For the first time, star guitarist Thibault Cauvin is playing Bach for us. A Bach that he wanted to be obvious and simple, and it’s magnificent. Before the concert event on March 8 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, which marks his twenty-year career, he told us about the genesis of his latest album.
The album is called Bach, quite simply. For the first time, the French classical guitarist Thibault Cauvin tackles a composer who has long frightened him. By playing Bach, the musician overflowing with energy, who spends his life running around the world, wanted to express a new feeling for him, serenity. This music, he wanted it universal and accessible, wishing to offer it to everyone. Elaborate and simple at the same time, clear and without effects, under his fingers the music seems to flow naturally.
It’s on the famous Toccata and Fugue in D minor BWV 565 that opens the disc released by Sony Classical. The notes resonate, pure and powerful. This majestic piece was composed for organ. To listen to it played by Thibault Cauvin, it seems however that it was written for the guitar.
La Chaconne, “an ocean within the ocean”
Thibault Cauvin describes himself as hyperactive. At 20, he had won 36 international prizes including 13 first prizes. For more than 15 years, he travels the world from New York to Shanghai, offering a thousand solo concerts in 120 countries, recording a dozen albums. And then, recently, he discovers a new feeling, serenity. “For some time now I have been discovering with happiness and delight the beginnings of this feeling.” When he makes a record, it’s not a particular music that guides him, he says, “it’s a feeling, a dream, a story that I want to tell. Then, I find the music that serves this state”. There he has “I wanted to make a record that reflects this new feeling, that invites peace, gentleness and serenity”. “And Bach’s music imposed itself on me”he said.
“I’ve been playing Bach since I was little but it was never by choice, it was always for exams at the conservatory. It was a monument, I felt very small.” For Thibault Cauvin, Bach is like the ocean on which he loves to surf so much: it fascinates and scares at the same time.. “It’s extraordinary, you feel like you’re going on a solo transatlantic. You know you’re going to live some great times but you’re still a little scared.”
He therefore decides to play Bach, without knowing which works precisely. “The second thing that stood out to me was the Chaconne, this 15-minute piece that is like the ocean in the ocean. It is so grandiose that it is often isolated”, of the rest of Partita 1 for violin, he remarks. It is therefore the set of five movements that he offers us. It is around her that he built the record. Forty minutes of happiness, where Bach seems to take us always further, on unexpected paths.
Play Bach to lose track of time
When he plunged back into this music, Thibault Cauvin lost his mind, losing track of time, forgetting the appointments. “It’s magic, it gave me effects that I had never experienced before.”
“There is a very intellectual, scholarly and brilliant side to this music, but there is also a very simple and universal side, like a sunset”, he believes. “And whoever you are, wherever you are, if you sit down, turn off your cell phone and give yourself ten minutes to watch, you’re amazed.” For him, Bach’s music is the same thing. He wanted to offer it to everyone, he hopes to reach everyone: “A great lifelong fan who knows the scores by heart, a 17-year-old girl who loves punk or one of my surfer buddies… I think listening to Bach’s music brings tears to anyone’s eyes.”
“Even me, I’m a rocker’s son at first and when I was little, I told myself that Bach was not for me. But in fact it’s for guys from the cities, it’s for skateboarders , farmers, bankers, architects, it’s for everyone.”
Day and night in a small chapel in the Dordogne
These scores, of course, Bach didn’t write them for the guitar, they had to be rearranged and Thibault Cauvin did it himself. It is the simplicity that the virtuoso we know sought. “When I was 20, I wanted to impress. And now it’s the complete opposite. I didn’t want people to think at any time that it looks hard. I wanted people to forget about the guitar. I wanted it to sound super fluid. When I took over this piece for violin, I wanted it to sound natural on the guitar. Of course it’s not easy but I didn’t want it to be heard. So I I didn’t hesitate to change things, to remove a little note that you don’t really hear and that makes you lose more than you win. And then very often, there are movements that are played very quickly. I don’t I didn’t feel like that. There are quick passages of course, but I preferred not to play too fast.”
The result is that, indeed, the music seems to flow naturally, it’s clear and ample. “And also something very important, I didn’t want to play hard”says Thibault Cauvin. “In concert, I pick up people a bit like a rocker, I put all my energy into it. There I wanted a welcoming and soft sound. Like a grandmother telling a story. I recorded with headphones, and I put the sound very loud, to try to play as one whispers in the ear.”
The recording, he did it in the Dordogne, near the place where he spent his holidays as a little boy, at his grandmother’s precisely. For “rediscover the wisdom of childhood, when you walk in a field and don’t ask yourself questions”. A friend showed him a very small chapel, in a small village. He started playing it and the sound won him over. He returned there a few weeks later to record. “I played Bach day and night for a week in this chapel, again losing track of time. With Cécile Lenoir, the director of the record, who made a sumptuous sound, who guided me. It was fabulous, we were playing by candlelight at three in the morning. I will remember this recording all my life. There were 14 microphones. That’s what I like, a mixture between the craftsmanship, the magic side of this sound sumptuous created we don’t really know by what, by the century-old stone, the wood of the chairs. And these 14 ultramodern microphones.”
Classical guitarist, Thibault Cauvin always has an ear turned towards contemporary music, which rocked him throughout his childhood. His father Philippe Cauvin, who put a guitar in his hands when he was very young, is a “rocker”. He has collaborated with many artists, from Erik Truffaz to Matthieu Chedid, in his disc Cities II (Sony Music, 2018), he covered film music in his penultimate album (MoviesSony Music, 2021): “I always claim to be a thirty-something today”, he said.
So, in this album dedicated to Bach, “I couldn’t help but be caught by myself”, he laughs. He wanted to include a more current parenthesis, because he thinks “the golden age of the guitar is today”. For him, “Luthiers and performers have never been so good, composers have never been so nourished by the eclecticism of our instrument”. So he asked his brother Jordan Cauvin to “recompose” three preludes by Bach.
“I work a lot with my brother, I love it, we are in total osmosis.” But he categorically refused the project. “It’s absolutely impossible, we don’t recompose Bach’s music”, he retorted, hanging up on him when he insisted. After a new attempt, Thibault Cauvin had no further news. “And then two months later, he sends me three scores that I find really sublime. Usually there is a game of ping-pong between us. But there it was perfect, I did not change a note. “
The three partitions renamed Bach differently are inspired by well-known, not to say popular, pieces, the first (BWV 846) and the tenth (BWV 855a) preludes of the Well Tempered Harpsichord, and the prelude to the first cello suite (BWV 1007). On one piece, the harmony is preserved with a different rhythmic atmosphere, on another, a song has been added… A priori, we could have doubts. And it works very well. This confirms the universality of Bach, which can be appropriated ad infinitum.
“Besides, it’s not difficult to play”says Thibault Cauvin, who thinks of passionate amateur guitarists for whom they are, according to him, accessible: “It’s beautiful and it’s fun to play”, he rejoices, while Bach is reputed to be difficult to play on the guitar.
In concert at the Châtelet on March 8, at the Champs-Elysées studio in December
To celebrate his twenty years of career –”my twenty years of walking”-, he prefers to say, Thibault Cauvin is at the Théâtre du Châtelet on March 8, for an exceptional concert that he produced himself. A “dream of a lifetime” which comes true, for the “little guy from the suburbs of Bordeaux”, as he describes himself, always amazed by Paris. On the program, he will play Bach before taking us on a journey to various music that matters to him. On stage he will have the visit of electric guitarist Yarol Poupaud, trumpeter Lucienne Renaudin Vary, dancer Olivia Lindon, and then other surprise guests. “My dream is that this evening marks, that we all remember it.” At the time these lines are written, it is almost complete, there are only a few places with reduced visibility.
Thibault Cauvin, “BACH”, Sony Music.
Thibault Cauvin will be at the Studio des Champs-Elysées to play Bach (Thibault Cauvin, intimate Bach) with a series of concerts on Tuesday December 5, 12 and 19.
Then also March 11 in Chamalières, 26 in Verdun, 28 in Limoges, 29 in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, 30 in La Garde, 31 in Berre-l’Etang.