Remembering Cellist Anner Bylsma

Influential Dutch pioneer in historically informed performance practice dies at age 85

By Megan Westberg

“Use your imagination before you play a note,” cellist Anner Bylsma once told students at a master class, “know more about it than just the pitch.” While Bylsma was speaking specifically about how the mind and cello come together to make music, it’s fair to say that the cellist knew a great deal more than just the pitch of every note he played. The noted Bach scholar and early pioneer in the realm of Baroque performance practice died July 25, and has left a rich legacy on record, in print, and through the students and colleagues he worked with and influenced.


Bylsma played both modern and period instruments, though his celebrated recordings of Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello (first in 1979 and again in 1992 on period instruments) and book about them, Bach, the Fencing Master, stand out among his work. He first appeared in Strings in 1988. In that article, he discusses his admiration for the music of Boccherini, and why that music suffers the most when played on a modern instrument. The article, “The First Impressionist,” has been made available from the archives. Bylsma did leave a rich discography demonstrating his passion for Boccherini, recording sonatas, concertos, quintets, and a number of other chamber works. Several of these recordings feature historically informed ensemble Tafelmusik.

For more on the life and legacy of Anner Bylsma, stay tuned for an upcoming story in the September/October issue of Strings.