Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Enlivening Baroque Solo Repertoire: Thomas Demenga's ECM Recording of J.S. Bach's Fourth Cello Suite
by Rorrer, Christopher Paul, M.M., California State University, Long Beach, 2020, 35; 27963905
Abstract (Summary)

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suites serve as a valuable platform for cellists to bring their own voice to a work once they have overcome the myriad of technical challenges required to play it. Many cellists re-record the Suites multiple times over the course of their careers, continuously exploring the evolving palette of musical expression. For over fifty years, Swiss cellist Thomas Demenga has studied the suites in a way to present the solo unaccompanied music of Bach in a new and exciting light, often juxtaposing music from different eras in his concerts and recordings. As an Edition of Contemporary Music (ECM) artist, Demenga helped the Munich, Germany-based independent label jumpstart its New Series catalog of Western Classical music. In this vein, from 1986 to 2002, Demenga released an album every couple of years, which paired individual movements of the cello suites with newly composed music. Through this, Demenga was able to simultaneously explore genre-bending methods of expression through the cello while maintaining a mooring to the roots of common-practice music.

For the first time in his career, Demenga presents the Suites in their entirety for his 2017 ECM double album, bringing a freshness and freedom of expression characteristic of the label’s vision. In this project, Demenga made several decisions that simultaneously employed historically-informed and contemporary performance practices. To produce a Baroque sound to permeate the album, Demenga uses unwound gut strings in scordatura tuning, an eighteenth-century Baroque cello, and a reproduction of a Baroque bow that he holds toward the lower middle of the stick, as was the style in the eighteenth-century performance practice. Contrarily, Demenga chooses to use an endpin, a modern piece of equipment, on his instrument. He also personalizes and reinvents the Suites for an open-minded audience by approaching articulations in a new light and adding ornaments with a modern twist to the melodic line. In making such decisions in his 2017 recording, Demenga challenges the limitations of the Anna Magdalena manuscript and the status quo regarding the performance of Bach’s solo unaccompanied music. He also alters the value of certain notes through employing Lombard and inégale rhythms, helping to create an atmosphere suitable for a live performance with a dancer in the Baroque style. Examples such as these are especially apparent in the fourth Suite of Demenga’s recording. In his 2017 ECM recording, Thomas Demenga combines both Baroque and modern approaches to music-making in an unconventional manner to personalize and enliven the Suites. Demenga's choices regarding instrument and accessories (strings, bow, and endpin), tuning, timing, manipulation of duration, and ornamentation effectively align him with the exploratory record label ECM, which has historically favored the release of jazz, neoclassical, and film music since its founding in 1969.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Torres-Santos, Raymond
Commitee: Richey, Craig, Jun, Joon Sung, Doyle, Alicia M.
School: California State University, Long Beach
Department: Bob Cole Conservatory of Music
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 82/4(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Music, Music history, Music theory
Keywords: Baroque, ECM, J.S. Bach cello suites, Ornamentation, Performance practice, Thomas Demenga
Publication Number: 27963905
ISBN: 9798678171467
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