THE LIFE AND INFLUENCE OF CASALS--part 3
by Marshall St. John
An ongoing serial story of the most influential cellist of the
early 20th century.
Casals, Page 12:
Casal's first wife was a famous American soprano, Susan Metcalfe. They were
married in New Rochelle, NY, in the year 1914 (according to Grunfeld.
Littlehales says they were married in 1906.) Casals admired his wife as
person, and also as a musician, and she brought great happiness to his life
during their first years together. Casals wrote to a friend, "A new
begins indeed for me, and one that will bring happiness" (quoted by
Grunfeld in "Great Performers--Pablo Casals").
Pablo and Susan Casals gave concerts together in America, Europe, England,
Mexico and Cuba. Casals accompanied his wife on the piano, with great
enjoyment. In fact, he liked accompanying so much that he once told his
manager F. C. Coppicus that he would be happy to quit the cello! It should
come as no surprise to us then to learn that Casals usually had warm
friendships with his own accompanists. As we dig deeper into Casal's life,
it becomes increasingly obvious that his chief love was for music itself,
not just for the cello. And so we see Casals not only performing as a
soloist, but becoming heavily involved with accompanying, chamber music
groups, and finally conducting his own symphony orchestra, of which more
will be written later.
It is not technique on a particular instrument that makes a man or woman
great musician, but love of music and people. In Casal's old age his
technique slipped quite a bit, and even in his prime he probably did not
have the technical abilities of Starker, Rostropovich or Ma. But he played
his music from a heart full of love, dignity and respect. He truly cared
about people, and freedom and justice; and so he moved those who heard him,
and he had a great impact on the musical world, and the world at large.
Students hoping to be professional artists should give time to developing
their souls and minds, and humanity, along with their fingers and bow arms.
Unfortunately, Pablo and Susan eventually found that their careers were
incompatible, and so they separated after fourteen years of marriage and
joint concertizing. They were actually not divorced until 1957, when Casals
married his second wife, Marta Montenez, one of his cello students in Puerto
Casals, Page 13
Although Casals was now a world traveler, and had lived for years in other
cities, Barcelona was near and dear to his heart. He had been born only
short distance from beautiful, historic Barcelona, and had moved there while
still a young boy. Barcelona was Casal's "hometown." During the
War he lived in New York City, but returned to Barcelona in 1919.
Barcelona is a city with personality, and a long history. It is the second
largest city in Spain, and very prosperous, being also the busiest port
an industrial center. The geographical site is beautiful, with the blue
Mediterranean Sea on one side, and scenic mountains on the other. The
weather can be warm in August, and cool in January, however the temperatures
are moderated by the sea and the protection of the mountains. Rainfall is
adequate (22 inches per year), but most days are bright and sunny.
Two thousand years ago Barcelona already existed, was known as Barcino,
was ruled by the Romans. A number of interesting Roman ruins can still be
seen there, including a temple, a towers, walls, aqueducts and mosaics.
Since then Barcelona has been ruled by many invaders, such as the Visigoths,
Arabs. Franks, and Moors. In the eighteenth century Barcelona became an
industrial center. The first factory was built in 1746, and trade with the
United States began as early as 1778, only two years after the Declaration
As the working class became established in Barcelona, the people of that
area leaned increasingly toward a revolutionary socialism (which was also
reflected in the political philosophy of Pablo Casals, of which more shall
be written later). There also arose an ugly prejudice against the Roman
Catholic Church, which sometimes erupted in acts of violence. For example,
in 1909 the citizens burned sixty churches in Barcelona, including the
Church of San Antonio Abad, an important architectural and ecclesiastical
structure. In 1917 there was a general strike that devastated the city,
could only be brought to an end with bloodshed.
Barcelona today is a modern city, with substantial cultural advantages.
city has a population of approximately two million, and is a famous tourist
stop for foreigners traveling in Spain. It was to Barcelona that Casals
returned in 1919, to found his own orchestra, which became known as the
"Orquestra Pau Casals."
A good number of cellists have ended up as conductors. One thinks
immediately of Arturo Toscannini and Sir John Barbirolli, who had both been
fine cellists. An interesting story about Barbirolli has to do with his
switching from violin to cello. When just a little boy learning the violin,
we would stroll from room to room about his home as he practiced. This so
annoyed his grandfather, the he took away his violin, and gave him a cello,
exclaiming, "There! Now you must sit still!"
Casals had always wanted to be a conductor. Of course he enjoyed playing
cello, but he was entranced by the idea of playing a huge instrument with
multitudinous tone colors, and capabilities, as the orchestra is, in a
sense. He had never suffered from the "virtuoso mindset" that
befall a talented young instrumentalist. Casal's love had always been for
the music itself, not for the instrument that played the music. Grunfeld
quotes from a letter Casals had written to a friend, "If I have been
scratching away at a cello, how shall I feel when I can possess the greatest
of all instruments--the orchestra?" Casals felt strongly that conducting
his true life's work, though the public will always think of him as a
cellist. Even as a child playing the organ in church, he had felt an
overwhelming desire to lead the choir, and to give directions to the
soloists (see Lillian Littlehales).
Casals spent the early 1920's launching his own orchestra in Barcelona.
orchestra's first concert was given on October 13th, 1920, but it still
needed a lot of work. Barcelona had a fine chorus already, but the level
instrumental expertise there was low. Casals invested his savings (in todays
terms, hundreds of thousands of dollars), and much time and hard work into
creating this orchestra, and raising the standard of musicianship to a high
level. In fact he gave himself to it with such concentration, that for a
time he suffered from a nervous breakdown, and had to rest for several
months. After nine years of continuous training, the Orquestra Paul Casals
became one of the finer orchestras of Europe, to Casal's intense
satisfaction and joy.
Casals organized orchestral concerts aimed particularly at the working
people of Catalonia, and derived great satisfaction from seeing the plainly
dressed workmen and their families sitting in the audience, listening to
great classics of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. Even more than he loved
great music, Casals loved people, and he delighted in leading the masses
a higher spiritual, cultural and moral level. This is truly why we still
remember Casals today. Not because he was such a great cellist, but because
he was a great human being with a heart of love.
Casals the Conductor
As one reads and learns about Casal's activities as a conductor, one may
reminded of another great cellist, Mstislov Rostropovich, who is a wonderful
cellist and conductor. Casals did his first real conducting in Barcelona,
the age of seventeen. During his career, he had the opportunity to conduct
many great symphony orchestras, as well as his own beloved Orquestra Pau
Casals. In the twenties he did series of concerts with the Lamoureux
Orchestra in Paris, as well as conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, and the
New York Sympony Orchestra. Whenever on tour with his cello, he tried to
find opportunities to conduct. Toscanini asked him to conduct in Milan,
Italy. He conducted the London Symphony Orchestra regularly for years.
A critic writing in the London Observer in 1927 said, "Whether with
or the stick, he plays as if he held a responsible trust, determined that
all costs the purity of the faith shall not suffer at his hands. He refrains
from anything histrionic or ephemeral; he wants the truth of it...In
whatever he does he seems to aim at some invisible and unattainable ideal,
and if some part of that is reached immediately to set the standard
higher...This scholar-artist is the most musical musician alive today."
(Quoted by Lillian Littlehales in her biography of Casals)
Littlehales also quotes Casals on conducting:
"A great conductor first of all must be a great interpreter. The main
is to have a full and clear comprehension of the works to be performed;
perfection can only be reached with hard and constant labor. There should
many rehearsals, and the conductor should always have interesting things
"I make the base of my programs that which is classic, but naturally
refuse new ideas. Owing to the character of my orchestra, and the limited
number of our concerts, we can play only those works of modern composers
that have survived public censorship. I enjoy the rehearsals even more than
the conducting of the orchestra in public. The important thing is to
communicate one's own sensations to the players, and to make one's ideals
understandable. To know how to get in touch with others, to be able to
convince one's men and impress one's own originality upon them, is in the
highest degree a mark of capability in a leader."
Casals' remarks are not only valuable to conductors, but to all musicians.
First, the music is more important than technique, though obviously a
certain level of proficiency is necessary. Second, it is important to have
full and clear comprehension of the works performed. For example, it is
enough for a soloist simply to know his own part, he must know what the
entire orchestra is doing, and how it all fits together. Third, Casals
underlines the necessity of disciplined hard work. The professional musician
is not merely enjoying himself, he is working, and he must exhibit
craftsmanship in his work.
Fourth, conductors must be interesting and inspiring. Fifth, the classics
must come first. Some of the modern compositions are interesting or
beautiful, but they generally do not carry the technical and spiritual
weight of the great works of the past. Sixth, the conductor must be a
communicator. He must be understandable and convincing. Seventh, the
conductor especially must have leadership. He is not there just to wave
baton, and have a good time. He is there to lead, to guide, to push, to
pull, to make the orchestra into a responsive instrument in his own hands.
Sometimes orchestral musicians need to learn to be followers. They may
disagree with the conductor's interpretation, but he is the leader. His
is to lead. The player's job is to follow that leadership.
Page 16, Casal's Personality
Casals always retained a love for his country Spain, and his old hometown
and friends of Vendrell. He loved the old-fashioned colorful traditions
his countrymen, and eagerly participated in festivals and holidays, which
were of course more meaningful to everyone in that more down-to-earth
pre-television age of the world. He was happy to take part, not only as
cellist, but as just another citizen. Sometimes he would accompany on the
piano. Sometimes he would dance on the beach with local children. He
especially loved spending time with his nephews and nieces, the children
Enric Casals, his brother.
He always tried to participate in the yearly Saint's Day, in Vendrell.
Sometimes he played his cello. He was loved by the townspeople, who would
applaud, and even carry him about on their shoulders. How wonderful it is
when a famous person remembers his roots, his family and his countrymen!
Casals had taken part in these festivals from the time he was a small boy.
As a child he was athletic, and had joined the other boys in creating human
towers, a particular Vendrell custom.
The Saint's Day festival in Vendrell in 1929 was special for Casals, for
took part in the dedication of a new organ in the parish church, where he
himself had been organist as a youth. The old organ hadn't been played for
decades, and had become moth-eaten and rat-infested. Casals took it upon
himself to have it restored and added to. The organist of the Cathedral
Tarragona came to perform, and also many of Casal's old friends and
Throughout his life Casals retained his faithfulness and affection for his
old friends and associates. He was a person with great personal warmth,
people liked him. In repose, or while performing on his cello, his face
could look rather severe and forboding. But that was simply a reflection
his concentration. Casals was a vivacious conversationalist, and people
a liking to him very quickly.
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
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