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Bach Series

Anthea Cottee Baroque Cello

Anthea Cottee performs the Allemande from JS Bach's Suite No. 1 in G major for solo cello, BWV 1007

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Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)


While its exact date of composition remains unknown, many scholars agree JS Bach’s collection of Six Suites for Solo Cello was written while he was working as Kapellmeister for Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen between 1717 and 1723. At Cöthen musical life was focused on secular music: on playing music for fun and joy, for performances at court, and for social entertainment. Importantly, the prince (Bach’s junior by ten years) was an avid music lover and played several instruments fluently enough to perform alongside the professional musicians of his own orchestra.

The orchestra consisted of eighteen very highly skilled musicians, which allowed Bach to compose instrumental works of great variety and richness. The archives at Cöthen give us the names, origin and instruments of the musicians who inspired Bach to write virtuosic works for violin, violoncello, viola da gamba and flute. Carl Bernhard Lienecke, the orchestra's cellist during Bach’s tenure, may have been the first to play the solo cello suites. Unfortunately, that bit of information is also unknown to us. Furthermore, there is no surviving autograph copy of the suites as Anthea Cottee explains in her notes written during her preparation for this performance:

When I finally came to play the cello, the Bach Suites were some of the first pieces I learned. With such an iconic composition it is hard to know where to start. There is a sense each time you play them of uncovering layers of memory, the voices of teachers and the many recordings and performances you have heard, and of observing once again the beauty, humanity and depth of their construction. This sense of constant searching is compounded by the fact that the original manuscript of Johann Sebastian, thought to be composed about 1720, has never been found, and we find our way to the notes through various manuscripts penned by other hands. These manuscripts have histories, differences and discrepancies that have kept players and scholars of these works fascinated for many years and continue to do so.

Differences in articulation and notes imbue phrases with different meanings, and each copyist had their different habits and quirks. Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, made a copy between 1727 and 1731. She was known to be a fairly accurate copyist with the notes, but careless or inconsistent with slurs and articulations. Johann Peter Kellner, a cantor and organist, made a copy around 1726 which appears to be from a different original source, as there are significant structural differences. Like Anna Magdalena, Kellner was imprecise with his articulation, and appears to have been less careful with his copying, with many wrong notes, duplicated or missing bars, and other additions that may, or may not, be by JS Bach.

In deciding what to play for this recording, I was drawn towards an appealing key to spend time with while in isolation: G major, described by Rameau in 1722 as the key that is right for both tender and happy songs. Each of the six suites has a prelude followed by a selection of dance-influenced movements, with their own specific character. From the first suite I chose three: Allemande, Courante and Sarabande, using the Anna Magdalena copy as my guide. In 1739, Johann Mattheson described the character of the Allemande as “a broken, serious, and well-constructed harmony, which is the good image of a content or satisfied spirit, which enjoys good order and calm”. The Courante, though spelled in the French manner is the faster Italian style, a lively running dance, and the Sarabande “has no other emotion to express but ambition… and maintains its seriousness”. In this time of great seriousness, Bach is a fine source of good order, tenderness and humanity.

JS Bach would have encountered the eighteenth-century French version of the Allemande as a 15-year old student in Lüneburg; a figure dance in 4/4 or 2/4 time for four couples. In the first-ever dictionary of music and musicians written in the German language, Musicalisches Lexicon, Johann Gottfried Walther tells us the Allemande “must be composed and likewise danced in a grave and ceremonial manner.

Walther, who was in fact JS Bach’s cousin and, like Bach, an organist and composer, goes further and mentions a characteristic upbeat of one or occasionally three sixteenth notes. This description is consistent with the music Bach has composed: short semiquaver upbeats are followed by orderly, processional like arpeggiations exploiting the full range of the instrument.

Program Notes: Joanna Butler & Hugh Ronzani, 2020
Image Credit: Katelyn-Jane Dunn, 2020




Discover More


Anthea began her musical life as a violinist and viola player. After starting her degree on viola, Anthea found herself unable to continue playing after breaking her jaw in a horse-riding accident.  She decided to start the cello and commenced her studies with Janis Laurs at the University of Adelaide. She then continued her studies in London at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama with Stefan Popov on modern cello and Anthony Pleeth on Baroque and classical cello.

Anthea regularly performs on a variety of instruments from modern, Baroque and classical cello to other instruments including the viola da gamba and basse de violon. She enjoys the challenges of exploring these different instruments and the changes of nuance and colour they bring to the music.

Anthea has appeared as a soloist on both Baroque cello and viola da gamba for the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, where she has been a regular member since 1998, and has performed as principal cellist for Sydney Philharmonia, Opera Australia, Australian Haydn Ensemble, and Orchestra of the Antipodes for Pinchgut Opera, and the Hobart and Brisbane Baroque Festivals. In addition to her work in Baroque and Classical performance, Anthea toured with Circa for their acclaimed program Il Ritorno, and also premiered Gouttes d’un sang etranger for Viola da Gamba and Saxophone by Felicity Wilcox as part of the Vivid Festival.

In addition to her playing career, Anthea completed a degree with Honours in Psychology at the University of Sydney and is currently completing her training as a psychologist. 

View an interview with Anthea Cottee here

Biography: Anthea Cottee, 2020
Image Credit: Georges Antoni, 2019


My Baroque cello was made by Peter Wamsley in London in about 1735. Peter Wamsley was a luthier, bow maker and seller of string instruments based in Piccadilly. He is credited with being the first of the great English cello makers, and counted Frederick, Prince of Wales amongst his clients. I acquired the instrument at auction from Sotheby’s in London in 1998 when I was studying there, before I returned to Australia.

I don’t know a lot about the instrument’s history, except that it evidently had major damage to the front of it at some point and had an extensive reconstruction and a new neck before I became its custodian. It is quite a light instrument, and the thinner wood on the front likely contributed to it being fragile. It has a very dark colour and looks even more so because the varnish is quite crackled so does not reflect the light. Its depth of colour is matched by a lovely depth and richness of tone. The bow is made by Jutta Walcher, a talented British bow maker, and she made this snakewood bow in 1998 with a swan-bill head (the shape, not the material), using Russian mammoth tusk for the frog screw - definitely the oldest part of the whole set-up.

Instrument Notes: Anthea Cottee, 2020
Image Credit: Katelyn-Jane Dunn, 2020


The image above of the Allemande of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major comes from a manuscript copied by Anna Magdalena Bach ca.1727-1731. You can see the title of the movement appearing below the first stave of the music. The manuscript is currently held in the Berlin State Library.

Image Credit: Berlin State Library


Born 21 March 1685 in Eisenach
Died 28 July 1750 in Leipzig
Childhood (1685–1703)
Weimar, Arnstadt, and Mühlhausen (1703–1708)
Return to Weimar (1708–1717)
Köthen (1717–1723)
Leipzig (1723–1750)

Image Credit: Berlin State Library 


APA is proud to support the Brandenburg Bach Series. Arts and entertainment are important to Australia’s diverse culture and economy. During the COVID-19 pandemic these sectors and the artists, musicians, creatives and makers at its core, have been particularly hard hit. Innovation like this online series of recitals is evidence of their innovation and resilience. It will sustain and broaden audiences for this music long into the future.

Image Credit: Katelyn Jane-Dunn, 2020

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