What did I take away from Anner Bylsma?

JS Bach’s D minor Suite: Examples and key points from a session in Amsterdam*

This page accompanies a tribute article by Guy Johnston which appears in the Autumn 2020 issue of the LCS Newsletter. Read the tribute excerpts here.

Tribute to Anner Bylsma

Toasting the Bach Suites

NB: We recommend reading this with your copy of the Bach Cello Suites in hand.



Play this bar as if you’re looking over your shoulder (bar 6 of the Prelude).

Think of the poor homeless man sitting behind Naples Cathedral (leading into bar 37 of the Prelude).

Energy in notes leading towards emphatic cadences (bar 47-48 of the Prelude).

Tribute to Anner Bylsma

Bach considerations with Anner

Looking for something with a lamp (final bars of the Prelude).

Chords at the end of the Prelude might be there because someone knocked at the front door…the performer will know what to do.


Musical puddles! – timing at certain points (perhaps a comma between each 4-note grouping in measure 26 of the Allemande).


The bayonet for the dissonance! (D# in Bar 15 of the Courante).


Know when to let go of lower neighbour/family member in chords (first bar of the Sarabande).

Bowing magic – use the bridge to highlight a melody or dissonance. Know when to release the bow (2nd bar in the Sarabande – feel the 2nd beat, stress and release).

Tribute to Anner Bylsma

Outside the church at Mapperton where Guy completed the cycle of Bach Suites last year

Menuets 1 and 2

Hear the bass note (progression) first in chords and respond with inner and upper voicing (throughout Menuet I).

General Key Points

I don’t hear the word, play it again.

Avoid consecutive up or down bows.

No need for the bow to leave the string.

Communicate like a Minister in the pulpit.

Listen to your audience when you perform.

Void beats – a sniff or lick of saliva on the corner of the mouth, then move on! (dotted notes in general).

Rhetoric throughout.

Punctuation – consonants.

Repeats can be upside down in bowing.

Tribute to Anner Bylsma

Working on Bach d minor Suite with Anner

Keep a note you’ve played down whilst playing the next for an acoustic effect and a chance to hear more harmony (senza basso).

Careful not to accent upbeat gestures like an 8th note before a chord for example.

Try not to shift inside a slur – slurs are generally organised to help the hand move from one position to another.

Use the open string in places to allow hand to recover and move to new position.

Secret guide note held during shifts on neighbouring string.

Implied bass line – always know what note would be there if supported by continuo. It changes everything.


Rubato – inner freedom – nothing even.