Pablo Casals, the great Spanish cellist, was born in Vendrell, a small Catalan town about forty miles southwest of Barcelona. In a sense, Casals may be considered a Christmas present to his family, and to the world at large, because God directed that he would be born on December 29, 1876. For some unknown reason Pablo's father was two days late reporting Pablo's birth to the Roman Catholic Church, and so the official registered date of his birth is December 31.

Casals at the age of six

Pablo at six

Pablo's father, Charles, was the organist in the church in Vendrell, and taught singing and piano. He it was who gave Pablo his first lessons in singing and composition. Pablo's mother, Senora Pilar Defillo de Casals, was born in Puerto Rico of Catalonian parents. She had one German grandparent. The Casals name is of pure Catalan ancestry, dating back to the sixteenth century. In those early days people took or were given names appropriate to their profession or calling, or to some detail in their everday lives. The Casals in Catalonia were considered to be of the Nobility, the upper crust, and were looked up to by the citizens of the area. In all, Pablo's mother bore eleven children, nine boys and two girls. It is interesting to note that nearly all the children died before reaching the age of 50, yet Pablo Casals lived to be ninety-seven! By the time Pablo was four years old, he had learned to play the piano, the violin and the flute. His father also taught him how to play the organ. Even at the young age of five Pablo sang in the church choir, which was directed by his father, and composed music. At the tender age of six, as he accompanied the choir, he was able to transpose on the organ any piece of music, no matter how difficult.

We are reminded somewhat of the precocity of another young, but modern, cellist Yo Yo Ma. Ma was also taught by his father. His first instrument was the violin, which he began playing at the age of three. Ma switched to cello almost immediately, because his older sister was studying the violin, and he did not want to do what she did. Mr. Ma gave his first public concert at the ripe old age of five, playing the piano in the first half, and then a Bach cello suite. Casals credited his father's lessons in solfeggio, and insistence on his singing in the parish church, thus familiarizing him with the Gregorian chant in childhood, as providing him the solid base of his entire musical education.

Copyright 1996, 1997 Marshall C. St. John