Monthly Archives: November 2009

Eric Siblin’s Love Affair with the Bach Suites

(I never knew when I started a blog that someday I’d start receiving review copies, just as if I was a print journalist.  So full disclosure to all five or six of you who read me:  Grove/Atlantic sent me a free copy of this book.)

You’re ready for something new in your life, decide to go to a concert of something you’ve never heard before, and fall in love.  That’s what happened to Eric Siblin,  a writer who had recently ended a stint as a pop music critic for the Montreal Gazette. The concert was Larry Lesser playing Bach cello suites.  With that cellist and this extraordinary music, no wonder he became enraptured.

And, obviously, more than a little obsessed. I’ve been reading Eric’s award-winning book The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece, the American edition of which is just being released.  It’s three or four books, or at least stories, in one.  There’s the tale of Eric’s deepening interest in the suites and his quest to learn as much as possible about them; the story of how Pablo Casals brought them into concert life; a fine synopsis of the life of J.S. Bach and the research about where and when the suites were written; and the history of the extant manuscripts (none of which, to the eternal dismay of cellists and musicologists, are in Bach’s hand). Eric’s a great storyteller, and each of the narratives (including his encounters with various cellists, including Mischa Maisky)  is fascinating.

He organizes the book into six sections totalling thirty-six chapters, one for each movement of the suites.  Each “suite” in the book starts with “movements” discussing Bach, then Casals, and finally Eric’s journey. I found this particular method of organization a bit confusing; on the other hand, if you’re less interested in thread than the others, after a few pages the subject changes.  Eric had a huge amount of material to deal with, and from the reviews I’ve read, this way of handling it works quite well for most readers.

The book’s written for a general audience; there’s no musical analysis and surprisingly little description of the music itself (which, since music is so hard to describe in words, is perhaps one of the book’s strengths;  on the other hand, I love metaphorical descriptions of music, and would have enjoyed reading more of Eric’s reactions to specific movements).  I knew a good bit about Casals, having read and reread Joys and Sorrows many times as a teenager, but there was much here I didn’t know.  The book brings together the musicological research on the history of the manuscripts  quite well, and manages to make it not just interesting but fascinating.  (Most musicologists seem dedicated to the quest to make sure that even the most fascinating information is presented in as mind-numbingly boring a manner as possible.)

The passion that comes through is inspiring.  I love the suites, but recently I hadn’t been playing them much as part of what you might call my recreational music life.  Like most college cello professors, I practice pieces I’m going to perform, look through music my students are working on, prepare classes, read and write endless streams of email, teach, go to meetings, etc., all with not enough time to get everything done.  Perhaps the thing I love most about this book is that it got me to set aside time to play Bach–for myself.

That, in and of itself, would be enough reason to buy the book (which, by the way, I see Amazon has heavily discounted).  If you’re looking for musical analysis, or detailed comparisons of recordings, and if you are thoroughly up to date on the history of the manuscripts and the lives of Bach and Casals, you won’t find much you don’t already know (although Eric’s story may still be of interest).  Most amateur cellists and even many professionals will find much new in this book, as I did, and will connect with the love for the suites Eric communicates so well.

Hey, I’d buy myself one or put it on my Christmas list if I hadn’t received a free copy.


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Happy Thanksgiving

Both kids have arrived home from college, safe and healthy and doing well.  Much to be thankful for, just there.  My son brought a buddy (funny, neither of us uses that word in conversation but it just came out) home with him.  I like that he wouldn’t want a friend staying on campus alone.

Two big meals today.

Thanksgiving dinner number one is at 1:00 PM at my parent’s house.  They’re not exactly shut-ins, but they are somewhat shut in, and not comfortable joining the large multi-family 6:00 PM Thanksgiving dinner number two at my next-door neighbors’ house.  Some smooth negotiating went into arranging the timing.  It works out well that the kids and I can have dinner with my parents, Allison (my ex) can have dinner with her boyfriend and his family (also at 1:00, in another city), and we can all be at the evening dinner with our extended “family of choice” at 6:00 PM.

I love how friends become family.  And our families of choice don’t have the baggage and resentments that are so often part of the family you don’t choose.

It’s going to be a pretty low-stress series of meals.  My dad, smartest guy I know, spotted an ad for a local restaurant open today.  Tell them how many servings you want of turkey, dressing, etc., and they’ll have it ready for you to pick up.  I initially recoiled in horror.  A take-out Thanksgiving?  Then I realized it was a good idea.  So much tension can develop around all the cooking.  My daughter and I will make one dish to bring, and other than that it is all taken care of.

Ah.  I’m relaxing this morning rather than going crazy.

The evening meal has lots of people each bringing part of the meal.  I’ve been in charge of turkeys the last few years, but today it’s just corn pudding and a pie, which I’m getting from a lady who goes to my church and who makes incredible pies and sells them to augment her income.

Ah (again).  Nice day.  My parents are healthy, I’m healthy, and the kids are home safe and doing well.  Can’t ask for much more.  I hope you are similarly blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Buy six pounds of bacon on sale and who shows up?

I stopped at the grocery store this evening.  Oscar Meyer bacon, which is my favorite supermarket brand (when I can get nitrate-free bacon I do, but it takes a trip to Indianapolis), was on sale for $2.99 a pound, so I bought six pounds (it’s usually $5.89 or so).  “Use by Jan. 29,” the packages said, and between my regular 2 slices a morning and the kids home for the holidays, it’ll all be gone before then.

When I was done, the little machine spit out a string of coupons, including three (!) $2.00-off-your-next-order ones from Oscar Meyer.  A friend was two people behind me in line.  “Look at all these two-dollars-off coupons,” I called to him, holding them up.  “You won the lottery,” he replied.

Then I noticed who the coupons were from.  “Ah!”  I explained.  “It must be because I bought six pounds of bacon!”  My vegetarian friend grimaced.

Then who sticks his head out from behind my friend but my doctor?

“That’s great,” he drolly added.  He has not seen the low-carb, bacon-friendly light and evidently still thinks saturated fat is bad for people.

I played along.  “It’s for the kids,” I said.  He wasn’t buying it.

“Well, at least I’m making work for some cardiologist in the future.”  He didn’t seem to appreciate the joke. So I took my treasure home.

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So same-sex marriage rights were overturned last week in Maine.

You know what?  I’m fucking tired of being treated like a second-class citizen.  While there seems to be apathy and resignation in the air, a new wave of steady, committed insistence on equal rights is coming.

Meanwhile, this guy is great:

via AmericaBlogGay

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