THE LIFE AND INFLUENCE OF CASALS--Part 4
by Marshall St. John
An ongoing serial story of the most influential cellist of the
early 20th century.
Casals, page 17
An Excerpt from Casals, a book of photographs by Vytas Valaitis, with text
selected and arranged by Theodore Strongin.
"What I think is that sensibility has been lost today, so many things
have happened in the world lately. Today we see fantastic things in science,
in everything, in machines that do a lot of things.
"I will say only elemental things--nothing complex--as everything ought
to be, beginning with life. But you must know that the simplest things
are the ones that count.
"But the world has forgotten sadly the most elemental things. What
I feel very deeply is that the world has retrogressed, gone back in many
ways, and especially in sensibility. I remember, for instance, the time
of the Dreyfus case. It was only one man, and everyone--everyone!--at that
time was interested in this case. If an injustice was committed to one
man, everyone questioned it.
"Today we forget the millions of lives lost in the last wars. We rather
tend to think of other things that refer to our physical needs, to our amusement.
That is why I think that the world is going backwards.
"We have more and more people that think they know everything there
is to be known, except Pater Noster."
Casals, page 18
To a certain extent, every human being is shaped by the historical events
taking place around him. Our generation has been very much affected, for
example, by the Vietnam War, the assassination of President Kennedy, and
the musical influence of both the Beatles and Motown. Pablo Casals' life
was caught up into the whirlwind of the Spanish Civil War, and everything
Casals did and said following the rise of General Francisco Franco to power
in Spain, was directed and colored by that event.
King Alfonso XIII, a personal friend of Casals, was a weak king, and found
his kingdom gradually falling away from him as the people of Spain began
a grassroots movement toward a republic with elected rulers. By 1931 all
but four Spanish provinces had voted to make Spain a republic, and Alfonso
left the country. A new government was formed then, but there were problems
with failed attempts to reform education, religious affairs, banking and
agriculture. The government was alternately controlled by both left and
right, and by 1936 Spain was dissolving into chaos.
The Spanish Civil War began on July 17, 1936, led by General Francisco Franco,
who quickly received large supplies of both materials and troops from Mussolini
in Italy, and Hitler, who had come to power in 1933 in Germany. Casals
quit playing his cello in Germany, as he realized what Hitler and the Nazis
were doing to his Jewish friends and colleagues.
The Civil War lasted three years, and much of Spain was laid waste. H.
L. Kirk, in his tremendous biography of Casals wrote: "The country
was bathed in blood; it is estimated that some seventy-five thousand people
were killed in other than military engagements in Republican territory in
the six weeks between July 18 and September 1, 1936, and the number of murdered
grew as insurgent forces moved inland..." (pages 399-400). By 1939
Franco was total dictator of a bloody totalitarian state.
Pablo Casals was devastated. He was a strong believer in peace, in freedom,
and in the rights of the common man. Now it had all been trampled on, and
even his beloved Catalonia was under the dictator's heel. Casals was forced
to flee Spain with the other refugees, just steps ahead of Franco's army.
He rented a hotel room in Prades, a small town in the French Pyrenees,
just north of the Spanish/French border. There he personally helped to
distribute truckloads of food and clothing to nearby refugee camps.
Casals, page 19
Casals full name was Pablo Carlos Salvador Casals y Defillo. That name
is full of interesting information. One coincidence is that his name "Salvador"
is also the name of a beach about four kilometers south of Vendrell, and
a place of great importance in Casals' life. Casals first memory was of
awakening from sleep, to the sound of the sea, and to the shifting dappled
light in his room, reflected from the sea outside the guest house where
he was vacationing with his family. Casals was only one year old then.
The Playa San Salvador became the one spot on earth that Casals loved most,
and to which he returned at least once a year for the first sixty years
of his life.
It was in San Salvador as a boy that Casals learned to swim, and where he
eagerly soaked up stories of pirates and buried treasure, told him by an
old crippled ex-sailor who had become caretaker of a museum there. The
old sailor spoke Catalan, as did Casals, and bore the same given name, Pau.
In 1908 while he was playing the viola da gamba obbligato to the Bach aria
"It Is Finished," in the cathedral in Basel, Casals suddenly felt
an overwhelming certainty that his father, Carlos, was dying. After the
performance he canceled all his other obligations, and set off for Vendrell.
When he arrived he found that his father had indeed died in Bonastre at
the same time he was playing his cello in Switzerland. He was already buried
in the cemetery in Vendrell at the time that Casals arrived at home.
After Pablo's father died, his mother, Dona Pilar, lived for a time in Bonastre,
then in an apartment in Barcelona. But she was homesick for Puerto Rico,
and nostalgic for earlier, happier years, and she asked Pablo to find a
place for her, and for him, to live near the sea. Casals bought a piece
of land at the farthest end of the empty beach in San Salvador (and later
bought more, until he eventually owned fourteen acres there on the beach).
Casal's mother began to design his home in San Salvador which would become
an extremely important place in his life, and to which he would later devote
much time and money.
Casals, page 20.
Rostropovich Speaks About Casals:
Just this year, 1996, EMI has released both a 2 CD audio production of
Rostropovich playing the six Bach Suites, and a two cassette video edition.
There is a booklet included with the 2 audio CDs that puts in print what
Rostropovich speaks and demonstrates on the video. By all means, buy the
video! Not only does Rostropovich give a warm, meaningful performance of
the suites on his cello, but he also sits at the piano and lectures on
each suite before performing it. (He speaks in Russian, and there are English
subtitles.) These lectures are only on the video, not on the audio CDs.
Many thanks are due to EMI for presenting cellists with this wonderful
examination and performance of Bach's greatest work for the cello. Here
is an excerpt from the booklet, in which Rostropovich recalls Pablo Casals.
"To my mind the greatest name in cello history is that of Pablo Casals.
I had already heard his recordings in friends' homes in Moscow. Then in
1957 I was invited to attend the Casals Competition in Paris. I was to
meet the great man himself beforehand, and he invited me to his hotel in
Paris. I came and met this affable man, pipe in mouth, with a bald head--although
now I realize that there's nothing wrong with being bald! He embraced me
and said: "How can I thank you for coming? Let me play for you."
He was only a couple of feet away from me--not a bit nervous about playing
for me, but here he was with his bow and cello so close to me that my hands
and legs started to tremble from sheer agitation because of the veneration
in which I held this greatest of artists. He started to play the Allemande
from the First Suite. His playing had an incredibly powerful effect on
me.After each phrase Casals had paused to observe intently (from behind
his glasses) Rostropovich's reaction. He would then smile at seeing the
agitation in Rostropovich's face before continuing with the next phrase."
It was a rhapsodic interpretation of Bach, I'd say, like a dialogue, keenly
aware phrase-by- phrase of the listener's reaction. When Casals played
it seemed to me impossible to interpret Bach in any other way, such was
the force of his personality and his nature as an artist, his total conviction
in what he was doing. Therefore no copy can be authentic. A copy cannot
reflect your own feelings or your own sense of phrasing, and is like a bottle
without any wine in it. Casals played a great part in my life and in my
love of Bach and music in general."
The words above are from the booklet accompanying Rostropovich's recent
recording of the Bach Suites, copyright by SGOL Music Limited, under exclusive
license to EMI Records, Ltd. The CD's are great, but I highly recommend
that all cellists purchase these wonderful video tapes, in which Rostropovich's
personality is captured so well.
Casals, page 21
One of the truly great cellists of the Twentieth Century was Gregor Piatigorsky,
a Russian cellist who eventually immigrated to the United States. Piatigorsky
was a terrific story teller, and his autobiography, simply titled "Cellist,"
is filled with stories about himself, the historic times in which he lived,
and his friends and acquaintances. This is a book that every cellist will
want to own, or at least check out at the library. It is worth reading
more than once. (It was published by Doubleday and Company, and copyrighted
by Piatigorsky himself in 1965. Several of the chapters had been published
earlier in The Atlantic Monthly, in 1957 and 1962).
Here is an excerpt from Piatigorsky's book, in which he writes of an encounter
with Pablo Casals, that reveals Casal's prodigious memory, attention to
minute detail, and human warmth:
My great wish was to hear Pablo Casals. One day my desire was
almost fulfilled and I met him. But ironically, it was I who
play. It was in the home of the Von Mendelssohns, a house filled
with El Grecos, Rembrandts, and Stradivarius. Francesco von
Mendelssohn, the son of the banker, who was a talented cellist,
telephoned and asked if he could call for me; they had a guest
the house who would like to hear me play.
"Mr. Casals," I was introduced to a little bald man
with a pipe. He
said that he was pleased to meet young musicians such as Serkin
and me. Rudolf Serkin, who stood stiffly next to me, seemed
myself, to be fighting his diffidence. Rudi had played before
arrival, and Casals now wanted to hear us together. Beethoven's
Major Sonata was on the piano. "Why don't you play it?"
Casals. Both nervous and barely knowing each other, we gave
poor performance that terminated somewhere in the middle.
"Bravo! Bravo! Wonderful!" Casals applauded. Francesco
the Schumann Cello Concerto, which Casals wanted to hear. I
never played worse. Casals asked for Bach. Exasperated, I
with a performance matching the Beethoven and Schumann.
"Splendid! Magnifique!" said Casals, embracing me.
"Bewildered, I left the house. I knew how badly I had
why did he, the master, have to praise and embrace me? This
apparent insincerity pained me more than anything else.
"The greater was my shame and delight when, a few years
met Casals in Paris. We had dinner together and played duets
two cellos, and I played for him until late at night. Spurred
great warmth, and happy, I confessed what I had thought of his
praising me in Berlin. He reacted with sudden anger. He rushed
the cello, "Listen!" He played a phrase from the
"Didn't you play this fingering? Ah, you did! It was
novel to me...it
was good...and here, didn't you attack that passage with up-bow,
like this? he demonstrated. He went through Schumann and Bach,
always emphasizing all he liked that I had done. "And
for the rest,"
he said passionately, "leave it to the ignorant and stupid
by counting only the faults. I can be grateful, and so must
for even one note, one wonderful phrase." I left with
the feeling of
having been with a great artist and a friend.
Pablo Casals, Lillian Littlehales, 1929, W. W. Norton & Company
History of the Violoncello, Lev Ginsburg, 1983, Paganiniana Publications
Pablo Casals, Frederic V. Grunfeld, 1982, Time-Life Records, Great Men
The Great Cellists, Margaret Campbell, 1989, Trafalgar Square Publishing
Copyright Marshall C. St. John
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