bach’s output in these years is lost; but what has been preserved works like the suites for orchestra and the Brandenburg Concertos [and I must include these “wondrous Cello Suites] reflect the exuberance
of an artist discovering new means of expression, and the peace of mind of the composer who had found real understanding and appreciation in his new patron. [Bib. 8]

Life, then, was very good. But as the Fates so often decree, perhaps especially in their interactions with the greatest among us, about three years into his sojourn at Cöthen, Bach experienced yet more tragedy — perhaps the most heart-wrenching of his life.

After 13 years of blissful married life with his first wife, misfortune overtook him, in the year 1720, upon his return to Cöthen from a journey with his Prince to Carlsbad, of finding her dead and buried, although he had left her hale and hearty on his departure. The news that she had been ill and died reached him only when he entered his own house. [Bib. 1]

Prince Leopold was fond of showing off his Capellmeister, the core members of his capelle, and some of his new and dearly purchased musical instruments. And so Bach was away for more than a month before he returned home. Some authors speculate that the Prince may have been notified of Barbara’s death by courier while they were still at Carlsbad, but chose not to inform Bach. If so, was this so as not to interrupt an otherwise enjoyable vacation?

He had left her in good health and spirits; now a sudden death had snatched her away in the bloom of life, not yet 36 years old, without any news of it having reached her distant husband … it is easy to guess the feelings that must have tortured his strong, deep nature as he stood by the grave of the wife who had been his companion through the years of his youthful endeavor, and of his first success, only to be snatched from him when fortune was at its height. [Bib. 3]

No one knows the cause of death. The official death register simply reads:

July 7, 1720 — The wife of Mr. Johann Sebastian Bach, Capellmeister to His Highness the Prince, was buried.

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