The Spanish Civil War began in 1936. Casals was in Barcelona, rehearsing his Orquestra Pablo Casals. It was the last season in the life of his beloved orchestra. On July 18, while they were preparing for the performance of the Beethoven ninth symphony, in connection with the Barcelona Olympiad, a messenger came to Casals, with an urgent message. The note was from the Minister of Culture, Ventura Gassol. He wanted Casals to know that a military revolt was expected immediately in Barcelona. He had canceled their performance scheduled for the following night, and he urged Casals to send the musicians home immediately, that they might be with their families when the fighting would break out.

Pablo Casals
Pablo Casals 1930

Casals read the note to the orchestra and chorus, and asked if they would like to leave right away, or stay to perform the final movement of Beethoven's great ninth symphony, as a way of saying goodbye to one another. The entire orchestra and chorus chose to remain. Casals eyes were streaming tears of grief and frustration so that he was unable to see the score, as the choir sang Schiller's words in Catalan, "all mankind are brothers." Casals vowed to peform the symphony again someday when peace would return to his beloved homeland. As Casals and the musicians went home, they found the streets already filled with barricades and milling rioters.

Barcelona and the rest of Spain was over-run by the "Anarchists." The nation was undergoing a literal blood-bath, with 75,000 civilians slaughtered haphazardly by mindless rioters in the next six weeks. Casals was very nearly shot himself on several occasions. Once he was arrested by an Anarchist gang. He lived in a splendid home, and they could not believe that he could possibly be a friend of the common man. They had heard of Pablo Casals, but did not believe he was who he claimed to be. Casals picked up his cello, and began to play Bach. When they heard the beautiful music, and realized whom they had nearly killed, they were ashamed. Another time, armed men came to Casals' house looking for a friend of Casals. Casals phoned the Anarchist mayor of Vendrell, and furiously chewed him out for authorizing the arrest of a good man. The mayor claimed it was all a mistake, and called off his men.

Every time the Vendrell extermination council met to decide who was to be shot next, Casals' name was always added to the list, but by the grace of God, someone would always say, "No, not Casals, not yet." But many of Casals' neighbors disappeared permanently. Casals is an example of how good people ought to stand up for what is right, regardless of the personal consequences.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 Marshall C. St. John