Yo-Yo Ma is perhaps the most famous and well-loved cellist in the world. He was born in Paris in 1955; his family moved to the US when he was 7. He played for President Kennedy that year. He played at Carnegie Hall for the first time when he was 16. He’s won 18 Grammys and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And for this special episode of Song Exploder, the last episode of this year, Yo-Yo Ma’s is going to break down this piece—which he didn’t create, but he’s performed so many times. It’s the Prelude from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite Number 1 in G Major. It’s one of the most famous pieces of music written for the cello. Yo-Yo Ma first recorded the Bach Cello Suites in 1983, at age 27. He recorded them again in 1998. Now, at age 62, he’s recorded them for what he says may be the last time. It’s for an album called Six Evolutions: Bach Cello Suites. Yo-Yo Ma talked to me about what’s changed about the way he approaches this piece of music.
Thanks to author Eric Siblin for providing historical context around the Cello Suites. Check out his book The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece.
You can buy or stream Yo-Yo Ma’s 2018 recording of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major: Prelude here.
Illustration by Carlos Lerma.
Yo Yo Ma’s 1983 recording of Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major: Prelude.
Pablo Casals – Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: I. Prelude. Moderato
Yehudi Menuhin – Sonata for Violin Solo No. 1 in G Minor, BMV 1001: II. Fuga