In 1887 the Catholic Center of Vendrell sponsored some concerts by stringed instrument performers. One concert was given by the Spanish cellist Jose Garcia of the Municipal School in Barcelona. Here, the young Pablo Casals, for the first time in his life, heard the instrument which would later bring him fame and fortune. Casals, only 10 years old, was deeply impressed by Garcia's playing, and by the wonderful sound of the instrument. He immediately commented to his father, "Father, do you see that instrument? That is what I want to play!" His father bought a cello for Pablo that very week, and gave him his first lesson. The young Casals devoted himself to practicing, and his family soon realized that he should study the cello seriously.
In 1888 Pablo's mother took him by train from Vendrell to Barcelona, and enrolled him in the Municipal School, where he studied with Jose Garcia for three years. He studied harmony and counterpoint with Roderedo, the director of the school; and made tremendous strides with the cello. He won prizes in theory and composition. As the three years drew to a close, his cello teacher, Garcia, boasted to his friends that his student Pablo could now play the cello better than he could, himself!
An important aspect of Casal's musical education during these three years in Barcelona was his experience as a performer in the various cafes of Barcelona. The young cellist, along with other musicians, performed waltzes, and other light, entertaining music for the dining pleasure of the patrons of the cafes, and learned at an early age what it was like to be in the spotlight, and what it was like to actually earn a living as a musician.
Pablo, young as he was, led in establishing a classical program for one evening in each week, where he was performing. Two interesting results came from this. First, he began to gain popularity and a certain amount of notoriety. (We must remember that this was in the day before there were radios, or recorded music. People simply did not hear music unless it was done in a live performance.) People who loved good music began to hear of Pablo Casals, the boy cellist, and to make special trips to the cafe to hear him play. The well-known Iberian composer Isaac Albeniz was one such visitor, and he publically predicted a great future for Pablo.
Secondly, Casals began to need more pieces to play, and more variety. He began searching for music that he could arrange for his group of seven, that was now playing in the cafes of Barcelona. About this time his father came from Vendrell to visit him, and took Pablo to an old music store on the Calle Ancha, on the waterfront. It was at this old music store where Pablo Casals first discovered the Beethoven sonatas for cello, and on the bottom of a pile of old sheet music, an edition of the six suites by Bach for cello solo. Casals says that when he saw these Bach suites for cello alone, he was immediately absorbed by a mystical sense of purpose, and felt an overpowering attraction to this music. He forgot his purpose of looking for music for his group, and could think of nothing else but reading through and studying these suites. Casals had never heard of the Bach suites, and reported that even his teacher, Jose Garcia, knew nothing of them. Casals played and studied the Bach suites for ten years before performing any of them in public.
Copyright © 1996, 1997 Marshall C. St. John
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