A comprehensive guide to playing and understanding the Bach Cello Suites

Are you a curious cellist?

Would you like to explore where and how Bach’s polyphony is woven into the musical text?

How are the harmonies sustained and resolved?

What is the underlying rhythmic structure?


Selma Gokcen & Kenneth Cooper

Selma Gokcen and Kenneth Cooper, musical friends, colleagues and co-conspirators in this Bach adventure, began their exploration of the Solo Cello Suites in 2005. Fifteen years later they emerged with a guide that could be the beginning of yours (and your students’) journey into the inner structures of these works. This guide is not a substitute for diving into the deep, but rather a companion to stimulate your own quest for discovery of what is structural and what is ornamental. The instrumental works of Bach embrace simple but enduring principles of harmony and counterpoint, and in these Suites, the genius of Bach manifests in the particular challenge of a monodic instrument sustaining and resolving more than one voice. We hope this guide will serve your pleasurable investigation of how Bach goes about his musical business with the greatest savoir-faire as well as divine inspiration.


At some point in our education, we may have learned that the real function of the artist in society is to provide vision and leadership so as to help others enjoy, understand and be stimulated by our real and imaginary worlds – and, in turn, make it through the day. Most of the great artists of the past were held up to us as role models, their causes simplified by legend: Beethoven, the courageous individualist standing up to aristocratic abuse; Mozart, starving rather than work for a tyrannical Archbishop; and Bach, struggling on a more domestic front, enduring long hours of teaching (not to speak of bringing up) children – all for art. Misunderstanding of their art was part of their burden; Mozart and Bach were both accused of writing too many notes, Beethoven of writing incomprehensible ones. Although these three geniuses (spanning the 18th century perhaps not coincidentally) lived by their hands…

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… expert work on the Bach Suites…it has simplified a very complex problem for most cellists.

Bernard Greenhouse

…a great achievement, and very interesting, bravo!

Raphael Wallfisch, Royal College of Music, London

…this edition opens ears and creates deep interest for this incredible opus…

Thomas Demenga, Professor of Cello, Musikhochschule, Basel, Switzerland

…I endorse the results with admiration and enthusiasm.

Ralph Kirshbaum, Piatigorsky Chair, University of So. Calif

…Selma Gokcen and Kenneth Cooper provide us a tremendous service by giving us a guided tour and visceral sampling of the “essence” of these pieces.

Timothy Eddy, Professor of Cello, The Juilliard School
Johann Sebastian Bach

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