A selection of letters The Strad receives each month from its readers around the world: March 2022 issue
Mats Lidström’s article (‘A small but crucial omission’, January 2022) on the last five bars of the Prelude to Bach’s Second Cello Suite confused me. As a cellist, I know the piece quite well, but he was talking about five bars of chords and suggesting that we break those chords up and play them arpeggiated. But I didn’t remember five bars of chords at all. So I pulled out my trusty (and tattered) volume of Bach Cello Suites – the 1971 Peer International edition edited by János Starker.
I always liked Starker because he seemed so fierce. I once had the opportunity to chat to him when he came to Berkeley to play in the Berkeley Symphony’s tribute to his good friend and compatriot Laszlo Varga and I was somehow tagged to drive him from the hotel to Zellerbach Hall. While I had him as a captive audience, I asked him how he came up with the specific bowings and fingerings for his editions. He said that he just used whatever he had played most recently before each edition came out.
Looking at the Starker version of the Second Suite, it doesn’t have five bars of chords. The fifth bar from the end is the same full-bar chord as the Anna Magdalena, but the next three bars are arpeggiated, just like the Grützmacher version shown in Lidström’s article, except that the first quaver of each bar is the chord. The last bar is just the chord for the full bar. Kind of a nice compromise. So, Starker already did what Lidström was suggesting.
Looking at the preface to my Starker edition, probably for the first time since I bought it, I see that Starker said: ‘I have personally admired many different performances of the same suites, and it amused me to no end when the performer and/or editor claimed his version to be “the” original or the closest to the original. The Magdalena, Kellner and Westphal manuscripts all differ in details, therefore, any pretence of originality to Bach is purely fictitious. In short, I claim nothing else but the fact that most of the time this is the way I play these masterpieces.’
NICHOLAS A. CARLIN
San Francisco, CA, US
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