Classical Music Stories

Classical Music Stories: Anna Karenina and a Bach Cello Suite


Classical Music Stories is a series that connects music to your favorite books.

You’ve almost definitely heard the opening of this piece before in commercials or something. But it’s honestly one of my favorites! The peacefulness and expansiveness of Bach on cello seems to open doors into a new world you can explore, one with less sorrow, or maybe just more controlled sorrow. In any case, it reminds me of Levin in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina:

In the countryside he experiences many intricate, nuanced feelings, but is overall at peace after his failed proposal to Kitty. It’s all behind him now.

But then as the music changes he becomes a bit unhappy and unsure as Darya and the others hint that Kitty would accept him if he asked again. As he resolves to see her once more, his heart becomes joyful (though with heavy expectation…this is a big deal!). He waits for what is going to happen…struggles with his inner unsure feelings…but as he makes up his mind he grows more confident and happy once again, which is where the piece ends.

What I love about imagining book characters in classical music is that it gives a frame of reference and understanding and can help you dive into your favorite books in deeper and different ways. But this piece doesn’t have to remind you of Levin’s emotional journey for it to be meaningful, of course! So what does it mean for you? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. In case you’re curious, there are actually six parts to this piece, though the first one is what gets used the most and is the one I talked about here. But if you want, you can listen to the other movements and follow Levin’s story even further, listen with another story of your choice, or listen in some other non-prescribed way entirely and let me know about it in the comments!

You can hear more Classical Music Stories based on books like Harry Potter, Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, and more here.

13 thoughts on “Classical Music Stories: Anna Karenina and a Bach Cello Suite”

  1. Lovely post! I play cello myself, and bachs suites are something I always go back to, even tho they took me forever to learn. I havent read Anna Karenina yet, but this post has defenitely made me interested in picking it up. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Not to throw cold water on it, but chances are that Tolstoy never heard the suites. They were rediscovered in a second hand book store in Barcelona by the young cellist Pau Casals (born 1887). He spent the next ten years practicing them every day till he finally felt he could play them at concerts.
    Tolstoy died an old man in 1910 which must be before Casals hit the stage.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, sorry for the confusion! I’m not trying to suggest that Tolstoy based the story on this suite or anything. The music just reminded me of it! And very cool about the cellist!! I didn’t know that. I bet stumbling upon those was magical!


      1. Yea, it’s the kind of luck that makes me believe in karma. Casals’ interpretation of Bach’s cello suites are very good – very energetic and focussed. He’s my favourite, together with Rostropovich.
        There’re videos of masterclasses with him on YouTube.

        Your blog rests in a good idea!

        Liked by 1 person

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