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‘When you play Bach you should speak about us all’

Anner Bylsma has some advice for players who want to express their own feelings through music

Anner Bylsma

While I was at the Amsterdam Cello Biënnale last month I only managed to get a few minutes with Anner Bylsma, after one of the panel discussions. During the session he’d made a passing comment about the fact that the cellists at the festival all got on well and demonstrated different musical personalities (which is true) but that violinists tend to be much more egotistical. Afterwards I asked him to elaborate, and this is what he said:

‘In the 1600s people began to think of men as being more important than gods. It starts with the Italian scientists such as Galileo. Opera and the violin came at the same time. The Italian violinists were so taken in by their own image that they swooned and fell to the floor. There is a book by Francois Raguenet in which he mentions a description of Corelli saying that when Corelli played, his countenance became distorted, he rocked his body to and fro and his eyes were like balls of fire. The violin and cello are instruments on which you can fulfill your own feelings, but I’m not happy when people talk about themselves – it’s boring.

'When you play Bach you shouldn’t speak about yourself too much – you should speak about us all. It’s like you’re a minister in a small church. You know and love everyone because that’s your duty (and maybe you do). You speak about mankind and love and fate and god and death – all of these things. But you do not speak about your own headache. You will not say, “I had such a horrible fight with my wife.” Play in a way pertaining to us all.’

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