Cellist Hee-Young Lim Shares Why She Will Never Stop Studying Bach’s Cello Suites

Player Hee-Young Lim

Title of Work Being Studied Six Suites, BWV 1007–12 

Composer Johann Sebastian Bach

Date Composed It is likely Bach composed his suites for cellos when he served as the Kapellmeister (or musical director) for Leopold of Anhalt-Köthen at the court of Köthen from 1717–23. 


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Name of edition studied Edition Reinhardt München/Basel


Bach’s Cello Suites have been essential to me since I was a child. Currently I’m preparing for my two Bach Suite cycles in Beijing and at the Zhuhai Festival. Starting when I was 11, every morning on my way to school I listened to recordings of these monumental works from Anner Bylsma, Pierre Fournier, Maurice Gendron, and Pablo Casals. When I was 12, Anner Bylsma came to Seoul to play a Bach Suites recital at the Seoul Arts Center. I was in awe. I still remember this concert vividly and I’ve dreamed of playing this cycle like him ever since I saw his performance. 

Bach has been an unending source of inspiration to countless artists. The six Cello Suites are the most inspiring and spiritual works to me. The fact that it is polyphonic music in a single musical instrument is fascinating. It’s full of imagination; being able to play this wonderful work fulfills me as an artist. At the end of the day or when I go through emotional turmoil or am mentally exhausted, playing the Bach Suites gives me positive strength, fills me with compassion, and purifies my spirit. 

I play from two editions given to me by my teachers, Philippe Muller and Wolfgang Boettcher. These are from manuscripts handwritten by A. Magdalena Bach, J. Peter Kellner, and two different authors. Since each copy has different articulations and slurs, the interpretations of these works have always been varied. The choice of bowing and articulation is a source of endless debate for any cellist. Next year I will publish my own edition of these wonderful works; it’s a dream come true for me. I am always studying them, and plan to always do so.

I also like comparing manuscript copies. For example, the lute version of the Suite No. 5, Pieces pour la luth à Monsieur Schouster, BWV 995, is such a treasure. It gives me a lot of hints on how to play it. The two editions from A. Magdalena Bach and Kellner inspire a lot of thoughts on how to interpret Bach’s music. 

As for advice, I suggest studying the manuscript as well as immersing oneself in the performance practice of the Baroque era to build a better understanding of this music and authentic Baroque playing. For me, the challenges have been finding the most suitable articulations. Sometimes the copies of manuscript seem to be unclear. But then, I have to take account that during the Baroque period, it was common that the composers trusted performers and left it to them to play proper slurs. Modern players have to be fluent in these customs in order to properly interpret this music. I also strongly recommend listening to Bach’s other works such as the St. Matthew Passion and the Goldberg Variations.