It's delightful that Eric Siblin discovered Bach, and like converts in so many fields, became obsessed. He took his new obsession to journalistic heights and depths, spending about ten years putting this story together. He has done a very entertaining job, weaving the stories of Bach and Casals through the structure of the six cello suites. A unique approach that is refreshingly different.
I have some quibbles, like when he describes how Bach died without a will on one page, but then goes on to describe how Bach bequeathed specific instruments and manuscripts to specific sons he favored. Well, which is it? Did Bach die intestate, or did he leave a highly detailed will? Or how Bach never went to Italy, which limited his renown in his time. It is my understanding that Bach made at least three trips to Italy, and all of them to see what Antonio Vivaldi was up to. Bach lifted liberally from Vivaldi, and sometimes even credited Vivaldi in pieces directly adapted and dedicated to him. Siblin mentions the lack of any Italy forage twice, which is something he does a lot - mentioning things twice, as if his gentle readers could not be expected to remember the last time he brought it up. So the book is not perfect (and a couple of typos don't help, which is surprising for a book that was published in Canada a year ago), but these are, I repeat myself, quibbles. It's a delightful read.
Another quibble, perhaps, is Siblin's website. What a perfect place to put clips of the themes he tries to describe. Words have never lived up to the effect of actual music, and today we have the technology to make it happen. Notes, chords, bars and melodies fairly scream to be demonstrated online, with references back to their pages in the book. Instead, Siblin has embedded Youtube videos of bizarrely unusual Bach cello performances but not including any of Pablo Casals, the worthy subject of numerous Youtube clips, not to mention this book. I don't get it, and Siblin's readers are left behind.
One thing Siblin regrets is that events he goes to are attended by a lot of white haired Caucasians plus a few students. It does not portend good things for classical music. He complains about the mandatory silence during the performance and the protocol against applause until the end. I can only say that he would have written another whole book had he seen Virgil Fox. Fox, the Riverside Church (NYC) organist, took Bach on tour in a concert series called Bach Live - Heavy Organ. He used strobe lights, giant screens and smoke to enhance the effects, and audiences responded with wild applause, including clapping to the beat during the pieces, calling out to him from their seats, and in every performance I saw, climbing onto the stage to dance the Gigue fugue. He recorded LPs live at the Fillmore and the Winter Garden, and appealed directly to a whole new demographic.
That's the secret of Bach - he appeals to different people for different reasons with different results - but he always appeals.