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The Cello Suites

3.96 of 5 stars 3.96  ·  rating details  ·  1,096 ratings  ·  151 reviews
One autumn evening, shortly after ending a ten-year stint as a pop-music columnist for the Montreal Gazette, Eric Siblin attended a concert at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music. There, something unlikely happened: he fell in love with a piece of classical music -- Bach's cello suites. Part biography, part music history, and part literary mystery, The Cello Suites weave ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 22nd 2009 by House of Anansi Press (first published December 15th 2008)
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Bach's Suites for Unaccompanied Cello have long been among my favorite pieces of music. Eric Silbin's The Cello Suites tenderly tracks them through Bach's creation, their 'discovery' by Pablo Casals and to the author's own exploration of the music and himself.

I really liked this book. Learned a lot, to be sure, about Bach, Casals and these wonderful notes. I found myself boring friends and family about implied harmony.

The book is structured in six chapters (the suites) of six sub-chapters (the
Patrick Gibson
This is a wonderful book. Not definitive in any way -- but pleasurable as a good guilty read.

Bach's Cello Suites are perhaps the most intriguing pieces of music ever written. Largely forgotten for almost two centuries—incredibly found by the man who would become the world's greatest cellist.
Eric Siblin, a former pop music critic has written a great book about the suites and their mysterious history. It's also a mini-biography of Bach and Pablo Casals, the cellist who discovered them at the age o
Jim Coughenour
Ever since I heard Anner Bylsma's austere interpretation of Bach's 6 Suites for Cello back in the 80s, I've had a deep affection for this music. I just checked my iTunes library: I currently have 10 different versions of the complete set for cello, plus one performed on guitar and another on viola da gamba. Ironically, I don't have the set by Pablo Casals, the engaging hero of Siblin's short account of this "almost-lost" composition.

I'm not sure what I expected from this book. It's the work of a
Bach's Cello Suites are sublime; this book is not. It’s not a bad book by any means and I’m glad I read it. It tells the life stories of Bach and Casals in relation to the cello suites, along with the story of the author's discovery of the suites and subsequent research into them. There are six suites each made up of six movements so Siblin structured his book into six parts of six chapters, each with the title of a suite and a movement, an overly cute device in my book. As for the subject matte ...more
Eric Siblin, journalist en in die hoedanigheid schrijver van recensies van popconcerten, raakt in het jaar 2000 (het 250e sterfjaar van Bach) min of meer toevallig verzeild bij een concert waarin de Cellosuites van Bach worden uitgevoerd. Hij is diep onder de indruk van deze muziek en besluit er een boek over te schrijven.

Bach schreef de zes suites waarschijnlijk rond 1725. Intrigerend is dat de muziek eeuwenlang verloren leek, tot een jonge Catalaanse cellist in 1890 er bij toeval op stuitte. D
I first got excited about the cello suites about a year ago when I found a recording by Yo Yo Ma at the library. I probably wouldn't have given this book a serious look except the praise for it from Simon Winchester printed on the front of the dust jacket. This book tells the story of the rediscovery of the suites in a second hand music store by Pablo Casals in the early 20th century and how he revolutionized the role of the cello with his world famous performances of it. (He practiced it for 12 ...more
Apr 30, 2011 Lisa rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves music especially Bach
Recommended to Lisa by: Mookse and the Gripes, Trevor from Canada
Whether you like classical music or not, check out the links to other enthusiastic reviews on my blog and I'm sure you'll rush out and buy the book and music too. See
Siblin’s passion for the Cello Suites mirrors my own. He has several beautiful descriptions of the suites. Though my favorite is actually a quote from the cellist Mischa Maisky, who compares the suites to a diamond “with so many different cuts that reflect light in so many different ways.”

Readers should be aware that Siblin does not have any special credentials or authority when it comes to Bach or classical music. This doesn’t discredit his writing, but it’s important to know what you’re getti
Lucy Silbaugh
This is an incredibly interesting read...*especially* for music nerds, though it's very clear, so I think anyone can enjoy it. It's not fiction, more of a research book (for example, there's very little dialogue) but not boring in the least. Probably my favorite part is that he's split the book into short chunks, usually only a few pages, structured in the form of the suites themselves. Each "suite" -- equivalent to a "part" in fiction -- contains six movements (chapters): a Prelude, an Allemand ...more
As a cellist who has spent some 27 years grappling with parts (and only some parts and that!) of these pieces, I was interested to see what Siblin had to say about them. I had long been aware of Casals's crucial role in re-discovering them as masterworks, not mere exercises or technical oddities and I even had some sense of the man's fierce political convictions. I had far less understanding of the life that Bach led and what impact that might have had on the creation of the Suites as well as th ...more
Despite the fact that I'm a huge dork and listen to a lot of classical music, I really didn't know too much about Bach. I mean, I've played a couple of his sonatas for flute, and heard that Kids' Classical Hour show about him on NPR way back in the day, but not much more. So this was a fun way to get to know him a little better through the lens of his now famous Cello Suites.

Siblin also writes quite a bit about the political climate during Bach's time, as well as in 20th century Europe (especial
Gerald Sinstadt
Eric Siblin, a relapsed pop music writer, stumbles upon a performance of three of Bach's Cello Suites, is hooked and embarks upon a voyage of discovery. That investigation is one thread of a cleverly-constructed book.

A second thread provides a truncated biography of Johann Sebastian and his family. This includes speculation that the fifth suite may have been written for a strange instrument like a cello but with a fifth string.

The third thread is a truncated biography of Pablo Casals, the greate
I wanted to like this book a lot more than I was able to. The idea of dividing the book into suites and movements just seemed gimmicky to me, and Siblin gives lots of attention to things that have very little to do with the cello suites (e.g., a chapter on the young Casals' love life). Siblin's account tends to be pretty superficial, focusing on dramatic events and ignoring less splashy but more important aspects of his subjects' lives, especially in the case of Bach (e.g., a couple of pages on ...more
This is a dazzling piece of writing! Though I love Baroque music and know some about Johann Sebastian Bach and a small bit about Pablo Casals, I didn't know where to begin with this book that's been on my "to read" shelf for many, many months. Doesn't it just have the most aesthetically pleasing cover?!

And so I obtained a recording of Pablo Casals playing Bach's Cello Suites (from 1936 & 1939!) and listened to the whole thing before I'd allow myself to begin reading. And then I found myself
Such a delightful book. Beautifully written. As I said before: if you are a lover of classical music then please read this. It becomes even more relevant and gripping if you are a lover of cello music.

I discovered the Bach Cello Suites about 20 years ago and I loved and admired them ever since. Never having been a great lover of Bach's music this was a big surprise. This book gives such a valuable insight into Bach's life, the background to each of the six suites, to Pablo Casals and his discov
It's four stories in one: Bach biography; Pablo Casals biography (and history lesson redarding WW II and Spain and Franco); detective story regarding the Cello Suites; and little bit of the author's musical journey. I play the cello (although not very well!) and have Casal's version of the cello suites on my ipod, and listened to it while reading the book - awesome experience. I plan to seek out other recordings now, particulary one that features the 5-stringed instrument that the 6th suite was ...more
I'm not very knowledgable on the history of classical music and certainly not the personalities involved. I found this an interesting bit of insight into two periods of history and the music and people that connected them. The writing flowed well enough but I did wonder a few times why the story did wander a bit. Overall, only read it if you're really looking to delve into the personalities and the music in some depth. I Do recommend, but for a select audience.
I love the Bach Cello Suites. I was thrilled to see this book -- an entire book about a work of music? Siblin did a wonderful job integrating the history of Bach, Pablo Casals, and Siblin's own journey of discovery. I was familiar with Bach's history, but enjoyed learning more. I was not as familiar with Casals's story, so that was fascinating. I read much of the book with my copy of the Suites, trying to follow along, or listening to Rostopovich's recording.
Marc Masurovsky
It was a nostalgic read for me since I did play the cello and the last major pieces that I played were Bach's Suites 1-2-3.

I found it highly informative and regaled the details of Pablo Casals' adventures and mishaps as well as the life story of JS Bach, his two wives, his troubled experiences from one aristocratic sponsor to another, his prolific output and outsized ego.

An especially satisfying read if you "know" something about the cello and cello music.
Otherwise, a carefully spun story of Bac
Solid 3.5 stars.

Great narrator. As someone who only has an appreciation rather than an understanding of music, I thought this was written at a perfect pitch. Creative chapter structure worked very well (bridging Bach's time in the 1700s to Pablo Casals who happened upon a copy of the piece in Spain as a child and inspired his musical gifts as one of the 20th century's most renowned cellists). Learning about Pablo Casals who "reinvented the cello" according to the author, was an unexpected bonus
Aug 27, 2011 Julia rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: musical people
I actually have no idea why I bought this book. I heard about it on a tv show [or I thought I did] and grabbed it off the shelf in haste without really reading the back of it. So, how surprized do you think I was when I reached for a nice fiction filler and was thrown into the 1700s to learn about the life and discovery of JS Bach? The thing about it is, after reading the lengthy biography of the unknown Francis Galton, I wasn't ready to read another lengthy biography about another man that did ...more
Timothy Hallinan
Attending a concert in Boston, former rock critic Eric Siblin fell under the spell of one of Bach's six suites for solo cello. Reading the program notes, he learned that the Suites had been thought of as practice pieces until Pablo Casals rescued them from obscurity and made them the keynote of his long, glorious career. (And the musical center of his life -- he played from the Suites every day he was well enough to hold the cello.

The Suites are mysterious pieces: no manuscript by Bach exists (t
Al Bità
A rock music critic hears Bach's Cello Suites and is so fascinated by the work that he goes on a quest to find out as much as he can about it. That is the premise of this strange, rather beautiful book; and the formal conceit used by the author is to report on this search by structuring the work just like the suites themselves: six suites with six sections each.

In general, the first three parts of each section is dedicated to a relevant biography of J S Bach and with possible arguments for the c
LeRon Harrison
I first encountered the Cello Suite upon stumbling onto Yo-Yo Ma's Inspired by Bach series of films on PBS while I was grad student at Indiana. I happened to catch the end of Struggle for Hope, the filmed collaboration between Yo-Yo and Bando Tamasaburo for the Fifth Suite and saw Six Gestures, the collaboration with Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean for the Sixth. These films got me interested. It wouldn't be til I returned to LA that I would see all six films and really enjoy what Yo-Yo did ov ...more
A delicious smorgasbord of stories linked by the glorious Cello Suites: the life of their composer J. S. Bach, the life of their resurrector, Pablo Casals, and the quest of the author, Eric Siblin. An easy read, but filled with fascinating details. Particularly interesting is the emphasis on the link between politics and art in the life of the composer and the cellist, strangely absent in the narrative of the author himself. Would it be because he lives in a much freer time, where an artist, lik ...more
Maryan Heffernan
This is a captivating literary journey of J.S. Bach's six cello suites composed in the 1700's. Eric Siblin, a former pop music critic, has a refreshing gift in making this historical music study eminently readable.
Siblin weaves three movements of his concert together, firstly the circumstances in which Bach composed the suites and what happened to the original manuscript. Secondly on Pablo Caslas , one of the world's greatest cellists, who resurrected these suites and with great reverence was th
Cliff Dolph
My son's cello teacher (and the orchestra director where I teach) urged me to read this book, and I'm not sorry I did. I purchased Rostropovitch's recording of the cello suites (not, interestingly enough, one of the recordings Siblin recommends) a year or two ago, and I often listened to one of the suites while reading this book. The combination was quite enjoyable.

As an amateur organist, I've been a Bach fan for 30-plus years, but I never knew very much about his life. Siblin's book weaves a fa
I had high expectations for this book, and having read it I can say they were barely met.

Siblin, formerly a "critic" of Rock music for a Canadian newspapers, discovered the Cello Suites by Bach and set out to write an account of how Pablo Casals brought them to the concert stage. The book has alternating parts: a biography of Bach and a biography of Casals.

He neatly summarized tomes of earlier scholarship and then proceeded to spoil the overall effect with his personal journalistic accounts of p
An outstanding book, good on many levels. The author who is a pop music critic goes to a Cello recital and hears a performance of one of the Bach Cello Suites for solo Cello. He is moved by the music and begins to look into the music of Bach, specifically the solo cello suites.

I learned a very diverse number of things from reading the book. It was Pablo Casals who brought the suites to light by performing them publicly. They remained a staple of his repertoire throughout his life. Even in his 8
Some years ago rock critic Siblin attends a U2 show in Canada and is put off by all the spectacle. Looking for a pure musical experience, he stumbles on Bach's six Cello Suites. Learning they are of uncertain provenance (no score exists in Bach's hand), he searches for the work's origins and uncovers the connection between Bach and the Catalan cellist Pablo Casals, who popularized the Cello Suites after discovering a score in a Barcelona music shop in 1890.

From this modest premise a gripping ta
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Eric Siblin is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker, and was the pop music critic at the Montreal Gazette. He made the transition to television in 2002 with the documentary Word Slingers, which explores the wacky subculture of competitive Scrabble tournaments. The film aired in Canada and the U.S., and won a Jury Award at the Yorkton Short Film & Video Festival. He also co-directed the do ...more
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“How could anybody think of Bach as 'cold' when these [cello] suites seem to shine with the most glittering kind of poetry," Casals said. "As I got on with the study I discovered a new world of space and beauty... the feelings I experienced were among the purest and most intense in my artistic life!” 8 likes
“(regarding the prelude from suite two)... The key is minor, the three notes a tragic triad. The tones move closer and closer to a harrowing vision, weaving spiter-like, relentlessly gathering sound into thighter concentric circle that come to an abrupt stop. Nothing fills the empty space. A tiny prayer is uttered.” 5 likes
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