Pablo Casals

Pablo Casals (1876-1973)

Library of Congress/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Library of Congress/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Born Pau Casals i Defilló, this cellist from Catalonia, Spain is best known by his professional name Pablo Casals. He is considered one of the greatest cellists of all time, known especially for his recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites. As a cellist he played in solo, chamber, and orchestral settings and also was a conductor.

Casals was born into a musical family and received training at a young age. By his teenage years he was emerging as a noted cellist and before long was an internationally-touring sensation. In 1904 he played at the U.S. White House for the first time, for President Theodore Roosevelt.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Casals sided with the Republican government. When Franco’s dictatorship was established Casals vowed never to play in Spain again while it was under dictatorial rule. He even refused to play in countries that recognized the dictatorship. He made an exception when President John F. Kennedy, whom Casals admired, invited him to play at the White House in 1961. In December, 1963 he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

When the Spanish Civil War ended, Casals exiled himself, first to the Catalan areas of southern France, and then to Puerto Rico where he founded the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico.

When Casals was invited to play in the French Catalan region during a commemoration of the bicentenary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach, he agreed only if the proceeds would go to a refugee hospital.

Casals was also a composer. He conducted a performance of his “Hymn to the United Nations” at a special conference at the U.N. just before his 95th birthday. U.N. Secretary-General U Thant presented him with the U.N. Peace Medal for his consistent witness for peace, justice, and freedom. In his acceptance speech Casals pointed out the Catalonia had established a democratic parliament before the English had.

Archival Film of Pablo Casals Playing Bach’s “Suite No. 1 for Cello”: