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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
The Cello Suites: In Search of a Baroque Masterpiece
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on 29 May 2017
A thoroughly enjoyable book. Split into a section for each part of the six suites suite, it entwines the three stories of Bach's creation of the suites, Pablo Casal's discovery of the manuscript in Barcelona and the author's introduction to, and fascination with, Bach's famous cello suites. I grew up listening enviously to my brother playing extracts from these and the recordings by Paul Tortelier. After 40 years, they are still as engaging but the book brings a new perspective.
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on 5 May 2014
Eric Siblin, once a Pop music reviewer, has written a masterly account of Bach's cello suites by weaving together three biographical histories: that of his own discovery of the cello suites, that of Casal's discovery of the suites, and that of Bach's life and work. This gives an enriching insight into these endlessly rewarding pieces and their seemingly infinite possibilities of interpretation and performance.
The book testifies to the universality of J.S. Bach's music: Siblin's starting point was not only outside the classical music tradition, but also not a predominantly Christian one. Moreover, J. S. Bach's great solo instrumental pieces, like the pieces for 'Well Tempered Clavier' and the solo violin suites, were written in a more secular context than later in his career, when an ecclesiastical position required the composition of oratorios. For his religious pieces Bach wrote music with equal individuality, and was not above recycling musical ideas from secular to religious contexts.

It's a book with a wide appeal, but Siblin's accessible manner does not mean this isn't a well researched and erudite book.
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on 18 October 2017
A fascinating book, weaving together the story of Bach's career with that of Casals, early 20th century cellist who brought the cello suites back to public attention through his superb playing. The background of Casals' homeland, Catalonia and Sapin's struggle with the dictatorship of Franco, makes a multi-layered story more relevant to today. I struggled with some of the musical terms; nevertheless I recommend this book to lovers of Bach, history and passion for musical excellence.
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on 24 May 2017
Original and entertaining look at Pablo Casals and J.S. Bach, with some attention to the times they lived in. What i particularly liked, is the open minded, insuisitive, inclusive attitude of Mr. Siblin
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VINE VOICEon 3 July 2011
Too little has been written on Bach the man. Although I listen to his music probably every day I feel I know him much less intimately than Mozart. This book does much to put meat on the dry bones of history. Eric Siblin fell in love with the cello suites having become, it seems, rather jaded with the pop music he had been writing about for years. He is not the first to do that, but the author followed with a journalistic investigation of their origin, disappearance, rediscovery, their long exploration by Pablo Casals and their journey through the modern world. The result is an entertaining and informative read that I will return to, possibly through life. Music that will never die, the cello suites constantly refresh and this book is a fine accompaniment.
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on 2 September 2012
This is the story of the discovery of the Bach Cello Suites, two hundred years after he wrote them, by the great Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals. It is a fascinating story told with great enthusiasm.
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on 30 September 2013
I bought the book a couple of years ago, and read it with delight. I had known the cello suites for many years, having heard some of them on the old BBC Third Programme. I bought myself an LP of the cello suites and wore it grey. I now own CDs by three different cellists, and never tire of playing one or other of them. A couple of evenings ago, I had the chance to hear a live performance of two of the suites in a small chapel. The cellist introduced the two suites he played, telling us how he had begun to study them from the age of about 12. As a professional musician and a cellist he confirmed what extraordinary musical creations these cello suites are. So I know that it is not just me, or Eric Siblin, the author of this book.

I was delighted to find that the book was as good as the cello suites in sustaining the reader's interest and fascination. And, for me, the author is ideally suited to his subject, because he came to it "from the outside" - he is not a cellist, a professional classical musician, a music academic or critic; he is someone with very good musical knowledge who wants to share with you his discovery of this amazing music. And he does it very, very well.

I lent me copy of the book to a friend, and it has not come back to me. But I feel the need to read it again - or at least dip into it. So now I am buying the Kindle edition - it is harder to lose track of a Kindle book than the wandering paperback!
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on 1 December 2013
If you want to read about the history of a wonderful set of cello pieces, this is a must. It sounds dull, but it is one of the most fascinating books I have read, charting the way in which Bach wrote this and other pieces, his successes and his worries, and then moves to the way Pablo Casals made this music his own. It covers how Casals' life was turned upside down by the Civil War in Spain and how he became famous throughout the world. The author's story is also in the book, and how he was tempted and intrigued by the Cello Suites to take up the cello and how he faired with it. I have read it twice, and given it to my friends, who also love it.
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VINE VOICEon 1 September 2015
This is a delightful book and not what one might expect from its title. I must confess that, as I picked up the book, I braced myself for a solemn read and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not just immensely informative but interesting and charming too. The book is beautifully written, meticulously researched and packed with perceptive observations about the six Bach cello suites.

Although Siblin took a few cello lessons in the course of writing this book, it is astonishing that he is not a cello player. He is, indeed, a pop journalist who happened to fall in love with the six suites. It is now scarcely believable that the cello suites were for two centuries regarded as mere études and not suitable for performance. It was Pablo Casals who made them famous only a century ago after he had come across the score in a second-hand shop as a 13-year old out with his Dad for the day in Barcelona. As Casals himself has put it, "these suites seem to shine with the most glittering kind of poetry".

Siblin isn't much concerned with technical aspects of the suites but offers instead a good deal of autobiographical detail about how he went about finding out about them, and he combines this with fascinating, if somewhat unstructured, discussions of themes loosely - often very loosely - related to each of the suites. These themes include the life, work and frustrations of J S Bach; his musical sons; and the roles played by Felix Mendelssohn and Pablo Casals in putting Bach on the map. Casals' extraordinary life, in particular his courageous stand against the Franco regime in Spain, is dealt with at considerable length.

This is an elegant and absorbing book in which Eric Siblin's deep love of the six cello suites comes across strongly. In reading it, I found that my own love of the suites was also deepened. That was not what I expected either.
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on 5 April 2010
Eric Siblin starts this book with his Pauline conversion to the music, after many years as rock critic for a newspaper. For a self-confessed neophyte in this elaborate world, he seems remarkably sure about the quality of his own insight thereafter.

It starts when he describes a visit to a recital, where he speaks disparagingly of the way classical music events are staged and presented. Mainly they appear to be too stuffy and lacking in sparkle. This rings a little hollow to me as a refugee from rock concerts, where the marshals treat the paying guests like lepers, the band always arrive hours after advertised, the sound is engineered without care for the paying customers, etc etc. Does he not consider that a different type of attending is taking place?

Later he dismisses the whole of the historically-informed performance movement, describing it as musical "fascisim". He parrots the old chestnuts about dry, scholarly performances without soul. With his vast several weeks of experience in this music he knows where its heart lies, and sees fit to dismiss in one line the efforts of many studious, well-trained musicians who have thought long and hard about their approach to it. There are long and complex arguments to be made both for and against historically-informed performance, but Siblin engages with none of these and dismisses it all with one wave of his pen.

I didn't get any further in the book, I'm afraid. There were good things in it, but I had lost patience with the too-familiar cocksure voice of a journalist who knows all about a subject and its moral core after a few months' study.
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