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Pau Casals, 1922
Pau Carles Salvador Casals i Defilló (December 29, 1876 – October 22, 1973), commonly known as Pablo Casals, was a virtuoso Catalan cello player and later conductor. He made many recordings throughout his career, of solo, chamber, and orchestral music, also as conductor, but Casals is perhaps best remembered for the recording of the Bach: Cello Suites he made from 1936 to 1939.
Casals was born in El Vendrell, Catalonia. His father, Carles Casals i Ribes (1852-1908), was a parish organist and choirmaster. He gave Casals instruction in piano, violin, and organ. At age four Casals could play the violin, piano and flute. When Casals was eleven, he first heard the cello performed by a group of traveling musicians, and decided to dedicate himself to the instrument. In 1888 his mother, Pilar Defilló de Casals, who was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico of Catalonian ancestry, took him to Barcelona, where he enrolled in the Escola Municipal de Música. There he studied cello, theory, and piano. He made prodigious progress as a cellist; on February 23, 1891 he gave a solo recital in Barcelona at age of fourteen. He graduated from the Escola with honours two years later.
In 1893, the Spanish composer Albéniz heard him playing in a trio in a cafe and gave him a letter of introduction to the private secretary to María Cristina, the Queen Regent, in Madrid, Spain. Casals was asked to play at informal concerts in the palace, and was granted a royal stipend to study composition at the Conservatory de Musica y Declamacion in Madrid with the master Víctor Mirecki. He also played in the newly organized Quartet Society. In 1895 he went to Paris, where, having lost his stipend from Catalonia, he earned a living by playing second cello in the theater orchestra of the Folies Marigny. In 1896, he returned to Catalonia and received an appointment to the faculty of the Escuela Municipal de Música in Barcelona. He was also appointed principal cellist in the orchestra of Barcelona's opera house, the Liceu. In 1897 he appeared as soloist with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, and was awarded the Order of Carlos III from the Queen.
In 1899, Casals played at The Crystal Palace in London, and later for Queen Victoria at her summer residence at Cowes, Isle of Wight. On November 12, 1899, he appeared as a soloist at a prestigious Lamoureux Concert in Paris, and played at Lamoureux again on December 17, 1899, with great public and critical acclaim. He toured Spain and the Netherlands with the pianist Harold Bauer (1900-1901) In 1901–1902 he made his first tour of the United States. In 1903 toured South America. On January 15, 1904, he was invited to play at the White House for president Theodore Roosevelt. On March 9 of that year he made his debut at Carnegie Hall in New York, playing Richard Strauss: Don Quixote under the baton of the composer. In 1906 he became associated with the talented young Portuguese cellist Guilhermina Suggia, who studied with him and began to appear in concerts as Mme. P. Casals-Suggia, although they were not legally married. Their liaison was dissolved in 1912; in 1914 Casals married the American socialite and singer Susan Metcalfe; they were separated in 1928, but did not divorce until 1957.
Back in Paris, Casals organized a trio with the pianist Alfred Cortot and the violinist Jacques Thibaud; they played concerts and made recordings until 1937. Casals also became interested in conducting, and in 1919 he organized, in Barcelona, the Orquesta Pau Casals and led its first concert on October 13, 1920. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Orquesta Pau Casals ceased its activities. Casals was an ardent supporter of the Spanish Republican government, and after its defeat vowed never to return to Spain until democracy was restored.
Pau Casals (left) meets with President John F. Kennedy (right) and Puerto Rico Governor Luis Muñoz Marín (center).
He settled in the French village of Prades, on the Spanish frontier; between 1939 and 1942 he made sporadic appearances as a cellist in the unoccupied zone of southern France and in Switzerland. So fierce was his opposition to the Francisco Franco dictatorial regime in Spain that he declined to appear in countries that recognized the authoritarian Spanish government, making an exception when he took part in a concert of chamber music in the White House on November 13, 1961, at the invitation of President John F Kennedy, whom he admired.
Throughout most of his professional career, he played on a cello that was labeled and attributed to "Carlo Bergonzi . . .1733" but after playing it for 50 years it was found out to have been created by the Venetian master luthier, Matteo Goffriller in ca 1700. He acquired it in 1913.
Presidential Medal of Freedom
In 1950 he resumed his career as conductor and cellist at the Prades Festival in Roussillon, organized in commemoration of the bicentennial of the death of Bach; he continued leading the Prades Festivals until 1966.
In 1956, he made his permanent residence San Juan, Puerto Rico, where his mother had been born (when the island was still under Spanish rule). In 1957 an annual Casals Festival was inaugurated there.
On August 3, 1957, at 80, Casals married Marta Montañez Martinez, a younger student of his. They settled in the town of Ceiba and lived in a house called "El Pesebre".
Throughout the 1960s Casals gave many master classes throughout the world in places like Zermatt, Tuscany, Berkeley, and Marlboro Several of these events were televised.
Casals was also a composer; perhaps his most effective work is La sardana (The Sardana), for an ensemble of cellos, which he composed in 1926. His oratorio El pesebre (The Manger) was performed for the first time in Acapulco, Mexico, on December 17, 1960. One of his last compositions was the Himne a les Nacions Unides (Hymn of the United Nations); he conducted its first performance in a special concert at the United Nations on October 24, 1971, 2 months before his 95th birthday.
Casals wrote a memoir, Joys and Sorrows; Reflections (1973).
Casals died in 1973 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the age of 96. In 1979 his remains were laid to rest in his hometown of El Vendrell, Catalonia. He did not live to see the end of the Franco dictatorial regime, but he was posthumously honoured by the Spanish government under King Juan Carlos I, which issued in 1976 a commemorative postage stamp in honour of the centenary of his birth.
In 1989, Casals posthumously received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
A centenary statue at Montserrat.
The International Pablo Casals Cello Competition is held in Germany under the auspices of the Kronberg Academy once every four years, starting in 2000, in order to discover and further the careers of the future cello elite, and is supported by the Pablo Casals Cello Foundation, under the patronage of Marta Casals Istomin. One of the prizes is the use of one of the Gofriller cellos owned by Casals.
The first top prize was awarded in 2000 to Claudio Bohórquez.
his playing . . . is one of those rare things that may only come once in a lifetime and even not in one person's life, it may be centuries before there is anyone like that again. He is a funny little fellow only about 30 and plays with his eyes shut practically the whole time, every note every pause and tone colour is reflected in his face and to hear him again, to draw the bow across is a revelation.
— W.J. Turner, music critic 1913
Before the United Nations Assembly accepting the Medal of Peace:
This is the greatest honour I have ever received in my life. Peace has always been my greatest concern. Yet in my childhood I learned to love it. My mother—an exceptional, brilliant woman—used to speak to me about it when I was still a child, because in those years there were also a lot of wars. Moreover, I am Catalan. Catalonia had the first democratic Parliament much before than England. And it was in my country where there was a beginning of united nations. At that time—the eleventh Century—they met in Toluges—today in France—to speak about peace, because the Catalonian people of that time were already against war. That is why, the United Nations, which work only for the ideal of peace, are in my hearth, because everything relating to peace goes directly there.
I have not played the cello in front of an audience since long years but I think I must do it this time. I am going to play a melody from the Catalonian folklore: The singing of the Birds. Birds, when in the sky, go singing: Peace, peace, peace. And this is a melody that Bach, Beethoven and all great people would have admired and loved. And, in addition, it springs up from the soul of my country: Catalonia.
— Pablo Casals
The most important thing in music is what is not in the notes
— Pablo Casals
Monday, May 14, 2007
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