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Thread: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Default That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    I love this video of this cellist explaining why this piece is so very iconic and brilliantly composed.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    The essence of all things Bachian, eh? Aye, a very nice, very accessible lay analysis. However, I admit to still getting a little itchy whenever I here a wordless "classical" piece—especially a prelude based strictly on arpeggiated chords rather than on an overt, singable melody—as a "song." What's wrong with calling it a "piece" in the generic?

    In general, the baroque prelude is interesting to me because it is believed to have originated in the activity of pluckers of strings, the activity of lutenists, improvising on arpeggios to check their tuning (which, at that time, included checking the position of their movable frets) before launching into a suite of dance pieces.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    I liked the presentation very much, wish I'd had it when I was teaching AP Music Theory. The fact that it focused on actual musical details and relationships rather than comic book imagery or story-telling, but keeps it very human-response related. A few things amused me: "only 4 strings! only 2 pages!" I guess that makes us mandocello players less worthy because we need 8. And I wonder what would have been on the 3rd page that wasn't there. Maybe if they used a bigger font? Or quill?
    I also wonder why so many musicians (classical, rock, country) feel the need for pained expressions and head waving. How much is "really into the music" and how much is show biz? Franz Liszt was famous for turning the piano sideways so people could see him passionately hurling himself up and down the keyboard, waving his long hair like a rock star. But that was a different century and a different romantic conception of music. But I also have to agree that those final measures capture a sublime feeling of "ecstasy"--that's always been the word I used to describe them.
    Tim Connell did a great presentation on this very topic at the Portland OR CMSA festival back in 2015 (16?)--cord by cord, traveling around the circle back to G.
    I only wish it wasn't used so much as background filler, it kind of diminishes the stature. I started playing it at a bluegrass gathering and a very fine fiddler asked "Why do people always play that?" Has it become "that thing that everybody plays?" Hope not.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Imhoff View Post
    Has it become "that thing that everybody plays?" Hope not.
    When I play through my Bach folios (guitar), I always skip it - having heard it too often. Seems to be the piece that people pick up when approaching Bach. Its relative ease, compared with the rest of the suites, and the nice G pedal - prbly make it so.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    I've played the Prelude:

    on violin as a kid
    on guitar as a teenager
    on cello as an adult
    on mandolin as an older adult
    on mandola as a much older adult
    and now on tenor guitar.

    It sounds very fresh on tenor guitar.

    I'll never tire of it.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    I often play through it at the end of a good practice session. I played it so many times I need to go back and look at the music, because I know I "remember" a couple measures incorrectly. But once I start, there is no place the stop! The fermata leaves you hanging, you can't stop there. So I play through to the end, except I have never been able to get the penultimate diminished chord clean. But there is no more satisfying moment in music than that final G chord.
    I should also say that the video puts to rest the notion that if you analyze something beautiful it takes away the beauty. Presentations like this give us insights and understandings, but maintain the awe.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Quote Originally Posted by Eugene View Post
    The essence of all things Bachian, eh? Aye, a very nice, very accessible lay analysis. However, I admit to still getting a little itchy whenever I here a wordless "classical" piece—especially a prelude based strictly on arpeggiated chords rather than on an overt, singable melody—as a "song." What's wrong with calling it a "piece" in the generic?
    Eugene, I had the same reaction. It's not a #@&$ song. Nothing lyrical about it! To be fair, that term was from the narrator, not Alisa Weilerstein (one of the best cellists of her generation). "Lay analysis" may be why the term was used.

    Jim, interesting you found Weilerstein's body movements and facial expressions noticeable—distracting even? I didn't notice it until you mentioned it. Looking at some other videos of hers, she is more demonstrative than many, although the late great cellist Jacqueline duPre set the bar for extreme amounts of movement, and Weilerstein doesn't even begin to approach duPre. With conductors, Claudio Abbado sometimes barely moved at all, while Leonard Bernstein never stood still. Both brought out the best in their orchestra. I've heard that in the opera world with the advent of performances broadcast in HD there is much more pressure on the singers to be better actors; the once-common style referred to as "park and bark" is no longer acceptable. We live in a time when appearances are highly valued, and that may make musicians more demonstrative. It certainly can affect dress: ever see Yuja Wang perform? That said, I don't find Weilerstein artificial. What do others think?

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Quote Originally Posted by Louise NM View Post
    That said, I don't find Weilerstein artificial. What do others think?
    I didn't find her coming off as artificial either. It's a video presentation, after all, offered to engage and enlighten viewers. Also, I think the "song" reference (aside from being a bit "so what" in my mind) could in part be because of the popularity, the ubiquity really, of this wordless baroque masterwork. (For that matter, I often find the word "piece" in reference to a work of music, art, or literature to sound commoditizing or cheapening in a way.) If that famous cello prelude has "risen" to the status of a "song," good for it and the songwriter.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Imhoff View Post
    I also wonder why so many musicians (classical, rock, country) feel the need for pained expressions and head waving. How much is "really into the music" and how much is show biz? Franz Liszt was famous for turning the piano sideways so people could see him passionately hurling himself up and down the keyboard, waving his long hair like a rock star. But that was a different century and a different romantic conception of music. But I also have to agree that those final measures capture a sublime feeling of "ecstasy"--that's always been the word I used to describe them.
    I have been watching some videos lately of virtuoso Chinese musicians playing their traditional instruments, notably guzheng (zither) and pipa (lute) and there are always some balletic hand movements that precede some of the more emotionally laden notes. I suspect that it is part of the tradition of playing and performance and possibly an intergral part tied to the musical piece. If I could find someone to ask about that, I will.



    I started this one when she talks about playing a recital and makes a few graceful movements before sustained slow notes.


    Last edited by Jim Garber; Nov-29-2020 at 11:13pm.
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    There is a great book, The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece by Eric Siblin.

    Tells the story of these pieces, so cool.


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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Again, I think it was a very well done presentation, and this is not the place to get into baroque period instruments or historical performance practice. I didn't think her physical expressive moving was a bad thing, I just wonder how much it has become such a part of performance. I have written papers and given lectures on embodied cognition, the physical sensory-motor parts of our brains being very much involved in thought, communication, and so on. So I don't want people to be robotic. On the other hand, I once saw a post "I play baroque music Romantically, with a lot of rubato and vibrato. Deal with it!" My response: OK, I will deal with it by listening to people who have respect for the music and the composer's intentions, and not just their own personal artistic self-absorption.
    What I like about this video was just that: it was about the music, not a melodramatic "what this means to ME" that I too often see, but still very in touch with the aesthetic and expressive elements that we love.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Quote Originally Posted by Doug Freeman View Post
    Also, I think the "song" reference (aside from being a bit "so what" in my mind) could in part be because of the popularity, the ubiquity really, of this wordless baroque masterwork. (For that matter, I often find the word "piece" in reference to a work of music, art, or literature to sound commoditizing or cheapening in a way.) If that famous cello prelude has "risen" to the status of a "song," good for it and the songwriter.
    Here, I respectfully disagree (respectfully, of course). "Piece" and "work" (depending on scale/scope) in generic reference to music has been status quo for a very long time, no commoditizing or cheapening necessarily implied (at least not intentionally, not in my mind). If anything, blanket application of "song" in deference to the most widespread popular form and mp3-era commercial conventions seems more commoditizing to me.

    "Song" historically referred to a piece with sung melody or an instrumental piece with a deliberately song-like melody that was named "song" by its composer. (Mendelssohn's songs without words [lieder ohne worte] are well-known examples in instrumental context. Also note that Mendelssohn didn't refer to his orchestral symphonies, fantasias and variations for solo piano, cello sonatas, etc. as "songs"/"lieder"; if Mendelssohn was deliberate in his distinction, who am I to second guess?) I like language's ability to convey ideas with some degree of both precision and accuracy; that's not necessarily well served when a specific term becomes completely generic in popular use. That said, I will personally continue to strictly distinguish between songs and other musics in my own usage, but will never be so bold as to prescribe my personal preferences on others (excepting technical and classroom applications, e.g.). I also recognize that the essence of English is descriptive of popular usage and not prescriptive; I thus wearily sigh and roll with it.

    I enjoyed Weilerstein's performance and presentation. I like a bit of expression and, frankly, find such enhances my own ability to actually play.

    Regarding the prelude at hand, I love to hear it performed—historically informed or deliberately modern in approach, on 'cello or transcribed for any instrument on hand, etc. ad infinitum. However, as weirdly and deliberately curmudgeonly, I've only played it as a sight-reading exercise and have never worked it to performance level on any instrument. It's simply too popular . . . and others have endlessly executed it more artfully—have allowed the masses to hear it executed more artfully—than I ever could. What more could I offer to a listener? . . . or to myself? I often play the prelude from BWV 846 on guitar, but I try to convince myself that it's undeservedly and somewhat less popular when I do so.

    Regarding the concept of tension and release that blossomed in the baroque era, one of my favorite examples is S. L. Weiss' prelude [and fugue] in E-flat for lute, WeissSW 17, Sm 200. Its prelude concludes with a series of parallel passages in increasingly remote modulation; the tension is artfully released by seamlessly entering the tonic fugue subject attacca. Masterful. It's rarely performed, and I've never seen it transcribed. I suspect this piece's technical complications to be too tightly wed to the quirks of baroque lute and its open tuning to be practical or popular on other instruments. Still, seek and enjoy (I'd recommend the version on vol. 11 of Michel Cardin's recording of the complete London Manuscript).
    Last edited by Eugene; Nov-30-2020 at 11:15am.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    I have been spending time with the prelude from Sonata # 3 in C, and at first it really just seemed like a pile of notes coming off a conveyer.
    I had listened to Yo Yo Ma's which is pretty fast so I haven't even really made it through the first page yet ( I actually don't have the second page, but all in good time!), but then I listened to Musings with Inbal Segev She takes a different approach breaking down every bar or section of bars, she speaks of musical sentences, sequences, cadences, and voices.
    She focuses on expression and dynamic as well as use of time between notes. I admit I wouldn't have looked at it this way unless shown, and once you catch that glimpse you realize how the mechanics of the music really operate. The G deconstruct seems more generalized where as the Segev is very intimate. I believe she covers the G but I have enough to digest as it is.
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Thanks, Jim, for posting the op. Until now, I have found this piece to be sort of uninteresting and unpleasant on the mandolin. Turns out that every (really, every) piece of sheet music I've seen, every tab I've seen, every video I've seen showing this prelude on violin or mandolin has been in the key of D. Transposing it up to make the low notes available sort of makes sense, but it sounds very shrill and harsh to my ear. I played along with this video and discovered that the piece resonates beautifully on the mandolin in G, so I worked on it. I took a cello score and used Tabledit to create the treble clef notation and tablature for the mandolin. The file showed that only 8 notes (or something like that) were below the mandolin low G. The piece plays just fine with those notes moved up an octave. There is a huge amount of mandolin technique and sounds that can be found in this prelude, including some bluegrass. So thanks - now I have it available to practice and enjoy.
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Tom, could you share your transcription with us? Personally I don’t need the TAB but I do agree that it sounds better in a lower register. That is probably why I like it on OM.
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    I'm no classical expert by any means, mostly a bluegrass guy. But this is the first Bach piece I wanted to learn and worked on. It was 4 pages on the tab from Joe Walsh's Peghead Nation course and was certainly a challenge to me (in the key of D) and I also worked it up on my octave which I thought had a nice sound.

    I have now been working on the E Maj. Prelude inspired by Mike Marshall as well as the Invention #1.

    I have found it very helpful in getting more comfortable with reading notation and also great exercise for making the upstrokes even with the downs.
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Vga...ew?usp=sharing


    In G.

    Works well with CGDA tuning.

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Here's what I have. Two .pdf files. Notation and Notation + Tab. I arpeggiated the last chord to approximate the split chord the way the cellists bow it. Measure 26 has a B natural instead of a Bb, which may be different from whatever version you have. Enjoy!
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major - Prelude (for Mandolin).pdf   Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major - Prelude (for Mandolin with Tablature).pdf  
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Interesting thread. Thanx, Jim, for the initial video clip. (I do find the song reference kind of odd, oh well)
    I, too, like to play (amateur attempt) the Cello suites, 1 & 3 mainly. I, like Eugene, for my own gratification. I do not anticipate ever performing them in concert. I play from the transposed to Violin version. I like that it lays out on the fretboard the same as the Cello & I do not have to juggle any notes. The higher pitch doesn’t bother me. If I do want to hear them lower, sometimes I will pull out my Mandola (CGDA) & play them just as if I was playing Mandolin. Then it puts them back into the original key. Sure it’s cheating, but I’m playing by myself in the safety of my own home, no harm no foul. They sound great on Mandola.
    The Prelude may be ubiquitous, one of Bach’s greatest hits, along with the Bouree in e minor, which I also play on Mandolin. I have not let that deter me from playing it. I don’t ever want to become jaded. I am still thrilled that I can pick up a musical instrument and play something written by Bach (or Duke Ellington or Lennon & McCartney). I never would have anticipated that back in high school when I struggled to play Guitar.
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    Last edited by mandopops; Dec-03-2020 at 12:24pm. Reason: Typo
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    As for the physicality of the performance, I believe it was Miles Davis who said when you’re playing Music you should put the rhythm somewhere in your body. Since the suites are made up of different dance types, except the Preludes, it would seem natural for the performer to respond physically to the Music. I’m not advocating for wild gyrations, just commenting. I would be curious to know if anyone has ever choreographed dances to the various sections. I’m sure somebody somewhere has.

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    Last edited by mandopops; Dec-03-2020 at 12:25pm. Reason: Typo
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    I want to thank Tom for taking the time and effort to transpose the Preludio from D down to G. I love the way it plays and sounds down there on the mandolin. I find that I quickly got over missing a few low notes. Bach (and most composers of his time) had no fear of changing things around if they felt like it.

    Like most of us I have been playing this piece for many years on the mandolin, although rarely in public. The final measures will trip me up every time if I lose just a speck of concentration. Once you start that climb there's no way off of the ride and, for me, it's always risky.

    Mel Bay has published my book, a Baroque Sampler for Octave Mandolin, which was inspired by the seeming fact that every octave mandolin (or mandola in G, if you prefer) player seems to gravitate towards this piece when they want to learn something "classical." For good reason, it sound great on the low mandolin family instruments. So I included what I hope is a carefully set version of the piece, in D, to follow the fingerings of the original cello music. It never occurred to me to do what Tom has done and I wish I had thought of it.

    So this morning, after reading through Tom's pdf, I opened up Sibelius and created my own version, following his lead. I already had the piece input thanks to the Mel Bay book so I just had to transpose and edit the notes that were already in my computer.

    I think there's only one place where I made a different choice than Tom. In measure 28 I decided to raise notes 10-16 up an octave to effect a continuous downward run leading to the start of measure 29. Same notes, just a different octave. I'll attach this pdf here as well and folks can enjoy trying both ways.

    This is not a criticism of Tom's work, I'm very happy to meet this familiar piece in a new configuration and it has made it sound fresh and new to me.

    Many thanks!

    John G.

    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Preludio from Cello Suite no 1 - transposed to G.pdf 
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Quote Originally Posted by Eugene View Post
    However, I admit to still getting a little itchy whenever I here a wordless "classical" piece—especially a prelude based strictly on arpeggiated chords rather than on an overt, singable melody—as a "song." What's wrong with calling it a "piece" in the generic?
    Vaguely familiar quote...


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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Thanks so much to both Tom and John for sharing your transcriptions. And, like Mandopops, I want to play this on my mandola to sound it in G.
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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Quote Originally Posted by Mandolin Cafe View Post
    Vaguely familiar quote...

    Testify!

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    Default Re: That famous cello prelude, deconstructed

    Hey Tom, many thanks for the TAB, I hadn't realised classical music was so easy!
    I guess it's like four fiddle tunes in a row.

    -isn’t bariolage just a fancy way of saying Old Time?
    Last edited by Simon DS; Dec-03-2020 at 3:30pm.

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