For many years, Bach’s Cello Suites were viewed as nothing more than exercises for cello students. Then one day, a teenage cello prodigy discovered an old copy in a dusty music store and turned them into beloved pieces known worldwide. Today, they are viewed as the pinnacle of a cellist’s achievements.
This book is divided into six sections (one for each suite), and then each section is divided into six chapters (one for each movement within each suite). You’ll know I’m a geek when I say that that structure is one of the things I love most about this book. The first three chapters of each section are devoted to Johann Sebastian Bach, his family, and his trials as a composer and a musician. This biography is handled well, especially when discussing all his musician children of multiple names (it can get rather confusing). Although the biography spans Bach’s whole life, Siblin still keeps the focus on the Cello Suites and their possible origins.
The next two chapters of each section focus on Pablo Casals, the Catalonian cellist who made the Cello Suites famous, even turning them into a political statement. (In the wake of World War II, Casals wouldn’t perform in any country that recognized Franco’s regime in Spain.) Casals was truly a remarkable man and a phenomenal musician, as Siblin’s biography of him clearly shows.
The last chapter of each section follows Siblin’s journey into the world of classical music. He tries everything from attempting to learn the cello himself to attending concerts and workshops devoted to Bach’s works. His love for Bach’s beautiful music shows through on every page.
You don’t have to be a classical music lover to enjoy this book. You just have to be someone who enjoys a good story – and even more so when the story is true.
Below I’ve embedded two videos. The first is Pablo Casals playing the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite #1. This is probably the most familiar of all the movements in the six Cello Suites. If you want to listen to Casals playing all six suites, you can click here.