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.

Emma Nevada
Emma Nevada

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.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 Marshall C. St. John