Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Music History & Criticism

The Cello Suites

J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, And The Search For A Baroque Masterpiece

by (author) Eric Siblin

House of Anansi Press Inc
Initial publish date
Mar 2010
History & Criticism, Composers & Musicians, Germany
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2010
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2009
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Mar 2009
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


One autumn evening, shortly after ending a ten-year stint as a pop-music columnist for the Montreal Gazette, Eric Siblin attended a concert at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music. There, something unlikely happened: he fell in love with a piece of classical music -- Bach's cello suites. Part biography, part music history, and part literary mystery, The Cello Suites weaves together three dramatic stories: The first features Johann Sebastian Bach and the missing manuscript of his suites from the eighteenth century; the second is that of Pablo Casals and his incredible discovery of the manuscript in Spain in the early twentieth century; and the third is Eric Siblin's own infatuation with the suites in the twenty-first century.

This love affair leads Siblin to the back streets of Barcelona, a Belgian mansion, and a bombed out German palace; to interviews with cellists Mischa Maisky, Anner Bylsma, and Pieter Wispelwey; to archives, festivals, conferences, and cemeteries; and even to cello lessons -- all in pursuit of answers to the mysteries that continue to haunt this piece of music more than 250 years after its composer's death.

The Cello Suites is an incomparable, beautifully written, true-life journey of passion, imagination, and discovery, fuelled by the transcendent power of a musical masterpiece.

About the author

Eric Siblin is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker, and was the pop music critic at the Montreal Gazette. He made the transition to television in 2002 with the documentary Word Slingers, which explores the wacky subculture of competitive Scrabble tournaments. The film aired in Canada and the U.S. and won a Jury Award at the Yorkton Short Film & Video Festival. He also co-directed the documentary In Search of Sleep: An Insomniac's Journey, which aired in Canada, the U.S., and Europe. The Cello Suites is his first book.

Eric Siblin's profile page


  • Short-listed, British Columbia's National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction
  • Winner, QWF McAuslan First Book Prize
  • Winner, Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-fiction
  • Short-listed, Governor General's Award: Nonfiction
  • Short-listed, Writers' Trust of Canada Non-Fiction Prize

Editorial Reviews

...wade through and you will encounter a Bach who is not just a composing machine but a human being.


Mr. Siblin's book is well researched, and filled with enough anecdotes to engage even the classical-music aficionado...the book is best distinguished by its writing ...Read The Cello Suites - preferably with their melodious hum in the background - and you will never look at a cello in quite the same way again.


It's not often that one begins reading a book with mild interest and then can't put it down, which happened to me with this beautiful book.

Diana Athill

Compelling and fascinating. As an historian, Eric Siblin does a good job describing both Bach's life and Pablo Casals' discovery of the Suites; it's spine-tingling stuff. This is quirky nonfiction that the reader really learns something from. You immediately want to go out and learn some more.

Lynn Tompson, Bookseller

This intrepid writer has worked hard to interest readers in his musical obsession, and there is a great deal to chew on here.

Washington Post

Insightful [and] engaging...Eric Siblin puts us in touch with the joy of discovering a new passion in life.

Toronto Star

[The Cello Suites is] a delightful whirlwind tour through two different ages of musical history...Siblin's research is remarkably comprehensive...and his prose is amiable, at times charming...As Siblin inevitably concludes, 'Every age reimagines Bach on its own terms.' We're lucky that we have a writer this skilful and creative to do the work.


...a work of ever-percolating interest. Mr. Siblin winds up mixing high and low musical forms, art and political histories, Bach's and Casals's individual stories and matters of arcane musicology into a single inquisitive volume.

New York Times

...fascinating...The Cello Suites is a satisfying and sustaining read. Highly recommended for music fans and lay people alike.

Montreal Review of Books

In Siblin's world, Bach and Casals have real, beating hearts; these are not the fusty dead practitioners of a desiccated art form. Siblin's enthusiasm for his subject is boundless and, as a newbie in a foreign land, he brings an unstuffy freshness to the often staid world of classical music writing.

New Statesman

There is something almost magical in how Siblin is able to bring the music alive using only words on the printed page...

Jewish Journal

This is one of the most extraordinary, clever, beautiful, and impeccably researched books I have read in years. A fascinating story deftly told - and, for me at least, ideally read with Bach's thirty-six movements playing softly in the background: a recipe for literary rapture.

Simon Winchester

Siblin maintains interest with writing that is accurate, colourful and personal. Conveying in mere words sounds as rich and multifarious as those that comprise the Cello Suites takes no small literary gift. To say the author has done justice to his subject is the highest praise of all.

Montreal Gazette

Eric Siblin's new book is at once a study of music, a work of history, and a passionate tribute...Meticulous in his research, Siblin makes convincing connections and offers possible answers to the questions surrounding the suites...If Siblin is correct that Bach is what you make of him, then The Cello Suites has made him, if possible, yet more legendary.

Quill & Quire

Other titles by Eric Siblin

Related lists