Guest Post with Steven Hancoff, Author of “Bach, Casals and the Six Suites for Cello Solo”

November 30, 2015 at 12:07 pm | Posted in Books | 1 Comment
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Congratulations on the release of your multimedia biography about Johann Sebastian Bach: Bach ibook vol 1_0504.pdfBach, Casals and the Six Suites for Cello Solo. Can you describe this project and tell us what compelled you to put it together?

Here’s a Synopsis:

From Tragedy to Transcendence:

The Six Suites for ‘Cello Solo

by J. Sebastian Bach

Steven Hancoff

Acoustic Guitar

I have transcribed and recorded the thirty-six masterpieces that comprise J. S. Bach’s Cello Suites on acoustic guitar—almost three hours of music.

I have also written a four-volume, highly interactive iBook: Bach, Casals and The Six Suites for ‘Cello Solo — biographies of Bach and of Pablo Casals, the man who rescued the Suites from oblivion. This work is anecdotal rather than technical, describing the lives of these great men in the context of their times as I have come to fathom them—as fascinating, illuminating, and inspiring artists, and as human beings challenged, like all of us, by the demands life.

In addition to the storytelling, the book is highly illustrated, with about 1,000 period pictures – portraits, oils, watercolors, stained glass, photographs, etchings and engravings, documents, sculptures, statues and monuments. These pictures illustrate the text, and make the e-book very colorful and accessible.

In addition, more than 300 contemporary artists have contributed hundreds of works of contemporary art, all of which is inspired by J. S. Bach and Pablo Casals. This is the most comprehensive art book devoted to Bach and Casals that has ever been compiled.

To tell the story of the Cello Suites, I have also created and embedded 25 beautiful and compelling videos.

Not only that but the written transcriptions — the scores – will be made available for free so that guitarists who wish to learn these pieces can try their hands at them.

Here we have a set of music by Bach never before performed on acoustic guitar, accompanied by entertaining, easy-to-read, stunning and informative biographies in the form of a visually bountiful, highly interactive e-book.

No, I cannot tell you what compelled me to do this. It more or less feels like it is my destiny to have done this. A music reviewer said that I was “called.” I know that cello is a one-note-at-a time instrument, while guitar is idiomatically suited to play harmonies, bass lines and chords. So, the creative juice is in harmonizing the Cello Suites while still playing all of Bach’s notes, and staying true to the profundity of his musical and emotional intent.

In order to fulfill this intention, I started to read about the man, then think about it, how did he come to compose this music at this time in his life. I kept on reading, and thinking about it, and writing, and talking to people… and eventually this iBook project got born.

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  1. Hancoff’s fervor for the Bach suites echoes Casals’ devotion… strains of music dovetail with what is the largest collection of Bach-inspired visual art ever amassed… It is an antique subject elegantly rendered in an impossibly light 21st-century container. – Roxane Assaf, Huffington Post, writing about the iBook

    Dear Vic,

    Thank you.

    Eight years! Eight years ago, I started the process of transcribing Bach’s masterpiece Six Suites for Cello Solo for my acoustic guitar. My only intention was to transcribe and then record them. But the more I worked, the more I felt a need to learn about the man, and especially the circumstances of his life, when he composed the Cello Suites. And the more I discovered, the more questions and ideas arose …until I began to realize that this was not simply a music project, but this was transforming itself into a life’s work. Fulfilling that mission became my purpose.

    And now, the project is done and released. And I want to tell you how much I appreciate your helping to make this work known to the world.

    I have come to feel that the saga I have discovered and articulated in the iBooks is the pre-eminent and most grand and by far the most profoundly serendipitous legend of Western culture. I intend to be touring the country with a multimedia presentation of it, telling the story with slideshow and video – pictures galore — over the next years. The presentation will be entertaining and enlightening.

    Thanks again…

    Steven Hancoff


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