A new interpretation based on the "dynamic mapping" by Bach himself
I remember being stunned, that Bach didn't write the dynamics in himself.
As a learner of course I followed the editor's suggestions, not knowing, there was little authority.
When I studied tertiary, I found, many students had different editions with totally different dynamics.
Independent of our editions, the local teachers at the "Musikhochschule" (state conservatorium) over wrote everything, which meant only his teachers opinion counted and was beyond discussion.
I liked some new ideas, I certainly disliked others, found them not fitting.
How could anyone argue the point?
What shall we do with a piece of music , where no dynamics are written in?
Did performers play everything evenly, about mezzoforte? Surely not.
How should we play dynamics in style?
Apart from these question from the perspective of the player, there is another perspective from the composer:
How could a composer convey the message of his intended dynamics, when he didn't write them in?
Composers wrote within a tradition, which was known, which is for example the nature of the different dances.
All these dances were known and the performer had to know the characteristics of the dance: where are the strong beats, where the weak ones.
Secondly he wrote in the tradition of a melodic line; certain guidelines within a Baroque composition were known, and most people would feel it.
He could include "signs", which would be understood by performers, who could read the details between the lines.
As dynamics were not written in, a good performer had a certain knowledge of composition and would notice these signs and follow them.
Of course not when sight reading, but by understanding the structural hints.
We must visualize a completely different starting point of playing a composition:
In olden times the freedom of the player extended permanently over all dynamics between pp and ff.
That state of emotion opened up the senses to all information from within the composition.
The skill of listening for clues on dynamics was highly developed.
This freedom could also be very exuberant , taking the opportunity of a possible expression, if the player was able to.
This is opposite to today:
if we give a sheet of music without dynamics written in to a student, the cautious interpretation of our dynamically spoon-fed generation will not allow anything far from mf,
because no license for an extreme emotion has been released by finding it written in!
Only the written permission allows the freedom(?) to any extreme dynamic.
Back to the olden times: anything was allowed unless it contradicted the message conveyed in the tradition of what I call "dynamic mapping" within the composition.
To write dynamics in started just around the times of Bach.
Very rarely he wrote his instructions in:
in the 6 cello suites he marked only a few sections with an echo effect: in the Bourree 1 of Suite 4 and in the Prelude of Suite 6.
All other 40 movements are without any instructions.
During the long history of music we come across two major components of dynamic structure or guide lines: melody and rhythm.
We can't due duty to the Suites and playing them in style without looking at these two fields of influence on the dynamics.
Usually we actually apply anyway a quite fitting feeling to the music, we "go with it", meaning we respond to the ups and downs of the melody naturally and we feel the rhythm, which gives us the correct accents on the beats.
Melody and rhythm provide us with a diagram like a North-South and East-West co-ordinate.
They work always together, sometimes seem to contradict, are in ways independent.
In sound they are one, like the location on map, which can be found by the 2 coordinates, but it is only one location.
I decided therefore to call the outline for dynamics for the time period before dynamics were written in: "dynamic mapping".
"Dynamic mapping" is a kind of a Da Vinci Code for decoding a composition and distilling out of it the dynamic implications.
We will find two layers of this "dynamic map", a small scale one, based on the rhythm and character of the dance, and a more individual one, which is different in every piece and applies to larger structures.
Short Biography of Cellist Georg Mertens
Georg Mertens was born in Aachen/Germany and completed his degrees as cello and Classical guitar teacher at the Staatliche Hochschule fuer Musik in Freiburg.
In 1985 he emigrated to Australia.
In 1993 he did his first recording the Six cello Suites by J.S.Bach, for 2 MBS FM, Sydney.
Georg had been encouraged to do this recording there at this time, but felt, that he could do a much more interesting recording with more research and background - Suite 4 and 6 he had not even played before the preparation for the recording.
For the next 19 years he spend much of his free time doing research and practice on the Suites - not unlike Pablo Casals 100 years earlier.
The CD's are dedicated to his 5 children, a memory of the daily music they listened to during there years of childhood and growing up.
Today the Six Cello Suites are part of his now (in 2012) 15 years old concert series at Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains / Australia.
With more than 185 cello solo concerts this series has grown to be the longest series of cello concerts in history.