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The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  2,078 ratings  ·  220 reviews
One autumn evening, not long after ending a stint as pop music critic at the Montreal Gazette, Eric Siblin attended a recital of Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suites. There, something unlikely happened: he fell deeply in love with the music. So began an epic quest that would unravel three centuries of mystery, intrigue, history, politics, and passion.

Part biography, part m
Kindle Edition, 329 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by Grove Press (first published December 15th 2009)
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Start your review of The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece
Michael Finocchiaro
This is a highly readable and entertaining book about Bach's Cello Suites which covers Bach's biography, that of the epic Cellist Pablo Casals who re-discovered the suites (his fabled recording was my entry into the Bach world), and the author's own research and fascination with Bach and the Suites. Far less erudite (and most likely less factual as well) than the awesome Christoph Wolff biography, this one is a quick read and does feature some interesting anecdotes and gave me a new appreciation ...more
Apr 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, top-10-2010
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
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: boekwurms
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
Jan 28, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jan 10, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
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
Dec 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves music especially Bach
Recommended to Lisa by: Mookse and the Gripes, Trevor from Canada
Shelves: c21st, non-fiction
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 ...more
Andrew Howdle
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly, biographies of Bach are not numerous. But when Siblin began his writing on Bach, a major biography had just been undertaken - Christoph Woolf's John Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. In this book, Siblin takes a personal approach to Bach, one set of pieces - the six cello suites - and the cellists who performed them. In effect, the book becomes a double biography of Bach, the creator of the six suites (though a small number of academics think not), and Casals, the "geriatric su ...more
Robert Wechsler
This was not the preparation I was looking for before seeung Yo-Yo Ma play all six suites at Tanglewood. Like so much about the arts, it’s more about the story behind the art rather than the art itself. In this case, it is split between the composer and its first primary performer, Pablo Casals. The chapters that focus on Casals (spread throughout the book in the common keep-all-the-balls-in-the-air approach) are more interesting than the ones on Bach primarily because not much is known about Ba ...more
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A light biography of both Pablo Casals and J.S. Bach, vaguely centered around Bach's Cello suites. Siblin provides some explanation of the musical pieces themselves, but the vast majority of the book concerns itself with the life of these two figures. While it wasn't the book I hoped for (which would be a easily accessible jaunt through the musical theory that would explain why I love the Prelude for Suite 1), I enjoyed learning more about Bach and Casals and their political/social worlds.
Feb 04, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
4.5, rounding up.

Very readable, interesting, and altogether a pleasant surprise. Normally, I don't care for the constantly alternating story line or non-fiction where the writer inserts him/herself, but in the hands of a good writer, it works here. This book is really three different stories. The first is about Back, what little is known of his life and the writing or the cello suites. The second is the story of the Catalan cellist, Pablo Casals, who re-discovered the cello suites in a second-h
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 11, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was a skeptical when I picked-up The Cello Suites. Could someone from outside classical music—someone who admits to being barely able to read music—really write a book about the suites? Asking this question, I realize, is incredibly snobby, but before you write me off as part of ‘what’s wrong with classical music’, let me say that, yes, someone can, and he can do a very fine job.

I have been working on the suites for about twenty years, playing parts of them nearly every day since I was 11. T

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
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: borrowed, favorites
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 list
Camelia Rose
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very readable and entertaining, I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Eric Siblin.

The book contains 36 chapters, smartly organised using the 6 parts of the 6 cello suites as titles. I like classical music, love the Cello Suites (Yo-yo Ma's version is my favourite), but I knew nothing about Bach himself or Pablo Casals until I read this book. Life in Baroque Germany was fascinating. Bach likely was far more passionate, unlike the usual formidable image one might conjure from his almost mathematical
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music
Not really four stars. I really wish Goodreads did half-star ratings.

This was an enjoyable read. I appreciated Siblin's journey from pop music critic to lover of all things Bach. I also knew very little about Pablo Cassals, so all information on him was fascinating. However, his writing is often mediocre, repeating phrases, sometimes within a page or two of each other (i.e. Using the descripive phrase "oceanic polyphony" on one page and on the next "polyphonic ocean". Meh.). And by the end of th
Jul 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jeff Crompton
Jul 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I agree with my friend Paul's assessment of this book. It's enjoyable and informative, but doesn't go very deep. That makes sense - it's obviously written for a general audience, rather than for hard-core music obsessives. In any case, I'm glad I read it, and recommend it to anyone else who loves Bach's Cello Suites, which are some of the most sublime musical creations in history.
Tammy Mannarino
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't sure that I was smart enough or knew enough about music to read this book. Eric Siblin's structure made it an easy and engaging read. He separates the book into 6 sections (mirroring the 6 suites) and subdivides each section into chapters or movements about Bach, Cassals, and his own journey. This shifting of stories kept me from being overwhelmed with detail in any area. Well done!
Nov 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bach fans
A lovely interweaving of three narrative strands: biographical passages of Johann Sebastian Bach, biographical passages of Pablo Casals, and the author's discovery of classical music, Bach's music, and more specifically Bach's six suites for solo violoncello.
Ruth Bonetti
With so much respect and enjoyment from the Bach Cello Suites and Pablo Casals, I expected to like this book more. But I found it dry, if worthy, and often became bogged down in it.
Sep 30, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Veronica by: freespiral
Shelves: non-fiction
Don't pick this book up expecting profound insights or detailed musicology -- you will inevitably be disappointed. The author is a former pop music journalist and he admits upfront that he's not that knowledgeable about music (he can't even read music for heaven's sake! Although he does play the guitar). He happened upon the Bach cello suites ate a concert in Montreal that he went to on the spur of the moment, and was fascinated.

The cello suites are by no means the best-known or most popular of
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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 docume ...more

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47 likes · 11 comments
“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!” 14 likes
“It [Bach's cello suites] is like a great diamond," said [Mischa] Maisky in a thick Russian accent, "with so many different cuts that reflect light in so many different ways.” 5 likes
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