Grateful for the generosity of the Queen of Spain, Pablo Casals and his mother departed for Belgium, with a letter of introduction to the illustrious Francois Gevaert, director of the Brussels Conservatory of Music. Gevaert was impressed with Casal's talents as a composer and cellist, and asked Pablo to meet the following morning with the Conservatory's professor of cello, Eduard Jacobs, which Pablo was very willing to do.

The next morning Casals attend Jacobs' cello class, and he was not much impressed with the other students. As budding artists, they were mediocre. As people, they were prejudiced, proud and arrogant. They imitated the famous musicians of the time, with long hair and unneccessary mannerisms in their performances. Pablo was Spanish, short, and had extremely short hair. He was quiet, and unassuming in his speech and manner, and the other students did nothing to make him welcome in the class.

Casals at age 16
Casals at age 16

As the class period came to a close, Professor Jacobs turned his attention to Pablo, and spoke to him in a rude and mocking mannner. "So, are you the short Spaniard the director told me of? Would you like to play? Can you play this, and this, or this." Pablo quietly said he knew every piece, as Jacobs sarcastically named them one by one, and as the students tittered. At last Jacobs challenged Pablo to perform Souvenir de Spa, by Servais, a virtuoso piece, in front of the class. "Show us how well you play!" He laughingly said.

Casals was so angry that he played without a trace of nervousness. As he began to play the room grew silent, except for the beauty of the music that was pouring out from his cello. Jacobs was stunned at the virtuosity and musicianship of Casals, and the students sat amazed in their seats. After the piece was finished with great brilliance, Jacobs dismissed the class, and took Pablo aside to speak with him privately. He apologized for making fun of him, and pleaded with him to enroll at the Conservatory in his class. He promised against all the Conservatory rules that Pablo would be given first prize in his first year at the Conservatory. Pablo, however, rejected Jacobs and his offer. He had been mocked and insulted publicly and he was utterly determined to have nothing to do with Jacobs and the Brussels Conservatory. When Pablo made a decision about a thing, no one could change his mind. He left Brussels for Paris the very next morning.

When the Queen of Spain heard of Casal's rejection of the Conservatory, she had little sympathy for Casal's feelings. She thought he was stubbornly throwing away a golden opportunity, and rejecting her sponsorship; and so she withdrew her financial support.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 Marshall C. St. John