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The Cello Suites

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,549 Ratings  ·  187 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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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
Tony
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
...more
David
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
...more
Elsje
Feb 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2011
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
...more
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
...more
Lisa
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 http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/201...
Carl
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
Jeffrey
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
Darcy
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
...more
Lucy Silbaugh
Jun 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Ellen
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
...more
Gerald Sinstadt
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Jeff
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
Nancy
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
...more
Genni
Oct 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Adri
Jul 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
Lghamilton
Apr 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Shana
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.
Simone
Jan 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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.
Spiros
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
Oct 22, 2016 rated it liked it
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.
David
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cello-books
"Confusion and fear have invaded the whole world. Misunderstood nationalism, fanaticism, political dogmas, and lack of liberty and justice are feeding mistrust and hostility that make the collective danger greater every day, yet the desire for peace is felt by every human being." - Pau Casals

A decent dual biography of J.S. Bach and Pau Casals, but splitting the chapters to parallel the structure of the Bach Cello Suites feels very forced. There are lots of interesting facts and tidbits, and not
...more
Megan Titensor
Oct 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a cello nerd, I was resisting the indulgence of reading a book about a topic I'm already intimately familiar with, but once I gave in, I was overcome by how much I LOVED the book. Siblin weaves the tales of Bach's life with the story of the great cellist, Pablo Casals. He makes strong opinions about the controversy between Baroque purists and appealing to modern day listeners. His writing flows and easily captures the interest of anyone who has ever fallen in love with the Bach Cello Suites.
Catherine
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting book that weaves together the stories of JS Bach, Pablo Casals and the musical journey of the author himself. Inspired me to listen to all of the preludes of the 6 Cello Suites for the first time! Especially liked the historical and political details of 1700s Germany, as well as the turbulent times that the legendary Casals lived through, which likely contributed to how he interpreted the Cello Suites.

Really enjoyed this.
Charlotte
May 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ein schön zu lesendes, interessantes Buch. Allerdings scheint die Übersetzerin nicht viel von Musik zu verstehen. Messe in b-moll, Cellos... Die Spekulationen zu jüdischem Musikgehalt in der vierten Suite kann ich nicht nachvollziehen.
Albert
Mar 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Enlightening, but not riveting.
LeRon Harrison
Aug 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Charles Johnson
Oct 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Cello Suites
By Eric Siblin
Published by Grove Press
270 pages

Bach and his music. Boring? Pablo Casals, that old Spanish cello player. Boring? Combine the two in one book? Boring squared? Not at all. This fine study it totally interesting and innovative in many ways.

Eric Siblin has penned a truly interesting and well researched book about these two musical men and their connection through a set of six pieces written for the cello. Siblin, who has made a name for himself by reviewing rock music,
...more
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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
More about Eric Siblin...
“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
“(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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