Pablo Casals

Pablo Casals

Cellist, composer, orchestra director, and defender of peace and human rights, born in Catalan. He was known for establishing a new style of playing the cello, his favored instrument. With the goal of making classical music accessible to everyone, he organized orchestras and festivals in various sites. He founded the Casals Festival on the island and was a primary figure in the creation of Conservatory of Music and the Symphonic Orchestra in Puerto Rico.

Pau Carlos Salvador Casals Defilló was born in El Vendrell, a province of Catalan, Spain. He was the son of Pilar Defilló, a native of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and of Catalan descent, and his Catalan father, Carlos Casals, who was an organist and director of the choir in the church. His first music teacher was his father, who taught him to play the violin, the piano and the flute. He became interested in the cello when he was eleven years old. In 1888, he entered the Barcelona Municipal School of Music, where he studied cello, theory and piano. He graduated with honors in 1893.

To pay for his expenses while he was studying, he began to play along with a trio in the Café Tost in the Gracia neighborhood. After hearing him play at the café, composer Isaac Albéniz helped him obtain a royal stipend to study composition at the Music and Theater Conservatory in Madrid. In 1895, he performed as second cellist in the Folies Marigny Orchestra in París. Upon returning to Barcelona the following year, he joined the faculty of the Municipal School of Music. He also joined the orchestra of the Liceo Grand Theater. In 1897, he performed as a soloist in concerts with the Madrid Symphonic Orchestra.

From then on, his international fame began to grow, particularly due to the innovative technique he used for playing the cello, which lent greater depth and expressiveness to the music. In 1899, he performed before Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and as a soloist in Paris. He later made tours of Spain, the Netherlands, the United States, South America and Russia. In 1904, he performed before President Theodore Roosevelt.

He made his first recordings in 1915. In 1919, he was given the task of creating the Pau Casals Orchestra in Barcelona, for which he contracted 88 musicians, some of them full-time. His orchestra offered its first performance in 1920 and remained active until 1936, the year the Spanish Civil Warbroke out. In 1939, after the troops of General Francisco Franco occupied Barcelona, he went into exile, first in Paris and then in Prada de Conflent, a village in the French Pyrenees. He decided not to return to Spanish soil while Franco was in power.

During that era, he made very few public appearances. Between 1936 and 1939, he made recordings of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suites. He refused to play in countries that did not have a policy of rejecting Franco’s totalitarian regime and, later, he decided not to play publicly at all because of his disappointment that the allied countries did not oppose the Franco regime. He dedicated himself to giving cello classes and composing. He also offered assistance to Catalan and Spanish refugees.

Beginning in 1950, along with his friend, the violinist and director Alexander Schneider, he organized the first Prada Festival to commemorate the bicentennial of the death of Bach. In the following years, he continued to hold the festival and offer classes in Prada. One of his students was a young Puerto Rican, Marta Montañez Martínez, who would later become his second wife.

Casals’ direct relationship with Puerto Rico began in 1955, when he visited the island for the first time. The 1950s in Puerto Rico was a time of accelerated social, economic and cultural development. Institutions such as the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and the Industrial Development Agency were created. The government saw Casals’ arrival on the island as an opportunity to create cultural projects that would be linked to the cellist and bring recognition to the island.

In 1956, with the urging and support of Governor Luis Muñoz Marín and lawyer and adviser Abe Fortas, he founded the Casals Festival of Puerto Rico, of which he would be the musical director for eighteen years and his friend, Alexander Schneider, the assistant director. That same year, he moved to the capital city. In 1957, he married Marta Montañez.

When the government of Puerto Rico in 1958 approved the law that created the Symphonic Orchestra, Pablo Casals was given the task of organizing and directing it. The inaugural concert was held in Mayagüez, his mother’s hometown. Among the first musicians in the orchestra, only seven were Puerto Ricans and the rest were from the United States. In 1959, the law that created the Conservatory of Music, a school to prepare Puerto Rican musicians, was approved and Casals became the institution’s first president.

In the following years, he actively participated in the cultural activities of the island. He also offered a concert in New York City in 1958 to commemorate United Nations Day before the U.N. General Assembly. A few days earlier, he had offered a message of peace in Geneva. He also appeared in various countries, where he offered concerts and classes. In 1961, he was invited to play in the White House in Washington, D.C., by U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

In 1963, he began a campaign for peace and human dignity. Two years later, an orchestra performed his composition El pesebre, which he had begun to write during his exile in Prades, in commemoration of the 18th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. In 1971, he composed the United Nations hymn.

He died in San Juan on October 22, 1973. Initially, his remains were buried in the Puerto Rico Memorial cemetery. In 1979, after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, his wife moved his remains to Catalan.

By the PROE Editorial Group

Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 03, 2014.

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