I picked The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin in a local bookstore just weeks after an extensive online search for a version of Bach’s magnificent suites that didn’t drive me up the wall. How could I resist this book? Especially since it would doubtless give me a few more ideas on good recordings of the works, self-interested greedy-guts that I am.
It was a bit of a shock to see a book devoted to entirely to the history of one (albeit six part) piece of music, let alone one of my favorite pieces of all time. Except when I was a teenager and my wife, I’ve never been part of a circle of friends or acquaintances that knew classical music well, so I’ve always ventured into music stores (in both cyber- and meat-space) on my own wheel-reinventing exploratory mission. Being in Canada, I’m lucky to have CBC FM (or Radio 2 as it’s now known) spitting a fair bit of classical over the airwaves. But no one ever held up a Bach piece and said, “You gotta hear this!”. What I’m blithering on about is, having discovered the Cello Suites on my own back in the days of vinyl, and having invested some decades saturating my little brain with their melodies, I have a very personal attachment to them. Not in a skin-tag kind of way, more like a favorite teddy bear.
Now, Mr. Siblin’s excellent book has added a nice new layer to my savoring of the works. The book is pretty much a triple concerto featuring bios of J.S.Bach and Pablo Casals plus the author’s own experience of the pieces. I’ve never been much for bios, ever. I’ve only read a handful (Liszt, Beethoven, Dylan Thomas, George Sand (why?), Aldous Huxley) and never really got into the whole voyeuristic headspace necessary to appreciate famous people’s breakfast choices and bowel movement schedules. And this one’s no exception. But hey, it’s Bach. It’s sort of like reading a bio of Jesus, if you’re religious. Reading it becomes some sort of reverent act where you subconsciously think the book is dipped in genius juice just ’cause it has his name on the cover.
Despite my constitutional indifference to biographies, I liked what I learned about both Bach and Casals and I was able to tolerate the author’s florid descriptions of the pieces because he’s such a heartfelt writer, not because I care what he thinks or feels while listening to Bach. (It was all dancing about architecture to me.)
Before I picked the book up, I had no idea Casals was the guy who made the world sit up and take notice of the Suites. From today’s vantage point, the magnificence of the works feels self-evident. The music world, and I gotta say, me very personally, owes maestro Casals a huge debt of gratitude. So, hey, one more reason to read the book. Spanish cellist genius juice.