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The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece (Anglais) Broché – 27 janvier 2011

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 73 commentaires
73 internautes sur 79 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A wonderful voyage of musical and personal discovery 3 janvier 2010
Par S. McGee - Publié sur
Format: Relié
When Eric Siblin wandered into a classical musical recital one day in Toronto, he was unaware that the music he would hear would transform his life. On the program were the solo suites for cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, and Siblin, a onetime rock/pop music critic, is blown away by a kind of music he had never heard before, consciously, and might never have deliberately sought out.

This book, the chronicle of series of musical and personal journeys of discovery revolving around the Bach cello suites, is the result. It immediately appealed to me because of my own love for the music -- although unlike Siblin, I'm not a musician of any kind and unlike him, 'classical' music has always been a part of my life. But I kept reading because of my own fascination with Siblin's tale and the way he has chosen to tell it: weaving together three separate strands of a narrative in much the same way that Bach might have woven together musical themes to produce the final work. The first of these strands revolves around Bach himself; the composer's background and how the history of his compositions can be tied to his own life and experiences in a variety of German princely courts of the 18th century. The second is the lifelong love affair between the 13-year-old Pablo Casals (a future superstar cellist), who stumbled across the then almost-unknown cello suites in the back streets of Barcelona, and the music that have ended up becoming some of Bach's best-known and most-loved works. (Without Casals, the suites could have languished in obscurity, rarely played; now they are a part of the cello repertoire that most cellists aspire to perform.) Finally, there is Siblin's own quest to discover more about both Bach and Casals, as part of the process of coming to grips with his own unexpected fascination with the music.

I fell in love with this book both for the caliber of the writing (which is very high indeed) as well as the subject matter. Because Siblin doesn't stick rigidly to discussing Bach and the cello suites themselves, he doesn't get bogged down in the kind of musicological detail that would lose him part of his audience (me amongst them, despite my love for this music, of which I possess three different interpretations...) What appealed to me most is that it's the kind of book that at its heart addresses the enduring impact of great art of any kind has to fascinate its audience, whether those that seek it out (as I did) or stumble upon it (as Siblin did.) At its heart, this is the story of how a piece of music can endure over the centuries and appeal to very different people in wildly different countries and time periods, in contexts its composer couldn't even have imagined.

Definitely an early contender for my favorite book of 2010.... and highly recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in classical music or the arts. And you'll enjoy it twice as much if you listen to each section (the book is broken into sections and movements that mirror those of the cello suites) alongside the music itself.
54 internautes sur 63 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An enthusiastic and entertaining sermon from a fresh convert 17 septembre 2010
Par Olly Buxton - Publié sur
Format: Relié
A philosophy lecturer of mine once remarked that the recently converted make the most passionate fundamentalists. Eric Siblin, a professedly retired rock critic (I'm not sure how one "retires" from a pastime) makes a good example. Stumbling across a performance of Bach's Cello Suites some years ago, Siblin was captivated, converted, and has since leapt into the study and exploration of these narrowly (but profoundly) celebrated pieces with great gusto. (Interestingly, I could find none of Siblin's rock criticism online anywhere. I was curious to see how good it was.)

Being no more familiar than Siblin was with the Cello Suites, I bought myself a recording (Pierre Fournier's) and had it on high rotation while I read. For fellow neophytes, then, these are pieces for an unaccompanied tenor instrument that itself usually (but not always) fulfills the role of an accompaniment to a "treble" instrument like a violin. Bach's six Cello Suites span a couple of hours, and you'd be forgiven for supposing that it would be, therefore, a challenging listen. First go-round, for a non-enthusiast, it is. I must say, though, that having listened to it repeatedly over a week I find it bouncing uncontrollably - and pleasingly - around my head all day. But all the same, I don't think I'm ready to jettison Led Zeppelin just yet. There again, I'm not really the converting type.

At any rate, on account of their inaccessibility the Cello Suites were commonly supposed, for a long while, to be simply rehearsal exercises. Which is where Siblin picks up the story. He explores the Suites in an organised, contrapuntal sort of way, through three lenses, each corresponding to movements in the Suites: firstly Bach's own biography; secondly the musical and political journey of 20th century Cello maestro Pablo Casals, punctuated and framed as it was by the Cello Suites, and thirdly through his own journey, both of discovery of Bach's own music, and through his research for this book. These accounts are interwoven cleverly and playfully and in a way the Baroque master surely would have approved of: according to the structure of the six suites themselves.

The accounts themselves, however, are a little variable.

Bach's biography is patiently and interestingly unfolded. I dare say the genuine aficionado won't find much new or enlightening in Siblin's exposition, but those with a more casual interest will: I hadn't realised, for example, that Bach's life ended in relative obscurity, and that his huge body of work only gained mass appeal long after his death.

And I had never heard of Casals at all. To be sure, Siblin's framing of the Casals story was skillful and its overlay on the cello suites themselves was fascinating. It did feel somewhat wilful: sometimes one can push a construction past the point that it withstands careful examination and I suspect, in his enthusiasm to deliver a pleasing narrative, Siblin has done this. Bach's music might be famous for its almost mathematically careful structure; real life isn't like that. Siblin would have it that Casals, a Catalonian teenager, discovered a publication of the suites and singlehandedly turned the world on to them as a performance piece, and to the cello as a solo instrument. I have a feeling it might not be quite that cut and dried.

The final strand, in which the author himself features, is the weakest. Partly, this is because Siblin himself is a neophyte; he isn't trained or steeped in the classical tradition (part of his story is his attempt to overcome that by taking cello lessons) and hence he has no particular locus standi to back his wild-eyed exegesis of the music, which just winds up sounding like fodder for pseud's corner in Private Eye. It just isn't interesting hearing about a random Canadian's attempts to learn the cello or sing in a Bach Cantata.

Nor does his agenda help: Siblin goes hunting for an Anti-Semitism which almost certainly was illusory, and then has a whale of a time wrestling with the meagre evidence he does find: for example, the anti-Jewish agenda implicit in Bach's St. John Passion. But if there is such a thing, Bach certainly didn't put it there (St. John did), and by any account, including Siblin's, Bach himself had no interaction, let alone interest, in Judaism at any time in his life, most likely never having even met a Jewish person. Yet still Siblin crowbars it in, allowing a patently 20th century gloss to colour his thinking, even absurdly baulking at singing the word 'schnell' in the Cantata, presumably aggrieved at having to use a word frequently attributed to Gestapo officers in Commando magazine. But 'schnell' is simply the German word for 'fast'.

So a curate's egg: the good parts, however, make this a recommended read for a non-specialist interested in a light and entertaining vista onto one of the more challenging corners of Bach's massive oeuvre.

Olly Buxton
47 internautes sur 55 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A good read 21 avril 2009
Par tova - Publié sur
Format: Relié
This book is a wonderfully crafted combination of biography, history, musicology, detective story and personal discovery. Like the Suites themselves, it has a variety of themes and moods which in the end all fit together in a most satisfying way to connect the stories of Bach, Casals and the writer's passion for the music.

It's neither a heavy tome nor a heavy read but it is nourishing entertainment
13 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Misleading title, decent read 24 mai 2010
Par Reader - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Pablo Casals, the great Catalan cellist, happened to purchase a second-hand copy of the 1866 edition of the Bach cello suites (edited by the great Leipzig cellist Friedrich Wilhelm Grutzmacher, who died in 1903) in a bookstore in Barcelona in 1890. There are three 18th century original manuscripts of the Bach cello suites, none of them in Bach's handwriting but all three are contemporaneous with Bach. At least one of them was copied out by Bach's wife, not surprising since she was his copyist. While the title of this book is "the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece," in fact no one was searching for the cello suites, which had never been lost (there are actually fifty-some editions of these suites). Casals did not "search" for the suites, nor did he "find" them. Perhaps in order to plump up some mystery issue to keep readers turning the page, the author does not make this clear until you are far into the book. I found this annoying, as if the author didn't trust the reader to decide that the intertwined lives of Bach and Casals would be interesting enough to hold your attention. In fact, the book has a wealth of interesting details about Bach's life and personality and brings Casals deservedly back into the public eye. Unfortunately, the author's description of the suites themselves is long on descriptive adjectives but short on actual musical interpretation or understanding. The cellist Walter Joachim understandably told the author to learn the cello if he really wanted to understand the cello suites; what he really meant was "try to understand something about classical music." It's admirable that a pop critic became a fan of this music but this quote sums up his lack of basic musical knowledge: "Bach implies harmony.... He hints at it, suggests it, plants the seed of harmony." (p. 56). Clearly some basic music analytical skills are lacking here. In any event, worth reading for the stories of two great men and their times.
9 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Lots about Bach and Casals, too much about Siblin 20 mai 2012
Par George Goldberg - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I want to give this book the benefit of any and every doubt as its subject is one of the most sublime cycles of music ever composed. I knew that it was not meant as a rigorous theoretical analysis of the Bach unaccompanied cello suites; after all, it does not have a single line of music notation (except for facsimile pages at the beginning of each chapter in a font and on a background which are clearly meant only for decoration). It is rather an historically oriented study of the composition of these six pieces, their reception, their fall into disuse, their rediscovery by Casals and his elevation of them into a worldwide popular hit. Fair enough.

Some of the writing, however, is rather too casual with comparisons made to unclear antecedents. Here's an example (p. 65): "Bach was not famous in his own lifetime. He was never a European sensation as was Beethoven or Mozart or his contemporary Handel." Grammatically, the antecedent of "his" is Mozart; but Handel was not Mozart's contemporary, he was Bach's. The paragraph goes on: "His low-profile career . . ." The antecedent here is Handel, but Handel's career was as high-profile as you could get; of course Bach's is meant. Finally, still in this paragraph: "He never wrote opera . . . and opera was the only road to musical fame in those days." Well, surely not in Beethoven's days. Beethoven wrote only one opera and it was produced long after he had become world famous as a composer and virtuoso pianist. Siblin must mean Handel's days, which after all were Bach's days too. But that was only true for composers like Handel who went abroad (in Handel's case, first to Italy to learn how to compose operas and then on to London where he composed Italian operas to great acclaim). But German composers who stayed in Germany, like Bach, his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel (who was famous during Bach's lifetime), and Bach's predecessor as organ virtuoso Dieterich Buxtehude, never wrote any operas. Some of this paragraph's infelicities may be attributable to sloppy editing. But at least some must result from the author's admittedly brief acquaintanceship with classical music (he was the pop music critic for The Montreal Gazette before his Bach epiphany). Full marks, then, for inspiration and hard work, but a caveat to the reader to keep a salt shaker nearby.

But then we get to a section about Siblin's attending a Bach festival and joining the chorus to sing a Bach cantata. Well, why not? Here's why not: he couldn't read music or pronounce German ("Teutonic gargling" he calls the language of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Goethe, Heine). Nothing daunted, Siblin took two lessons and off he went. Now, this isn't just a matter of being personally frustrated at being unable to keep up, it's likely to spoil things for everyone else: it's the equivalent of someone who has only driven cars with automatic transmissions taking two lessons with a stick shift and then competing in a Nascar race. The cantata that Siblin essayed (BWV 39) features a highly contrapuntal chorus lasting around six minutes. He must have sung off-key when he could find his place at all.

Well, music lovers are usually a welcoming and forgiving lot and apparently Siblin was treated well at this festival. He has a strange way of showing his gratitude, calling the other participants "elderly white folk" - "I had a sinking feeling that I had just checked myself into a seniors' residence for the sunset years." (p. 168) I suspect that these men and women, however white or old, were, unlike Siblin, able to read music and pronounce German. (You don't have to be able to speak and understand German to pronounce it adequately well for singing purposes. As a music student, I learned to pronounce German, French, Italian and Russian; actually, English too when I was a member of the London Symphony Chorus, as you cannot have 120 proper British subjects singing "brahss" and one tenor from the colonies sounding "braass.")

Perhaps I should mention here that even good amateur singers find Bach difficult. Much of Handel can be sung by lovers of singing with even a rudimentary knowledge of sight-reading, and of course Messiah was written in English; that's why many American cities have Messiah sing-alongs for all comers every Christmas (you can bring your own score, which most do, or you can rent one for a nominal fee). But you will rarely if ever find a Bach sing-along; the music, and for some the language, is just too difficult. (I have participated in Bach sight-readings - in Germany.) Siblin should have confined his account to Bach and Casals and not inserted himself into the picture.

This isn't a terrible book, but it could be a lot better.
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