Music Makers

Simone Dinnerstein's Bach Between The Notes

Simone Dinnerstein communes with the music of J.S. Bach at the NPR studio. i i

hide captionSimone Dinnerstein communes with the music of J.S. Bach at the NPR studio.

Doriane Raiman/NPR
Simone Dinnerstein communes with the music of J.S. Bach at the NPR studio.

Simone Dinnerstein communes with the music of J.S. Bach at the NPR studio.

Doriane Raiman/NPR

There's something about Johann Sebastian Bach's music that nourishes musicians. Pianist Andras Schiff and cellist Yo-Yo Ma have said that they play Bach almost every day — like having breakfast, it seems essential for them. Pianists Glenn Gould, Angela Hewitt and Rosalyn Tureck (among others) have based entire careers on Bach.

Then there's Simone Dinnerstein. Like Gould, she was rocketed into the public consciousness by Bach. Five years ago, the Juilliard grad was virtually unknown. Then she financed her own recording of the Goldberg Variations. It got picked up by a prominent label, shot up the charts and a career was launched. Dinnerstein still includes Bach in nearly all of her recitals and has recorded his music on each of her four albums. So when we invited her into our studio not long ago, guess what she played?

Bach's Partita No. 1 in B-flat is a multi-movement keyboard suite, the first of six he published himself in 1726. The formal title (translated), in part, reads:

Keyboard Practice, consisting of preludes, allemandes, courantes, sarabandes, gigues, minuets, and other galanteries, composed for music lovers, to refresh their spirits, by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The six-movement work begins with a serene Praeludium propelled by a bittersweet rising scale. Twenty minutes later — after a rippling Allemande and Corrente, a ruminative Sarabande and a pair of delicate Menuets — the Partita ends with what Dinnerstein describes as a surprisingly eloquent Gigue.

"I think that Gigue is really unusual," she told us after her performance. "When you listen to it on the radio or in the car, if you've not seen it, you might not understand what's going on in the piano. There's a sort of running, watery voice in the middle and that's played by the right hand. And then there's a dialog going on in the treble and the bass, and those are played by the left hand, leaping over the right hand. Those voices are so expressive — it is all about these intervallic leaps, and the expressivity of the distance between the notes."

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