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Pieter Wispelwey and Bach's "Rebellion Against Depression"

Pieter Wispelwey
Caroline Sikkink
Pieter Wispelwey

On The Bach Hour, the Dutch cellist describes his interpretation of the composer's Cello Suite No. 2, and Masaaki Suzuki conducts the Cantata No. 87.

On the program:

Aria variata alla manieri italiana, BWV 989 (arr. Tim Jackson) - Alison Balsom, trumpet;  Alistair Ross, harpsichord

Cantata BWV 87 Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen (translation) - Robin Blaze, counter-tenor;  Makoto Sakurada, tenor;  Peter Kooij, bass;  Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki, conductor

Suite No. 2 in D minor for solo cello, BWV 1008 - Pieter Wispelwey, cello



Brian McCreath J.S. Bach’s Second Cello Suite begins with sadness floating in the air.

But sadness transforms into a fierce energy by its final movement.

Each of the six cello suites by Bach is stamped with a particular character. You’ll hear the second of these pieces and its struggle against darkness, all with cellist Pieter Wispelwey, coming up on The Bach Hour.

Hello, I’m Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour from 99.5 WCRB, a service of WGBH. Pieter Wispelwey’s 2012 account of Bach’s solo cello suites is like no other . . . including his own two previous recordings of the same material! There’s an adventurous quality that you’ll hear in his performance, and you hear what’s behind that approach in Wispelwey’s own words. Also on the program today, Masaaki Suzuki directs the Cantata No. 87, Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen, or “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name.” You can find the words Bach set to music in that piece by visiting us at Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear this and past programs on-demand. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.

Alison Balsom is one of the very few trumpeters of the last couple of decades to carve out a prominent role as a soloist. She grew up in England, playing in her local town band, and went on to study with Swedish trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger. Her second CD, released on the EMI label in 2005, was entirely devoted to Bach. Here she plays a unique arrangement of the Aria and Variations in the Italian Style. Alistair Ross is the harpsichordist.


Brian McCreath That work has been called a prototype for the later Goldberg Variations: the Aria variata by J.S. Bach. Alison Balsom played the trumpet, with harpsichordist Alistair Ross.

Prayer is at the heart of Bach’s Cantata No. 87, Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen, or “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name.” The line of communication between the human and the divine begins in this piece with the divine. The bass soloist, as the voice of Christ, sings a passage from the Gospel of John in which Jesus admonishes his followers – and, by extension any believer hearing the music – for neglecting the power of prayer.

The alto soloist responds in the voice of one of those followers, with the help of an accompanying duet on oboes da cacca, who offer sighing, sorrowful sound to emphasize the words, “Forgive … our guilt and … have patience with us:”


Brian McCreath That aria is part of a sequence of movements whose key signatures sink further and further down, as if the guilt is like an encroaching darkness.

The tenor sings, “When our guilt climbs up all the way to heaven, You see, and know even, my heart, that hides nothing from You.” That triggers the turning point of the piece, when the voice of Christ returns to sing, “be comforted; I have conquered the world.”

The key signature reverses to climb back up, and with a lilting siciliano rhythm, the tenor sings, “Jesus will show me help, for He comforts me after pain.”


The community response at the end of the cantata re-states the belief that earthly pain and divine comfort are simultaneous constants, ending with “His love turns to joy even bitter suffering.”

You can find a translation of the text for this piece at our website, Classical WCRB dot org.

Here is a performance of the Cantata No. 87, with counter-tenor Robin Blaze, tenor Makoto Sakurada, and bass Peter Kooij. They’re joined by Bach Collegium Japan and director Masaaki Suzuki.


Brian McCreath The Cantata No. 87 by J.S. Bach, Bisher habt ihr nichts gebeten in meinem Namen, or “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name,” in a performance by Bach Collegium Japan and director Masaaki Suzuki. The soloists included counter-tenor Robin Blaze, tenor Makoto Sakurada, and bass Peter Kooij.

Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey has always been something of an iconoclast, performing music in highly personal, emotionally powerful interpretations. That includes his 2012 recording of Bach’s six cello suites.

The second of these revolutionary suites is in the key of D minor, one of the most darkly powerful keys in Bach’s music. And as Pieter Wispelwey told me, that darkness is the launching pad for an intense struggle.

Pieter Wispelwey This is a pretty sad piece. I mean, the opening states it all. [sings musical theme] But then already the next bar [sings musical theme], it shows that there is this inclination to rebel against, just, depression. So there is a there's a fantastic psychological dimension to this piece and it depth. But still, it's a small scale Prelude. Then you get a quite a fierce, fierce Allemande, again, energetic, spirited, in this occasion, is not the right word. But then an energetic Courante, then a pretty hefty Sarabande, a small Minuet, and a very energetic and great Gigue. Again, I mean, [sings musical theme], but it's exactly those intervals where the Prelude started. [sings themes from Prelude and from Gigue] So he uses the same material and is able to express very different things.

Brian McCreath Here is the Cello Suite No. 2 by Bach, with Pieter Wispelwey.


The Cello Suite No. 2 by J.S. Bach. That performance is included in a 2012 recording of all six of Bach’s solo cello suites by Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey.

Remember, you can hear this and past programs on-demand at Classical WCRB dot org.

Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to audio engineer Antonio Oliart Ros. I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week here on The Bach Hour.