The Cello Suites

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

By Nancy Hausner Golberg

A review of The Cello Suites: J.s. Bach, Pablo Casals, And The Search For A Baroque Masterpiece by Eric Siblin

Published on April 20, 2009

The Cello Suites: J.s. Bach, Pablo Casals, And The Search For A Baroque Masterpiece
Eric Siblin

House of Anansi
$$29.95
paper
320pp
978-0-88784-222-1

Siblin begins “amazingly, for a long time,” the Cello Suites were seen as only a collection of exercises. But since Casals had started playing the suites at the dawn of the twentieth century,

 

“we now know how lucky we are to possess these extraordinary masterpieces. What most music-lovers don’t know, however, is that no known composer’s manuscript of these works exists. […] There exists no truly reliable source for the suites.” This got the journalistic wheels in my head turning: what had happened to Bach’s manuscript?

 

Cello Suites is the result of these turning wheels. Eric Siblin takes the reader on a journey of discovery through several countries and over several centuries. Organized into chapters and sections with titles from Johann Sebastian Bach’s six Cello Suites, it gradually reveals the author’s search for facts about the lives and times of Bach and Pablo Casals and about the Suites themselves. It was, of course, Casals who brought the Suites to twentieth-century audiences, and through Casal’s playing of the Suites, Siblin reveals much of the politics of Catalonia and Europe of the time.

Siblin provides a fascinating parallel story of the development of this music and its performance in the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Describing his quest for knowledge about this pivotal music in the history of the violoncello, Siblin captures the reader’s interest with a host of well-researched information. We travel with him from Montreal through Spain, Belgium, and other parts of Europe as he traces the histories of both J.S. Bach and Casals.

On the way, the reader learns much about music, history, and the author’s own search for excellence. As well as bibliography and index, Siblin includes “Suggested Listening,” with information about recordings of the Cello Suites. As the author states

The story distilled from the Cello Suites will change radically over time, as more material comes to light about the many mysteries of Bach and as new takes on the music are created. Musically, the future success of the Cello Suites hinges on their survival skills. And if the past is any indication, the odds are heavily in their favour; endurance and timeless relevance are woven into the very fabric of the music.

The Cello Suites is a satisfying and sustaining read. Highly recommended for music fans and lay people alike. mRb

Nancy Hausner Golberg studied music at McGill University and at the Conservatoire de musique de Québec à Montréal. She has been teaching music, primarily piano, for over 40 years.

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