Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Recognize this?

  • It's been used in hundreds of TV shows and films.

  • It's so famous that if you can't remember this, you can just googlethat famous cello

  • songand it will invariably pop up.

  • Yes, this prelude is well known, but perhaps what's most compelling about it is how incredibly

  • simple it is.

  • The whole thing takes up just two pages of music and it's composed for an instrument

  • that has just four strings.

  • Yet, it's considered a masterpiece that world class cellists and even everyday music

  • listeners have revered for years.

  • So, what makes this composition so memorable, timeless, and beautiful?

  • Well that's what Alisa is going to help me deconstruct.

  • My name is Alissa Weilerstein, and we are talking about the Prelude from Bach's first

  • cello suite in G Major.

  • This is Bach.

  • And these are his six cello suites.

  • Within each suite are various movements named for dances, and they each have very strict

  • structures.

  • These movements are all masterpieces in music, and they get increasingly complex.

  • But before these dances begin, there's always a Prelude.

  • In the Bach suites, it's a way to establish the key, to establish the motives, and it's

  • also a kind of improvisation.

  • And this prelude in particular is revered because it achieves a lot with just a few

  • very simple concepts.

  • To understand how, you first have to understand the very basics of the song.

  • There's two main chords and keys you need to remember here, G and D.

  • Bach plays them off each other the entire prelude.

  • G is the home key for this composition - it's called the tonic.

  • And every tonic has a dominant - that's the note a fifth above it.

  • If this is all going in one ear and out the next don't worry.

  • Just remember this, the tonic and dominant work really well together.

  • Where the dominant represents tension, the tonic represents release.

  • And the cello is the perfect vessel to showcase this relationship.

  • This is a cello.

  • It's the closest in range and in ability to express to the human voice.

  • You start from the very low range down here.

  • You can imagine a really bass baritone type of sound to way up here.

  • This is really a violin range.

  • Because the prelude is written in G major, it allows for a lot of open strings on the

  • cello, which gives the song a very natural resonance.

  • An open string means I don't stop it with a finger.

  • So if I do nothing with my left hand, this sounds a G.

  • With a G major chord, two out of the three notes are open.

  • This natural sounding quality is what defines the G major prelude, and it's exactly what

  • Bach exploits starting with its first few measures.

  • During the first half of the composition Bach is constantly arpeggiating chords.

  • It's a simple technique that enriches the harmony.

  • So this will be a G major chord.

  • And then arpeggiated.

  • There's a separation between the notes.

  • And then you go on.

  • But he also does something else.

  • For me, one of the most profound aspects of this is the pedal point.

  • Which means that the bass note remains constant even while the harmony is changing.

  • The bass note through the first four measures is that very natural open G - its job is to

  • keep you rooted in the key of the song.

  • With the bass.

  • So then you have that gravitas in there, even while the harmony is moving around.

  • After these four measures though, things start to shift.

  • Bach starts to pull the song away from the tonic to the dominant.

  • Then we loose the pedal.

  • So this is the first shift, right?

  • And then here we land in D major, the dominant.

  • You have a diminished chord here.

  • Kind of cloud in the sky.

  • A minor.

  • Then we climb again from here.

  • Just like that, we're back to that familiar G pedal point.

  • Listen for the bottom G.

  • Home again.

  • Near the end of the first half, Bach again drifts away from G major and reaches even

  • deeper into the cello's bass range with a low C. Listen to this.

  • The chord is [plays chord] with a D. Here.

  • But he flips it on its head.

  • With a C on the bottom.

  • By the end of the first half Bach has pulled us completely into D major.

  • He's warming our ears up for the second half of the composition which is all about

  • exploring that dominant key.

  • At the beginning of the second half of the movement, right after the fermata which means

  • to hold on the note, then you have a very improvisatory section coming up.

  • And this is actually I think my favorite moment of it with this E flat.

  • This dissonance.

  • And all of that just to get to D major.

  • We know that we have to get back to G major somehow.

  • How are we going to do it?

  • Now we start to kind of climb down.

  • C

  • B

  • A

  • Still in D major

  • Bach pushes us more firmly into the world of D major with a technique called bariolage.

  • It's when you're making string crossings and it's actually supposed to kind of create

  • this kind of feeling of disorder.

  • We have a constant open A string.

  • Which is this.

  • It's only one note that we're just repeating over and over again.

  • And this is what causes all this mayhem, right?

  • All these attempts to get out of D major and he can't do it.

  • Now we're in G major!

  • If you didn't catch that, something really quite perfect happened.

  • Let's play it again.

  • You just wound up exactly where you started, D major.

  • And then you have a chromatic scale up.

  • And you land on this high G here.

  • And that's when we feel this kind of ecstatic feeling.

  • Leading up to G major's big reveal, Bach brings back that familiar pedal point from

  • the intro, but instead of using the G as the bass note, he flips the chord and uses the

  • dominant D.

  • The bass note remains constant.

  • Even as we're going up the chromatic scale.

  • Listen, I'll do it slow.

  • OK, now I know where I'm going.

  • And we're so happy about it that we have to just keep kind of wandering around it.

  • And, going back to one.

  • Cellist all over the world wrestle with this prelude and the cello suites as a whole every

  • single day.

  • We cellist, we always feel sort of unworthy of it.

  • The music is so pure, so sublime, so emotional, so intellectual.

  • They must be played, and yet we feel like we can't we can't really ever do them justice.

Recognize this?

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 Vox bach cello major bass dominant

That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

  • 11 2
    林宜悉 posted on 2020/09/10
Video vocabulary