This exposition presents the artistic research project ‘Zum Spielen und zum Tantzen: A Kinaesthetic Exploration of the Bach Cello Suites through Studies in Baroque Choreography’, undertaken at the Norwegian Academy of Music between 2009 and 2012. I offer a historical background, discuss the method used, and present the artistic results in the form of video and audio files.
The dance titles of J. S. Bach’s cello suites, derived from French court dance, clearly meant more to the composer than just abstract references. In Bach’s time, dance practice permeated social life, and an intimate knowledge of fashionable dance forms was indispensable for a musician. The movements and gestures of these dances inevitably had a profound influence on performance style.
I have investigated how the practice of Baroque dance could influence my interpretation of the Bach suites. Learning the essentials of this style and its original choreographies and frequently accompanying dancing, I also explored the dance aspect of the cello suites by way of experiments with historical tempos as well as melodic and rhythmic reductions of the musical material.
Through this project, I hope to make a worthy contribution to the development of performance practice studies, offering a recontextualisation of Bach’s work that emphasises the close links between the expressive gestures of music and dance. The results have both artistic and pedagogic potential as tools to discover essential aspects of dance character in Baroque music.