Univ. of Cal. Berkeley, 1960. Bonnie Hampton, cello

Pablo Casals Master Class: Haydn D Major Concerto, 1st mvt.

Univ. of Cal. Berkeley, 1960. Bonnie Hampton, cello


Pau Casals i Defilló, known during his professional career as Pablo Casals, was was born in Catalonia, Spain, December 29, 1876. He is generally regarded as the pre-eminent cellist of the first half of the 20th century, and one of the greatest cellists of all time.

Casals was also an internationally renowned political figure, a voice for human rights, and an activist against oppressive governments. He dedicated his life and used the power of his career to oppose the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. Following the brutal Spanish Civil War and Franco’s consolidation of power, Casals refused to perform in countries that officially recognized the Franco government, a decision that included a refusal to play in the United States. Until his death in 1973, he made only one exception: in 1961 he performed at the White House for U.S. President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), a man he greatly admired. In 1971, at the age of ninety-five, he performed his “Hymn of the United Nations” before the United Nations General Assembly. Casals sought to inspire harmony among people, using both the voice of his cello and the power of his self-imposed silence.

by LLUÍS CLARET (Barcelona Trio; “Victoria dels Angels” Music School at Sant Cugat and Toulouse Conservatory) with Paul Katz

Pablo Casals was born on December 29, 1876, in Vendrell, in the Catalonian region of Spain. He was the second of eleven children of Carlos Casals and Pilar Defillo de Casals. Casals’s father, Carlos, was a carpenter and the local church organist, and would play the piano while baby Pablo rested his head against the instrument and sang along. By the age of four, Casals was playing the piano, and at five he joined the church choir. By six, he was composing songs with his father, and by the age of nine, he could play both violin and organ. At ten years old, Casals began his life-long practice of starting each day with a walk, taking inspiration from nature. Upon returning home, he would play two Johann Sebastian Bach works on the piano.

Discovers the Cello
Casals became interested in the cello after hearing the instrument in a recital he attended at age eleven – he must have had a passionate reaction to the instrument, for soon after, his father built him one. His parents argued about his future – his father wanted him to study carpentry, but his mother would not hear of it and enrolled him in the Municipal School of Music in Barcelona. Casals clashed with old-fashioned, strict instructors, and insisted on playing cello in his own, more expressive manner. This “new” way of playing revolutionized cello performance, and thus Casals single-handedly made the cello a more popular solo instrument.

Among the many impressed by Casals was the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz (1860–1909). After hearing Casals play, Albéniz wrote a letter of introduction to Count Guillermo de Morphy, secretary to the Queen Regent of Spain, Maria Cristine. In 1894 Casals traveled to Madrid, Spain, and gave concerts for the queen and her court. Over the next few years his reputation spread, and with the huge success of his formal 1899 solo debut in Paris, Casals’s career was assured.

Discovering the Bach Cello Suites
In 1890, while Casals and his father were browsing a Barcelona bookstore, Casals stumbled upon a volume of Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello. Previously considered merely musical exercises, Casals immediately felt their profound musical depth, and practiced them every day for a dozen years before first performing them publicly. He then continued to play at least one suite per day for the rest of his life. Casals’ performances of the suites shocked listeners by correcting the previously held belief that Bach’s unaccompanied music for strings had no warmth or artistic value. Casals’s love of Bach’s music carried over into the rest of his life.

Casals Silences His Cello In Protest
“I am everyday more convinced that the main-spring of any human enterprise must be moral strength and generosity.” Casals came to understand the suffering of the poor as he walked the streets of Barcelona and he vowed to use his music to help his fellow people. Casals wrote letters and organized concerts on behalf of the oppressed, and he refused to perform in countries such as the Soviet Union, Germany, and Italy, where, in his view, governments mistreated their citizens. After the brutal Spanish Civil War (1936–39), when General Francisco Franco took dictatorial control of Spain, Casals went into self-imposed exile and announced he would never return to Spain while Franco was in power. He settled in Prades, France, and gave occasional concerts until 1946, when, to take a stand against tyrants such as Franco, Casals vowed never to perform again.

Persuaded by friends, however, Casals resumed playing in 1950, participating in the Prades Festival, organized in Prades, France, to honor Bach. At the end of the festival and in every concert he was to give after that, Casals played the Catalan folk-song, “Song of the Birds”, to call attention to continued oppression in Spain. In 1956, he settled in Puerto Rico, where he started the legendary Casals Festival, which attracted the great artists of the world, led to the creation of the Symphony Orchestra of Puerto Rico, and a music conservatory on the island. Just short of his 97th birthday, Casals died October 22, 1973, having never returned to Spain.


By BONNIE HAMPTON: As a teacher, Casals was very focused, kind, and patient, but insistent and willing to stay on a point until it was well understood. In his teaching, intonation was conceived in terms of tonality and the melodic attraction of intervals. Half-steps, sharps, and flats were affected by the notes around them, cultivating expressive intonation when playing melodically within the given key structure. Chords, however, needed to be more tempered. Intonation was consistently a crucial element in his work.

Vibrato is of course an expressive function of music, and therefore, one needed the ability to maintain control of every color, width, and speed of vibrato. The emphasis was always on vibrato coming from the “inside” of the note as opposed to the top; one’s vibrato needed to come from the true center of the pitch.

Casals left hand was enormously alive with a spring in the articulation of the fingers, but also with a free thrown strength. Again, a resilient strength, as with the bow. The clarity of his articulation was remarkable, but also, I feel that there was an element of clarity in the fingers of his bow hand as well, which gave him that remarkable clarity and ring in the sound. He could play with great calm and serenity or with volcanic strength and temperament, but always t without physical tension of any kind.


By LLUIS CLARET with Paul Katz: At the end of the Spanish Civil War, Pablo Casals, together with my parents and thousands of other Catalans and Spanish citizens, exiled themselves to France. Upon the liberation of France at the close of World War II, Casals devoted all of his energy to playing concerts to raise funds for orphan children in need. My father, Andreu Claret, was a very enterprising man and one of Casals’ closest friends, and he became the Maestro’s Secretary in order to help organize all these charity activities. On the occasion of my birth, this great friendship between Casals and my father resulted in Casals becoming my godfather, and thus I believe that, by mere chance, my cellist future began to be forged within me. For all that he gave humankind, perhaps most important are the six solo Suites of Bach which, without Casals, would surely not be the musical Bible of every cellist in the world today. Imagine young Casals as a teenager stumbling upon this discarded music in a bookstore, and the profound musical sensitivity and intuition that led him to understand the greatness of this music. We are eternally grateful to him for his re-discovery of the suites and for being the very first to dare to play an entire suite in public. And yet, it is not just musicians, but all of humanity that is indebted to this great man – “I am a man first and an artist second. My first obligation is to my fellow man.” And so Pablo Casals also lives on as eternal inspiration, not only as an artist, but as a moral force, one who used his art in the cause of justice and to fight oppression.


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