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On That Note: Grieving with Music

Wolfgang Gauch

Cellist Robert Cohen joins Lake Effect every month to talk about the life of a working professional musician in a segment called On That Note. Cohen, who is a member of the Milwaukee-based Fine Arts Quartet, plays at venues around the world, and often speaks with Lake Effect's Bonnie North about his travels. 

But for the last couple weeks, Bonnie has been out of town. Her mother died, suddenly, and she went to New Hampshire to be with her family and help her father. In honor of her mother's passing, Cohen dedicated an in-studio performance of Bach's Suite No. 1 in G Major to Bonnie. 

He chose to perform it in G major because he believes the key is more inspiring and heartening than others. "Every key has its character," Cohen explains. "And this is the great beauty of the Bach cello suites. He wrote six suites and each one is in a different key, and that key casts an extraordinary atmosphere on his creation."

Bach's Suite No. 1 in G Major is immediately familiar to audiences from its first movement, the prelude. While the second movement was initially intended to be seductive, Cohen admits the intent has morphed over the years, and he describes it as "beautiful, intimate." The piece finishes with a rustic dance movement, emblematic of all Bach's suites. 

Cohen says he is often asked to play solo Bach for funerals and other somber occasions, and he's always drawn toward keys like G major, which evoke a sense of hope. 

"Choosing the kind of key that is more uplifting rather than just kind of ramming in how sad everything is, it is enhancing, I feel, it is supportive," he says. "The music becomes healing in that way, rather than just wallowing in the darkness." 

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For 35 years one of the worlds leading cello soloist, Robert Cohen is an award-winning recording artist, conductor, artistic director and pedagogue who has been broadcast on TV and radio throughout the world. His passionate views on the art of learning, performing and communicating music have been widely published.