For ten years my musical mentor was Cape Town classical guitarist Ganeefa van der Schyff. By the time we met he was playing very little, and a few months later he lost the use of his left hand. During our time together he shared his music with me through his singing, his words, and my playing. In 1997 he told me to take out Segovia’s edition of Bach’s chaconne, just to start looking at it, for later. I had played Bach before, but this was something else.
I have been playing this piece in concerts for ten years now. We have a strong relationship. We have transformed each other, fought, been lovers, broken up, got back together again, ignored each other, hated each other, and been reconciled. Together we have taken on the world, felt judged, felt free, thrown caution to the wind, tried to be respectable, played the game, rebelled, rejoiced. We have got stuck in ruts, broken through to new places, explored, experimented, innovated, regressed.
The ciaccona stands amidst an ocean of music:. This ocean is the Six Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo, also known as The Six Solo.
allemanda-double-corrente-double-sarabande-double-tempo di borea-double
Sonata II grave-fuga-andante-allegro
preludio-loure-gavotte en rondeau-menuet i-menuet ii-gigue
Paul Galbraith: The Scottish Eight-String Guitarist
Slowly I moved from the ciaccona into the rest of this ocean. Here I discovered Paul Galbraith. Paul is the most musical and intellectually inspired person one could hope to meet. His conception of music is so big that the guitar had to grow to meet him. Under his hands the Spanish guitar of Segovia transformed into the Brahms Guitar, an instrument capable of going where Paul needed to go.
The discovery of Paul Galbraith threw me off track as much as it revitalised and pushed me to new places. Paul represented all the things I thought I should be. When I finally met him in person, after years of delving into the depths of his music through his recordings, I discovered a wonderful and humble man, whose playing was contained and pristine, yet capable of such beauty and freedom, and a tenderness beyond words. I spent a week listening to him teach and play, and every time he picked up his guitar he moved me almost to tears. I went home, from Brazil back to South Africa, transformed. The music I now made was like water, and this flow continues to grow stronger.
At first I felt that I needed to climb where he had gone, to match him. I had stopped playing the eight-string guitar long before I had gone to Brazil. For a while I considered going back to it, because I thought that I needed it to make the music I wanted to make. I even had one flown from England, to try it out. I prepared for its arrival by locking myself away and transcribing the entire Sonatas and Partitas for eight-string guitar in a single week. When the guitar arrived the music was ready. I played it for three days and knew that I could never play this guitar. The eight-string guitar could play music which no six-string could touch, but my six-string Hauser was a piece of pure magic. It was an ocean in itself. Pure, simple and unadorned, but so very powerful. When I played it I didn’t have to make the music sound like anything. Everything was in the guitar. I suppose it is a little like what Bach said about just playing the right notes at the right time, and God making the music.
So I returned to the Hauser, leaving my aspirations to play the complete Six Solo behind. It was a hard time, and in the years that followed I gave up music completely. But slowly the Hauser worked its magic, and I let go of my ideas of what I should do. Slowly I let myself play what I could naturally play, what came easily to me, and what I loved playing. One of these things was the Sonatas and Partitas, which I now played directly from the violin score, with none of the complex bass lines I had inserted in a mad week, while dreaming of eight-string guitars.
So here is my first offering of just a third of this ocean. There was no sustained, focused work to prepare for this recording, no specific practice. I was going into the studio to record my compositions, the recording called Ayo, and I thought to myself that, since that wouldn’t take very long, I may as well play some Bach afterwards. Here it is, a little reflection of the time that has passed since Neefa sent me to the library and started teaching me how to play the Bach ciaccona.
Prayers and Dances
We can only surmise what moved Bach to compose what he did, what inspired each little musical thought. For me I am not massively interested. I appreciate the purity of musical thought, and the constant flow of change in his music.
There are those who see this collection of Bach’s as a life of Christ. The first Sonata and Partita is the birth, the second Sonata and Partita (the one on this recording) the death, and the third Sonata and Partita the resurrection. Beginning. End. Renewal.
Each of these parts is then broken into two, a Sonata (four movements) and a Partita (a collection of dances). The Sonata is an abstract form that belongs to the realm of the spirit. The Partita is a collection of earthly dances. So I called my version Prayers and Dances.
This is, of course, one of three CDs. The rest (Prayers and Dances I and Prayers and Dances III) will follow when the time comes.
Recording, editing and mastering by Murray Anderson at Milestone Studios in a single afternoon. So I think it qualifies as a “live studio recording.”
The guitar is a Hermann Hauser III Special Edition from 2003. Hauser makes two of these specials a year and I am so lucky to be able to play it. The Hauser family have been making guitars for three generations, including Hauser Snr’s famous guitar made for Segovia in the 30’s. Thank you to Klaus Wildner for passing it on.
Many thanks to the teachers who have been such a part of this Bach journey. They are Ganeefa van der Schyff, Dietrich Wagner, Peter Klatzow, Jonathan Leathwood, and Paul Galbraith.
Thanks must also go to Camilla Driver who lent me her full score of the six about ten years ago. I still haven’t given them back…sorry Cammy!
Thank you to Ruth for listening to hours and hours of Bach…and for waiting for whole Sonatas to go by before I washed the dishes.
Thank you to Gary for also loving Bach.
This recording is dedicated to my Grandmother, Daphne Elsie Gripper, who after bringing up her own four children, looked after me for many years too. I gave her a copy of this CD as her 80th birthday present. May you have many more.