Dancing with J.S. Bach and a Cello – Conclusion

by Anna Wittstruck, Ph.D. candidate in musicology, Stanford University


The process of interpreting Bach’s cello suites is one enlivened by historical inquiry. A historical examination of the dances that inspired Bach’s musical forms and their affections brings us closer to developing a kinesthetic relationship with the composer’s sounding gestures; one that is visceral, affective, hermeneutic: equally informed by historical contextualization as by physical performance considerations. In the Bach Suites for Unaccompanied Violoncello, the grace and lilt and feel of a dancing meter live on, sublimated in musical form. Baroque conceptions of gesture and rhetoric infuse the music with meaning, allusion, and motion. Performing the Bach Suites enacts a kinesthetic constellation of cellistic technical demands, idiomatic flourishes, and remembered gestures. Bach may not have been a dancer, and he may not have been a cellist, but through his music we embody both states of being.