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Pablo Casals

Pablo Casals

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Fact Sheet

Birthday29 December 1876
SignCapricorn
Date of deathOctober 22, 1973 (age 96)
Pau Casals i Defilló (December 29, 1876 – October 22, 1973), commonly known as Pablo Casals, was a virtuoso Catalan cello player (and later conductor). He made many recordings throughout his career, of solo, chamber, and orchestral music, also as conductor, but Casals is best remembered for the recording of Bach's Cello suites he made from 1936 to 1939.

Early years

Casals was born in El Vendrell, Catalonia. His father, a parish organist and choirmaster, gave Casals instruction in piano, violin, and organ. When Casals was 11, he first heard the cello performed by a group of traveling musicians, and decided to dedicate himself to the instrument. In 1888 his mother took him to Barcelona, where he enrolled in the Escuela Municipal de Música. There he studied cello, theory, and piano. He made prodigious progress as a cellist; on February 23, 1891 he gave a solo recital in Barcelona at the age of 14. He graduated from the Escuela with honors two years later.

In 1893, the Catalan composer Albéniz heard him playing in a trio in a café and gave him a letter of introduction to the private secretary to María Cristina, the Queen Regent, in Madrid. Casals was asked to play at informal concerts in the palace, and was granted a royal stipend to study composition at the Conservatory de Musica y Declamacion in Madrid. He also played in the newly organized Quartet Society. In 1895 he went to Paris, where, having lost his stipend from Spain, he earned a living by playing second cello in the theater orchestra of the Folies Marigny. In 1896, He returned to Spain and received an appointment to the faculty of the Escuela Municipal de Música in Barcelona. He was also appointed principal cellist in the orchestra of Barcelona's opera house, the Liceu. In 1897 he appeared as soloist with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, and was awarded the Order of Carlos III from the Queen.

International Career

In 1899, Casals played at The Crystal Palace in London, and later for Queen Victoria at her summer residence at Cowes, Isle of Wight. On November 12, 1899, he appeared as a soloist at a prestigious Lamoureux Concert in Paris, and played at Lamoureux again on December 17, 1899, with great public and critical acclaim. He toured Spain and the Netherlands with the pianist Harold Bauer (1900-1901) In 1901 –1902 he made his first tour of the United States. In 1903 toured of South America. On January 15, 1904, he was invited to play at the White House for president Theodore Roosevelt. In 1906 he became associated with the talented young Portuguese cellist Guilhermina Suggia, who studied with him and began to appear in concerts as Mme. P. Casals-Suggia, although they were not legally married. Their liaison was dissolved in 1912; in 1914 Casals married the American socialite and singer Susan Metcalfe; they were separated in 1928, but did not divorce until 1957.

Back in Paris, Casals organized, a trio with the pianist Alfred Cortot and the violinist Jacques Thibaud; they played concerts and made recordings until 1937. Casals also became interested in conducting, and in 1919 he organized, in Barcelona, the Orquesta Pau Casals and led its first concert on October 13, 1920. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Orquesta Pau Casals ceased its activities. Casals was an ardent supporter of the Spanish Republican government, and after its defeat vowed never to return to Spain until democracy was restored. He settled in the French village of Prades, on the Spanish frontier; between 1939 and 1942 he made sporadic appearances as a cellist in the unoccupied zone of southern France and in Switzerland. So fierce was his opposition to the Franco regime in Spain that he declined to appear in countries that recognized the totalitarian Spanish government, making an exception when he took part in a concert of chamber music in the White House on November 13, 1961, at the invitation of President John F. Kennedy, whom he admired.

Later years

In 1950 he resumed his career as conductor and cellist at the Prades Festival, organized in commemoration of the bicentennial of the death of Bach; he continued leading the Prades Festivals until 1966. In 1956, he made his permanent residence San Juan, Puerto Rico, where his mother had been born (when the island was still under Spanish rule). In 1957 an annual Festival Casals was inaugurated there.

On August 3, 1957, at the age of 80, Casals married Marta Montañez, a young pupil of his.

Throughout the 1960s Casals gave many master classes in Switzerland, Italy, Berkeley, California, and Marlboro Vermont, some of which were televised.

Casals was also a composer; perhaps his most effective work is La sardana, for an ensemble of cellos, which he composed in 1926. His oratorio El pessebre (The Manger) was performed for the first time in Acapulco, Mexico, on December 17, 1960. One of his last compositions was the Himno a las Naciones Unidas (Hymn of the United Nations); he conducted its first performance in a special concert at the United Nations on October 24, 1971, 2 months before his 95th birthday.

Casals wrote a memoir, Joys and Sorrows; Reflections (1973)

Casals died in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the age of 96. He did not live to see the end of the Franco regime, but he was posthumously honored by the Spanish government under King Juan Carlos I, which issued in 1976 a commemorative postage stamp in honor of his 100th birthday. The World Almanac, in its 1977 edition, wrongfully placed Casals' name in a list of Famous Puerto Ricans.


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