THE LIFE AND INFLUENCE OF CASALS--part 2
by Marshall St. John
An ongoing serial story of the most influential cellist of the early 20th century.
I. Casals: Beginning A Career (page 7)
When Casals returned to Barcelona, Providence smiled on him, and his life took a turn for the better. Just as he reached home, his old cello teacher, Jose Garcia, retired from teaching to move to Buenos Aires. Casals was lucky enough to take over Garcia's position at the Municipal School, along with Garcia's students. Casals was also asked to direct music at the local church.
Casals was now twenty-one years old, and his musical life began grow. He stayed in Barcelona three years, and was quite busy with his cello. He was asked to teach at the conservatory of the Lycee. He became first cellist of the Barcelona Opera Orchestra. He formed a piano quartet with Mathieu Crickboom, the famous Belgian violinist, the violist Galvez and the pianist/composer Enrique Granados. He continued to study composition. He was reconciled with Count Morphy, who earlier had tried to get him to study in Belgium. He traveled to Madrid to see the Count. While there he was asked to perform for Queen Christina, who had always been an admirer of the young Casals. Before leaving her court, she gave him a wonderful sapphire from a bracelet she was wearing. Later, Casals had the sapphire mounted in his bow.
Casals performed all over the area, not just in Barcelona and Madrid. He was asked to direct a group of six musicians who provided music at the Casino of Espinjo in Portugal. The Casino was a popular place for the upper crust to gamble, and Casals began to gain a reputation among the wealthy nobility who frequented the place. At the end of his first summer at the Casino, Casals was invited by the King and Queen of Portugal to visit the palace in Lisbon. When Casals arrived in Lisbon, he suddenly realized that he had been so excited about meeting the Portuguese King and Queen, that he had forgotten to bring his cello on the train with him! But the royal couple were patient, his cello was sent for, and his late performance was well received.
Returning from Portugal to Barcelona, he again passed through Madrid. While there he gave his first performance of the Lalo Concerto in D Minor, accompanied by an orchestra. He played with the Sociedad de Conciertos Orchestra, conducted by Tomas Breton, the famous composer. The Queen Mother of Spain was at the concert, and was, as always, very appreciative of Casal's playing. She invited him to the palace, where she gave him a Gagliano cello with a beautiful tone. She had earlier bestowed upon the young musician his first Spanish decoration, the "Chavalier of the Cross of Isabel la Catolica." She also gave him the "Order of Carlos III." Years before, when Casals had still been a student, he had often gone to the palace to play duets with the Queen, who played piano.
To be continued....
II. Casals: Beginning A Career (page 8)
Casals had matured during these pleasant years in Barcelona. He had found his inner strength, and begun to make a name for himself in the area, as a cellist and a musician. He had been saving his money, and mastering the French language, too. When he felt he had enough money to care for his mother, who had cared for him so many years, he decided to leave Barcelona, to make his way in the world. Kissing his mother goodbye, he set off for Paris, the cultural capitol of the world. He carried with him his hopes and dreams, and a letter of introduction from Count Morphy to Charles Lamoureux, the famous conductor, who had his own orchestra in Paris.
Casals arrived in Paris early in the autumn of 1899. This great city, in which he had previously suffered so much, would now become his launching pad to a world-wide career. He immediately went to Lamoureux's office. Lamoureux was preparing for the Paris premiere performance of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. He was completely absorbed in his work, and not really interested in meeting Casals at this time. Casals had learned something of manners, and some patience, too. Realizing the Lamoureux was busy, he excused himself saying, "Monsieur Lamoureux, I do not want to disturb you. I just came to give you this letter from the Count of Morphy." At the mention of Morphy's name, Lamoureux laid aside his score, and demanded to see the letter. After reading it, he told Casals to return the next day, with his cello.
When Casals arrived to see him the next day, Lamoureux was still pre-occupied with Wagner's great opera. However, Lamoureux had arranged for an accompanist to be present, and he really did want to hear Casals. Lamoureux continued studying his opera, as Casals tuned up, and began playing a concerto. But in only a few moments Lamoureux laid aside his work, turned himself around, and gave his full attention to the young cellist. He had never heard another cellist play like that! As Casals finished his performance, Lamoureux rushed to him, embraced him, and said, "You must play at my first concert of this season!" This was remarkable, because only the best and most famous musicians were ever invited to perform with Lamoureux. The arrangements were made, and Casals made an incredible debut in Paris, on November 12, with the Lamoureux Orchestra, performing the Lalo Concerto. The critics wrote that he had a "magical tone," and that his musicianship was every bit as wonderful as his technique.
To be continued....
II. Casals: Beginning A Career (page 9)
Casal's debut with the Lamoureux Orchestra in 1899 launched him on a touring career that would eventually make him famous around the world. He played the Saint-Saens concerto with Lamoureux in December of that year, again to rave reviews from the critics, and other cellists. In her book, The Great Cellists, Margaret Campbell quotes the French cellist Joseph Salmon who was at the performance: "...unbelievable!...Like listening to the work for the first time... Casals made it sound easy. We cellists were dumbfounded!" Casals became much admired by the Parisian public, and basked in the limelight. However, there must have been a tinge of bitterness, because Lamoureaux, his benefactor and sponsor now in a very real sense, died very shortly after this last concert with Casals, in January of 1900.
Though he soon became a world traveler, Casals called Paris "home," at least for a while. Paris was a beehive of artistic activity, full of wonderful writers, painters and musicians. Here Casals made friends with the likes of Degas, the painter; Henri Bergson, the philosopher; Ravel and Saint-Saens, the composers; and the musicians Ysaye, Thibaud and Cortot, with whom he made some justly famous early recordings.
Casals was busy performing, touring, and enjoying his friendships in Paris, but he also made it a point to find time to study other areas of knowledge, and to develop further his personal philosophy of life. He knew how to laugh and be happy, but he was essentially a serious-minded person. He thought deeply about himself, his career, and the meaning of life. According to Lillian Littlehales, writing in her book, Casals, he had an intense belief in the spiritual life of mankind, and "...his sensitive mind dwelt on religious and social questions to an almost dangerous degree." As so many young people do, and remember Casals was still a young man, he was swimming in deep waters, mentally. He even considered suicide. Littlehales also records that Casals found the writings of Karl Marx to be "a revelation." Politically and spiritually he became a "Socialist," and was determined to personally take a stand against the oppression of the common man by fascism, or any other kind of tyranny. He eventually found his intellectual and spiritual footing, but these years of soul-searching and study were formative, and made a tremendous impact on the rest of his life, and eventually on the world at large. It was no accident that in 1958 it was Casals playing his cello on the floor of the General Assembly of the United Nations!
To be continued....
Casals, page 10
Casals' first visit and tour of the United States came in the year 1901, when he traveled across the nation with a popular vocal artist, Emma Nevada. It was to have been an extensive series of engagements, with performances in 80 different locations! However, midway through the tour Casals suffered a serious injury to his left hand, while hiking in California. He had been climbing Mount Tamalpais, near San Francisco, when a large rock somehow become dislodged, and fell on his hand, crushing some fingers. Casals said that the first thought that came to his mind at the time was, "Thank God, I'll never have to play the cello again!" It may be helpful to amateur cellists, and young professionals, to remember that even the truly great musicians of history have had to contend with self-doubt, stress and burn-out. Casals, master of the cello that he was, still was always nervous before and during performances.
Of course, Casals did not really, deep in his heart, want to quit playing the cello. Fortunately, after about four months of treatment in San Francisco, his left hand and fingers regained their strength and agility, and he was able to continue his career. Those who heard him perform then said that his long vacation from performing somehow had added an emotional depth to his interpretation that had not been there before.
Casals returned to the United States again in 1904, when he performed at the White House for President Theodore Roosevelt, a great outdoorsman, but also a cultured man. He also performed in New York City, with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Later that same year he played the Don Quixote cello solo, with Richard Strauss himself conducting his own tone poem. During this American tour, much was made over the fact that Casals was bald, while most musicians of the time had long hair. Critics jokingly said the reason Casals was bald, was that he had given away too many locks of hair to his female admirers. Before his tour, an American manager had written to him suggesting that if he would only wear a wig, he could get him a better paying contract.
Casals, Page Eleven
When Casals returned to Europe in 1904, he and his friends Alfred Cortot, the pianist, and Jacques Thibaud, the violinist, formed a trio, which was world famous for many years. The trio often performed premiers of new works, and set the highest standards in the performance of classical trios. They made early recordings of the great chamber music repertoire, and some of those recordings are still available today. In 1926 the trio recorded the Schubert Trio in B Flat Major, with Angel, and it is still one of the finest performances to be found, in spite of the inferior recording techniques of the day. Casals recalled toward the end of his life, "Our association, which was really based on music and friendship, lasted many years. We traveled all over Europe together, I remember it vividly and associate it with the cult of music and friendship." Casals praised Cortot as being "...unquestionably one of the greatest pianists of our time. He had boundless élan and astonishing power." Casals said Thibaud was "...a consumate instrumentalist--he played the violin with incomparable elegance." (Quotes are from "Casals," by Frederic V. Grunfeld, 1982)
Casals toured Russia as a performing cellist the first time in 1905, a very inconvenient time to be a traveling musician in Russia. Russia had been at war with Japan for a year, and had just signed the Treaty of Portsmouth with Japan in September of 1905. Tsar Nicholas had promised the Russian people an elected assembly, but it had not materialized. The country was full of unrest. Many workers went on strike after strike. 1905 was the year of the unsuccessful first Russian Revolution. (It was the revolution of 1917 that succeeded in overthrowing the imperial Russian government, and established Communism.) In one of Casals' concerts the electricity went out in the hall where he was performing, and the recital continued by candlelight.
The people, and the music lovers of Russia, received Casals warmly, in spite of the circumstances, and Casals returned to tour Russia on a regular basis. There he became friends with many Russian musicians, including Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alexander Scriabin and Serge Koussevitzky. Casals performed the Brahms Double Concerto in Moscow with violinist Eugene Ysaye. The great Belgian violinist wrote to his wife, describing Casals as a profound artist with an ear for detail, yet also having the deepest musical feeling and emotion in the depths of his soul.
To be continued...
Pablo Casals, Lillian Littlehales, 1929, W. W. Norton & Company
History of the Violoncello, Lev Ginsburg, 1983, Paganiniana Publications
Pablo Casals, Frederic V. Grunfeld, 1982, Time-Life Records, Great Men
The Great Cellists, Margaret Campbell, 1989, Trafalgar Square Publishing
Copyright Marshall C. St. John