Courtesy of the artist
Zuill Bailey plays his Baroque-era cello.
Zuill Bailey plays his Baroque-era cello. Courtesy of the artist
The six Bach cello suites have been heard just about everywhere — in movies, television shows and commercials. But Zuill Bailey's recording is unique, because he's playing a cello only eight years younger than J.S. Bach himself.
"The suites are probably the greatest things ever written for solo cello to this day," Bailey says. However, they were largely unknown until the 20th century, when Pablo Casals recorded them. Since no original manuscript of the cello suites exists, it's up to the performer to decide how to play them. Bailey says that gives the musician a certain responsibility and freedom.
One of Bailey's favorites is Suite No. 3 in C major.
"It's the most popular for cellists to perform," he says, "not just for the excitement factor, but because it lays so beautifully on the basic strengths of the cello."
Bach spent most of his time at the organ, and Bailey says it shows in this suite.
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"The cello rings full throttle, open strings from the top to the bottom," he says. "All the stops are out."
A Magnificent Instrument
Bailey has been carrying a cello since he was 4 years old.
"I buy a seat for it on the airplane — its name is Cello Bailey," he says. The instrument was made to play this music. It was built in 1693, only eight years after Bach was born.
"It's relatively the same shape and size that cellos were when these pieces were written," Bailey says. "So this is probably how Bach heard the pieces."
Built by Matteo Goffriller in Venice, Italy, the instrument is shaped like a pear, with the lower part of the cello much larger than the upper part to produce the luxurious bass tones that are necessary for playing the suites.
"When I get to the sections where the bass tones are prevalent, I really let the breadth of my cello take over and guide me through those suites," Bailey says.
Prior to acquiring it, Bailey says he always heard the sound in his head.
"When I sat down to play it 13 years ago," he says, "I couldn't believe that it actually existed."