Conversation with

Anner Bylsma

by Tim Janof

photo of Anner Bylsma, cellist

Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma received his first lessons from his father and concluded his instruction with Carel van Leeuwen Boonkamp at The Hague Conservatory, when he was awarded the Prix d’excellence. In 1959 he won a prestigious first prize from the Pablo Casals Concours in Mexico. He was solo cellist with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam from 1962 to 1968. He performs regularly around the world as a soloist and recitalist, and has recorded for Das Alte Werk, Telefunken, Decca, Harmonia Mundi, Seon, RCA, Phillips, and EMI. Anner Bylsma is perhaps most famous for his interpretations of the music of Baroque and Early Classical periods. He recently published a book on the Bach Solo Cello Suites, entitled “Bach, The Fencing Master - Reading aloud from the first three cello suites,” where he discusses his analysis of the Anna Magdalena manuscript and issues related to performing Bach (

TJ: I have read several times that you don’t like the word “authenticity.” What’s wrong with it?

AB: This term is used as a weapon by some to exclude fellow musicians, and as a marketing tool by record companies to help sell records, even when the performance is not "authentic" at all. This word actually means whatever one wants it to mean, and is mostly a great way of posturing: “My compromise is the best compromise, and all others are wrong!” Let us not forget that people come to concerts for musical enjoyment, not because they espouse certain musical/political views.

To play as Bach did is impossible, as it is with any other good composer. It helps to study the instruments as they were at the time and how they were played, but it will never sound as it did then. And if it accidentally did, we would not recognize it as being such. This study, however, will deliver unexpected moments of an “authentic” feeling, which can be quite an inspiration. You must admit that the current fashion of “authenticity” has brought us many beauties, and has made well-known pieces sound new.

There is a much better word than “authentic.” It is the word “true.” Somebody plays something and it rings true. It is meant honestly, comes from the heart, and gives pleasure. It's more of a feeling that you must be playing the way the piece was meant to be played. But this feeling never stays with you, since it is very ephemeral.

TJ: Does a “true” performance mean that you have a feeling that you are playing the way it was done in Bach’s day, or just that you are playing in a way that feels right for you? I can imagine Yo-Yo Ma or Casals thinking that their way of playing feels right to them.

AB: It depends, of course, but let’s say “true” playing is the way that Bach would have liked it. This will cover many approaches. I wouldn’t want us all to play exactly the same way.

TJ: So you agree that there are many approaches that Bach may have liked?

AB: I don't think this discussion will get us anywhere, since Bach isn’t here to defend himself. But I must say that it's very hard for me to agree with what I used to do, and with what most cellists do today. What I tried to do in my book is look at what the manuscripts actually say, instead of trying to guess what Bach may or may not have meant, or assume that Mrs. Bach didn't play a string instrument and therefore threw in meaningless slurs. Taking a fresh look at the manuscripts has given me so many new ways of thinking about the bow arm that, at the moment, I’m kind of a zealot. Next year I may be different, but, for now, I’m trying to play exactly what’s written, which is very difficult, both technically and musically.

TJ: Casals once said “Bach has every feeling - lovely, tragic, dramatic, poetic, always soul and heart and expression. How he enters into the most profound of ourselves. Let us find that Bach.” Do you think Casals found more meaning in the music than Bach intended?

AB: Before I respond to this, let me just say that I have a profound respect for the great cellists of our past and present. Who am I to denounce the greatest players of our day, who give pleasure to millions of people? I am not a musicologist. I have learned to play the cello well (I've had good teachers), and I love reflecting upon Bach and others. Please understand that, though I may disagree with some of my colleagues of the past and present, my disagreement is a good-natured one.

Having said this, these utterances from Casals tell me more about the fellow who plays than the fellow who composes. The problem with a statement like Casals' is that I probably find these feelings in different notes than he did. He was an incredible cellist and artist, but I don't think he was a great scientist of cello playing or of music. This was demonstrated, for instance, by his approach in sonatas, where the pianist was treated more like an accompanist than an equal partner.

TJ: Someone recently wrote that Casals actually ruined the Bach suites since he created generations of imitators with his powerful personality. Do you agree?

AB: Any great personality can ruin the suites for you if you have no personality of your own. But that is not his fault. I too was very influenced by Casals in my younger days. I used to have a recording of him playing Mendelssohn’s "Song Without Words.” Years later I needed an encore and I began working on this same piece, but I just couldn’t get it right. I thought “What's the matter with me?” But then I realized that I was trying to recreate the atmosphere of his recording, which is impossible. I had to find my own way.

TJ: Do you think that Bach composed the suites while deeply connected with his emotions and soul? Or do you think he may have rattled them off like a mathematician?

AB: This is a question more appropriate for composers of the late Classical or Romantic eras than of the Baroque era. The world in Bach's time was much harder than for most of us in western civilization, not including today’s third world countries. In Bach's day, the average life expectancy was 30 years. So it is highly unlikely that Bach ever wrote a piece when one of his family members or one of his friends wasn’t dying. And yet he wrote much joyful music. So, there isn’t necessarily a connection between the mood of his pieces and his emotional state while writing them.

Composers didn’t reflect their emotions directly in their music until Beethoven’s time. A Baroque composer was capable of writing a sorrowful piece when he was in a good mood, or writing a happy piece when he was in a sorrowful mood. Composers wrote music because that was what they were paid to do, not because they needed an emotional outlet.

Does it really matter whether you write down a feeling you had yesterday or one that you have today? With a genius like Bach, it’s still the same feeling, isn’t it?

TJ: Arto Noras, in a recent interview, lamented that “the normal way to approach a composition is not enough for some reason when playing Bach. I am not allowed by some groups to apply all my knowledge and experience of music making and perform Bach the way I like it.” As a result, he no longer performs Bach. It seems that the Authentic movement has ruined Bach for some modern cellists.

AB: I would love to hear Mr. Noras play Bach. I hope he never gives up playing these wonderful pieces. But when playing Bach, one must make some very difficult choices. Either you play Bach the way you’ve always done it and heard it, or you try to play it the way Bach may have played in his day. In some ways it’s much easier to play Bach in the modern way, since you don’t have to think as much. I have chosen the latter approach and am very happy that I did, since I have enjoyed the discovery process, like an archeologist.

TJ: Another cellist once told me that we make too much of the fact that the Bach suites are composed of dances. He said that, since most dances weren't danced in Bach's time, it doesn't make sense to think of them as such. What do you think of this approach?

AB: I think he's wrong. Yes, many of them weren’t danced in Bach’s day, but they were composed in the style of the particular dances. I'm sure that Bach's approach was very clear when he performed these pieces, a sarabande sounded like a sarabande and a courante sounded like a courante. I don’t think he was trying to fool anybody. One can't get away with such sloppy reasoning so easily.

TJ: Do you always play the repeats when you perform the Bach Suites? Janos Starker would, for example, only repeat the first half if the second half was twice as long.

AB: I agree. My first priority is to not bore my audience. If I sense that the audience is getting restless, I will sometimes skip a repeat. I am not there for my pleasure, I am there for the crowd’s pleasure. After all, they are paying to listen to me. If they don’t enjoy themselves, they may not come back.

TJ: I find this surprising. My impression is that your first priority is your search for a deeper understanding of the music. Are you really more of a crowd-pleaser?

AB: No. But my quest for understanding the music is my business. Most people come to hear me for entertainment, and because they may yearn for a richer understanding of Bach in their own way.

TJ: How do you feel about people who play the normal tuning version of the Fifth Suite, instead with the scordatura tuning? Even many world class soloists play the "normal" version?

AB: I have heard it played beautifully many times with either tuning. Apart from the "color," the difference is only a couple of notes. Of course, I play with two g-strings, which was the normal tuning in Bologna in the second half of the seventeenth century.

I do have other issues, though, like where does the slur in the first bar start, on A? I would love it if it did, because the marvelous chord in the second bar would come on an up-bow. But then what do we do with the slurs in the rest of that bar? Is one of them a correction?

TJ: Many cellists today perform the lute version of the Fifth Suite. When I ask cellists why they do this, they usually say something like “Bach wrote it, so what’s the problem?” Do you have a problem with this?

AB: I believe this runs contrary to the task Bach gave himself when composing the Suites -- a study in the minimal. The great thing about his solo violin works is how he wrote three or four-voiced fugues for one instrument, leaving out notes when he had to for technical reasons. Of course, it was difficult enough for the left hand, with so many double, triple, and quadruple stops.

When Bach finished the solo violin works, I believe he was fascinated by the fact that one can leave out many notes and still be clear. The cello suites may have been an experiment to see how much he could omit, making the listener fill in the gaps of harmony and counterpoint for him or herself. When you play the lute version of the Fifth Suite, you are adding back notes, which completely undermines what he was trying to do, it seems to me.

TJ: You don’t think he simplified the music because cellists didn’t have the technical prowess of the violinists in his day?

AB: No, I don't think so. First of all, I don’t think of the music as simple, they are very well written. Secondly, if you play a violin piece on the cello, it sounds very fat and unclear, particularly double stops on the lower strings. I think he stripped down the music because it sounded better. The cello suites were more an experiment in the minimal, and in using bow technique to bring out the music, whereas the violin pieces are more left-hand oriented.

TJ: Does this mean that you don't like it when people add their own ornamentation, i.e. a trill or mordent here and there?

AB: I won't ornament until I know more. For now, I'm trying to play what's written. So much can be done with what is already there. In repeats, you could try a different "pronunciation" instead of adding ornaments if you don't want to play exactly the same twice.

TJ: In your 1992 recording of the Prelude from the first suite, in the descending scale section at measure 29, you launch into a tempo that is radically different from the rest of the movement. I think we’d all agree that this section should move right along, but why do you play it that much faster?

AB: I think of that section as a cadenza, so more freedom is allowed. But I don’t make as extreme a tempo change as I used to. I am constantly changing my approach, since I continue to learn more and more about the cello suites. I’m sure I will play them much differently in the future. In fact, I hope I do. I don’t want to stop exploring.

TJ: There were times, when I read your book where I wondered if you were a little angry as you wrote it. Were you a little mad, or were you just being blunt and trying to wake people up?

AB: I was not mad at all! I wrote it in good fun. But I did write it in reaction to the nonsense that I frequently hear and read when one discusses Bach. I think the book is good, but it’s not for everybody. Those who are content to play the cello suites the way they’ve always played them should refrain from reading it. But, if you are interested in exploring new territory, I think you should read it. Writing the book, apart from being a lot of fun, gave me many new ideas for all kinds of music, not just Baroque music.

The book is a quest into unknown Bach territory, if such a thing exists. I hope to inspire the reader to look once more at certain “routines” that may be due for some refreshing, especially the ones thoughtlessly taken over from our teachers. Every one of those “routines,” like requiring a down-bow on the first beat of every bar, was once an insight, and inspired the innovator with a sense of clarity, consistency, and “grip” on the material. But a joke doesn’t get better being told in the same way over and over.

Sometimes I am a little blunt in the book. For instance, I discuss my distaste for steel strings, which everybody seems to play on. I think they're ugly and very bad for the instrument. If you have a beautiful Italian instrument strung with steel strings, you can hardly hear how beautiful it is because it has so much pressure on it. I worry that we are destroying our precious instruments. The book is meant to be a pleasure to read, and a discussion piece.

TJ: You say in your book, “Pianists and conductors especially love the expression, ‘phrasing slur,’ combining many small and different motives in one witless line.” You seem to have a low opinion of pianists and conductors.

AB: I’m not against all pianists and conductors, but I do feel that we string players have been abused by witless conductors and insensitive pianists, who force us to play louder and louder, whether the music calls for it or not. Often, all I hear is percussion and brass when I attend an orchestral concert.

We string players play the most beautiful instruments on earth! Only we can start a note from silence, and play with immense subtlety. Other instruments do not have the expressive palette that we have. So string players should not yield the character of their instruments to please the others. I’m not talking about people, I’m talking about instruments.

TJ: You discount the manuscripts other than the Anna Magdalena. What's wrong with the others?

AB: Kellner apparently tried to copy well, but he is so messy. Westphal and the "Viennese" anonymous, it seems, did not know about the special meaning of slurs in the manuscript. They fashion the bowings more to the style of their second half of the eighteenth century, which had different traditions.

In Bach's day the Italian approach to bowing was "bow as it comes," so Bach was not as bound by our so-called logic of today. I don't think he felt obligated to repeat slur patterns just because the notes follow a certain pattern. He wanted to add variety in the bowing in order to add interest to the music.

TJ: Ralph Kirshbaum, in his recording of the G major Prelude, plays eight notes to a bow in the beginning. He creates variety through other means besides varying slur patterns, and feels that he brings out the music beautifully in his own way. Do you think his performance is doomed to tedium from the start because of his generous use of slurs?

AB: Of course, Mr. Kirshbaum is not the only one who does this. It is certainly possible that he plays this prelude very beautifully. I haven't heard it.

We cellists have been brainwashed to think that we must all sing in one big line. To me this isn't singing, this is more like talking without enunciating the syllables, belonging more to a twentieth century aesthetic. I prefer clarity.

If Bach didn't show slurs, why would we add them? He certainly could have added them if he wanted. He was a string player after all. By adding slurs, one is taking away the wonderful variety that is inherent in the slurs shown. But if Mr. Kirshbaum likes how he plays, he should continue to do it, and I'll play my way.

TJ: But you do say in your book, given that the slurs are not necessarily clearly marked in the manuscript, that every marking could be interpreted in a variety of ways, and that each interpretation could be defended. Does this statement not suggest that there are many ways the cello suites could be played, and doesn't this open the door for more modern approaches to the suites?

AB: Of course, there are many ways to play Bach. I would hate it if everybody played exactly like me.

It is occasionally, though not that often, hard to read a slur in the manuscript. But, when an ambiguity exists, we have a problem, since there is hardly any interpretation of the slur that is totally devoid of character. So which one are we to choose? What does not help at all is to do what it says in some parallel passage. The existence of such a passage might be exactly a reason for bowing it differently in the passage in question. I will confess that I am thinking about whether other bowings would be acceptable when the section is repeated. But I don’t dare do this until I learn more.

TJ: You assert that slurs have become more of a necessary evil than a way of expression. You lament that we want more tone, more singing, and therefore speak less with our instruments. What's wrong with singing?

AB: There's nothing wrong with singing, but I can’t stand the modern way of opera singing, where you cannot understand the words. The modern way is more bellowing than singing. I hate bellowing, since it all sounds the same after awhile. Modern string players also bellow too much.

I simply don’t buy the argument that we string players must sing more because we have to play in bigger halls. In a well-designed hall, you can play with much nuance, and the audience will hear it clearly. We need to stop making excuses for insensitive playing. The music must come first!

Bach’s music is about counterpoint. You destroy the sense of counterpoint when you take the various voices and squash them into a single line. Without counterpoint, the genius of Bach is buried.

TJ: Paul Tortelier visualized the G Major prelude as a flowing brook or stream. Do you think this use of imagery is appropriate?

AB: Mr. Tortelier was certainly entitled to use imagery as he pleased. But what if I have a different image? Maybe the prelude makes me think of scratching my foot, the itching being represented by the use of separate bows. The problem with this type of interpretational approach is that it comes from outside the music, not from the score. You cannot attack or defend a person's imagery, since it is very personal. It certainly doesn’t help one understand the composition in an objective manner.

TJ: When you play the cello suites, are you just trying to play what's written, or are you telling a story?

AB: I may have a story, but I would never share it with anyone, since it is my business. I wouldn’t want to ruin a piece for someone by planting my imagery in his or her mind. I want people to understand Bach in their own way, not mine.

This reminds me of a nice story. Years ago I soloed with an amateur orchestra in Holland. One of the cellists was an old bachelor farmer with large red hands. During the intermission, he came up to me and said, “Do you know the second Bourrée of the fourth suite?”

“Yes, I know it.”

“When Bach wrote it, he was in a happy mood.”

Well, I loved this little conversation. But I must say that it told me more about the farmer than it did about Bach. I could see him on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in his farmhouse, struggling with his big red hands to read the score, and then deciding that Bach was in a good mood. And so what I’m saying is that Mr. Tortelier gave us more of a look at who he is, rather than a look at who Bach is or his music.

TJ: Should we care what Bach may have been thinking or feeling when he wrote the cello suites?

AB: It's none of our business. Bach was kind enough to give us music that stands quite well on its own. It's perfectly natural to be affected emotionally by such beautiful music. But if you try to justify your emotions by making up stories about what Bach may have been thinking, I worry that you ruin the composition.

TJ: Do you think Bach agonized over every slur? Or do you think he may have just thrown a few slurs in, making sure that he varied the pattern, but not really caring exactly where they went, just as long as they were different?

AB: Who can know for sure? I'm just trying to play what's written, placing my trust in Bach's profound artistry. Some of the bowings were placed to bring out the counterpoint, while others were placed to assure variety. I'm sure he was as concerned as the rest of us about not boring his audience, so he decided he would put in some interesting bowings. I'm convinced that he didn't want us to use exactly the same bowing in sequences, for example, repeating the slur pattern three times. This is why I say on the first page of my book, "Let's be careful not to just do the same thing."

TJ: You also later say, "We cannot be too suspicious of our modern pride in logic and order." Do you believe that our efforts to make sense of the music by adding seemingly logical bowings may actually hurt the music instead of enhance it?

AB: Our world is obsessed with making everything the same. New houses look the same, new cars look the same, books look the same, and cultures are starting to feel the same. My book represents my fight against uniformity, which is why I scribbled in it.

We need to stop being so arrogant in our approach. We all go to school and study music theory and counterpoint, and then we force our modern way of thinking on geniuses of the past. Who are we to presume that we know better than they do?

TJ: Could one make a case that, though beauty may be taken away when we apply our modern logical approach to bowing, beauty is actually added back, though in a different way, by creating flowing lines?

AB: The concept of flowing lines is not appropriate for eighteenth century music, it belongs to the nineteenth century. Music became more chromatic and more overtly emotional in the nineteenth century, which resulted in long flowing lines. In Bach's time too, chromatic passages may have been played more sustained than diatonic ones -- just try it. But we shouldn't impose nineteenth century principles on Bach.

By the way, I love Bruckner too, but, for my taste, too many big lines are played in his music, as well as in Brahms and other nineteenth century composers. Maybe it's easier to conduct a long line when moving one's arms about with that painfully imperfect instrument, the "baton," an instrument which is unfit for showing more than one motive per minute. We shouldn't let the limitations of the baton get in our way to "true" music making. We need to take a fresh look at how we play all music, not just Baroque music.

TJ: When you perform Bach, do you still think of musical lines, even if they are not flowing? With the kind of articulations you describe in your book, where there are lots of gaps between notes, it makes it more difficult to sense a connected musical line.

AB: I don’t agree at all. I think people can sense the line just fine. I want to make sure that I don’t lace things together that are meant to be separate. I don’t want to mash the notes together. Fortunately, I have the text on my side, with the articulations clearly marked.

TJ: You discuss the use of vibrato in your book, referring somewhat sarcastically to the "constant vibrato cult." I believe that most great artists are very conscious of their vibrato, and make sure that they don't lapse into "auto-pilot" with it. They strive for an "infinite variety" in their vibrato, as Casals described it. So who are the cult members?

AB: Most conductors belong, who then recruit their otherwise very fine orchestral musicians. The conductors want their orchestra to sound big and lush, so they ask the players to continuously vibrate. When I see this, it looks like the musicians are all making love to themselves.

Part of the problem is that steel strings sound so ugly. With gut strings, you don’t have the urge to vibrate all the time, and you aren't afraid of the open 'A' string, which is very beautiful. A steel open 'A' sounds tinny. I hope that string players eventually go back to gut strings.

Another problem with constant vibrato is that you never distinguish between consonances and dissonances. Dissonances are wonderfully expressive moments and deserve a little emphasis. Don't get me wrong, I love vibrato, and I use it all the time, but it shouldn't be applied continuously. It makes everything sound the same.

TJ: Wasn't vibrato considered an ornament in Bach's time, along with trills and mordents?

AB: Yes, and I think vibrato should be applied like a trill. Just as trilling on every note sounds ridiculous, so does vibrating all the time. I must admit, though, that French viola da gamba players and flute players used to vibrate much more than I do, sometimes with a width as much as a half-tone or even a third. And Geminiani, in his book in 1751, said that one should vibrate as often as possible. But that was their taste, and it certainly isn't mine, or many others' in the eighteenth century. I love tasteful and sensitively applied vibrato.

TJ: On a side note, I have your recording of the Brahms Cello Sonatas with Lambert Orkis. You don’t use very much vibrato in Brahms either.

AB: No. Joachim, the legendary violinist and beloved friend of Brahms, used vibrato very sparingly. There is a famous description by someone who attended a concert of the Joachim String Quartet. The person, describing a moment in the middle of a Beethoven Quartet, wrote something like, “Then something happened very strange, very moving, and very unexpected. They all suddenly vibrated.” I have a feeling I would have enjoyed Joachim’s playing very much.

I think of the Brahms sonatas as kind of symphonies for two people. There were very few symphony orchestras at the time of Brahms; being very rare before the 1880's. So many experienced symphonic works through arrangements, like for piano for four hands, or for flute and string quartet, or other small groups. Since there was no radio and there were no recordings at the time, people would play these reductions.

I like to think of these sonatas as if they are reductions of orchestral scores. As the pieces progress, I imagine different instruments playing. For instance, in the opening of the F Major Sonata, I imagine I am playing the first horn, not the cello. Another time, I may think I am the cello and bass section together. It’s a lot of fun to work this way, and helps one get new ideas.

TJ: Getting back to Baroque music, though this may apply to music of other periods too, how do you bring out dissonances?

AB: A dissonance, like a suspension, should usually be louder than the consonances around it, since dissonances are more interesting to the ear. This can be done with a little vibrato or with bow technique. Listeners will more or less fill out the consonance for themselves, because they expect them, which is why you barely have to touch a consonance after a dissonance. But a dissonance yearns be brought out clearly. They are wonderful moments of tension.

To illustrate this, I used to give my students an example: you never read in the newspaper that, when Father came home, he lit his pipe, put on his slippers, and opened the paper. But you will read, when Father came home, he put on his slippers, opened the paper, lit his pipe, and the house blew up, because, unknown to him, there was a gas leak in the house. See what I mean? The dissonance creates the interest, not the consonance.

TJ: You object to the modern goal of trying to make the sound quality uniform across the cello. What's wrong with this?

AB: This belongs to the aesthetics of the 1940's and the Glenn Miller Band era, when everything had to sound smooth and even. I have nothing against Glenn Miller, I just don't think it should be forced upon Bach.

I also object to this because it is yet another way that we are trying to make everything the same. We don't want to hear bow changes and we don’t want to be able to hear which string we are playing on. But it is the variety that makes the cello and other string instruments so beautiful. I am fighting against uniformity.

TJ: You mention that "playing out of tune undeniably gives immediate communication." What did you mean by this?

AB: You should see the faces in the audience when somebody plays a note out of tune -- that's communication. The members of the audience certainly notice it, not that they like it.

TJ: Was the concept of intonation much different back in Bach's time than today?

AB: Yes, in Bach's time, equal temperament was not the last word, especially with string players. When we play with equal tempered intonation, like we have on the piano, we don't sound as beautiful. We should stop trying to emulate the piano, another weapon of uniformity, and take advantage of the inherent beauties of our string instruments.

TJ: Speaking of the piano, you wrote that the pianist needs the character of other instruments to describe the meaning of a given piece of music. Why do you say this?

AB: The piano has very little character by itself. They don't have nearly the expressive palette that we string players have. They need another instrument to really describe the intent of the piece. Also, the pianist's job is to fool you into believing you are hearing individually hammered notes as a coherent melody, and into believing that the "color" of a note has been changed merely by altering the harmony underneath.

TJ: Do you not consider sonatas, for instance, to be an equal partnership between the piano and the cello?

AB: On paper we may be equal partners, but in reality, string players are at a disadvantage. The composers were almost always pianists, so the piano part is usually beautifully crafted, while the string part is less well thought out. Also, the piano has become twice as loud, for which too few pianists compensate, getting carried away with their wonderful parts. When we join the piano, bowings that sound beautiful when we are alone must be radically altered when the piano joins in. Otherwise, we will not be heard. We usually must adjust to whatever the pianist is doing, not the other way around.

TJ: You write about the piano having an “indifferent equality.” Do you also think this is true of the harpsichord?

AB: I’m no lover of the harpsichord, and I say this knowing that I have dear friends who play it. I rarely play with harpsichord, maybe fifteen concerts per year.

TJ: Then what instrument do you play with when you play Bach’s gamba/harpsichord sonatas?

AB: I occasionally play them on cello piccolo with a small organ.

TJ: That's surprising. How could you be encouraging us to play the Bach Suites from the manuscripts, and yet you play these sonatas with organ instead of harpsichord?

AB: An autograph only exists for the first sonata. There is some mention in the B.W.V. about there having been an autograph at the time of the first complete Bach edition, but that edition is so full of errors that it is not a reliable source at all. The first sonata was also written for two flutes, harpsichord, and continuo, which I like much better.

The second sonata exists only as a copy by a gambist, done after Bach’s death. It is even questionable if the movements belong together. There also exists a setting of this sonata by someone in the Bach circle for two violins and continuo. When you compare the score with my performance, you will notice that I added two bars in the second movement, because I assume that the copyist, who must have copied from separate parts, fitted it together incorrectly. The third sonata has all the makings of a big orchestral piece, like a Seventh Brandenburg Concerto, and has been transcribed for the instrumentation of the Sixth Brandenburg Concerto by John Hsu.

So, I don’t think I’m being too naughty when I play them with organ. Besides, I don’t think these pieces were meant for the gamba and harpsichord in the first place. They are much too good for that. They don't sound well on these two instruments.

Getting back to the cello suites, and the Anna Magdalena manuscript, you could say that Mrs. Bach was crazy, and she didn't know what she was writing, but I don't like that kind of argument. What she wrote does make sense when you stop thinking like a nineteenth century musician and more like a eighteenth century one. When you make a genuine attempt to play what’s written, which is very difficult from a technical standpoint, you will receive blessings beyond your wildest dreams.

My primary goal in the book is to bring players new ideas. If you truly play what you feel, and you play it as well as you can, your honesty will come out in whatever way you do it, whether you use vibrato or not, or whether you use steel or gut strings. All these things don't really matter if the performance is true. As I say in the flyer for my book, my hope is that "Bach, the fencing master" will become your friend in a way that I could hardly have suspected. It will be a wonderful journey. I promise.