Friday, June 9, 2017

Books I'm Reading: The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece

Eric Siblin's The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece (Grove Press, 2009) was a birthday gift some years back. I should have picked it up sooner. It was a very entertaining read. As the title suggests, it's a look at what today are among Bach's most famous compositions, the suites for cello, through the lens of Pablo Casals's relationship with the music (he was their early champion in modern times) and through the author's research into that relationship and into the history of the original manuscript of the suites (which remains lost).

Despite their fame today, the suites were largely forgotten not too long after Bach wrote them, and when they were played, they were usually considered exercises rather than music to be performed on stage.

Much of the book is biography, sketching out details of the lives of J.S. Bach and Pablo Casals (the book looks at how a young Pablo Casals brought the cello suites new attention; Casals was largely responsible for establishing them as concert pieces)—but much is about the music itself, the chapters and the book laid out out in a pattern that mimics the structure of the suites. It's a bit frustrating that you can't hear the music as it's being discussed. This book could be very nicely adapted to the screen, becoming a mini-series with an episode devoted to each of the suites, the music in the soundtrack, but that's a quibble. Well written, well researched, and engagingly written. Highly recommended.


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