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

Siblin, E. 2009. The cello suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the search for a baroque masterpiece. NY: Atlantic Monthly Press.

Summary:

Spanning centuries, this unique perspective on Bach’s cello suites combines three narratives: Bach’s 18th century missing manuscripts, Pablo Casal’s 19th century popularization of his music in Spain, and present day music critic Eric Siblin’s appreciation and love of the music which fuels him to investigate it. Part history and part mystery, this book humanizes a piece of music and gives the reader an appreciation for the history of the cello, the history of this music, and how it affects listeners to this day.

Quantitative Summary

Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease Level

66.4

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level

9.4

Gunning-Fog Score

11.1

Coleman-Liau Index

9.6

SMOG Index

8.9

Automated Readability Index

9.7

Average Grade Level

9.7

(based on random paragraphs typed into http://www.readability-score.com/)

Qualitative Summary

This historical narrative is broken into sections, thematically as suites like the “cello suites” that the title refers to. The language and structure would rank Middle Low I think, with the narrative sections being straightforward and there being no illustrations Chapters are titled after musical terms related to the suites, and begin with epigraphs related to those terms. I think this could be successfully used in 9-12 audiences.

Curriculum Tie Ins

This could be great supplemental reading in an English or History class, as it deals with historical elements in an interesting “mystery” narrative, and ties in musical history elements. Students could listen to various versions of the suite being played and using information from the book distinguish elements of interpretation.

Standards

California State Standards – Music 9-12 Proficient (http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/muproficient.asp)

Analyze and Critically Assess
4.1 Develop specific criteria for making informed critical evaluations of the quality and effectiveness of performances, compositions, arrangements, and improvisations and apply those criteria in personal participation in music.
4.2 Evaluate a performance, composition, arrangement, or improvisation by comparing each with an exemplary model.

Derive Meaning
4.3 Explain how people in a particular culture use and respond to specific musical works from that culture.
4.4 Describe the means used to create images or evoke feelings and emotions in musical works from various cultures.

Other relevant info:

http://www.ericsiblin.com/pages/cello.html – Author’s page, compiles videos of the suites being played.

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