April 03, 2013
For more than three decades Casals toured the world as a leading cello soloist. He was single-handedly responsible for bringing Bach’s solo suites out of obscurity, and he performed a wide, if conservative, repertoire. When he returned to Barcelona from Paris in 1919, he recognised the need for a local symphony orchestra. In setting up the Orquesta Pau Casals, he risked his own hard-earned fees by subsidising it for the first decade of its existence. The orchestra made its debut in October 1920 and, despite his lack of conducting experience, Casals made a success of the enterprise. In 1931 he directed the orchestra in a Barcelona performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to mark the birth of the Spanish Republic. But the civil war and the triumph of the Fascists tore his life and his career asunder. A man of principle, who would not appear in Hitler’s Germany, Casals was implacably opposed to Franco’s regime and in 1936, threatened with death if he returned to Spain, exiled himself to southern France. After the Second World War, alarmed at Britain and America’s acquiescence in Franco’s regime, he abruptly ceased playing in public. But from 1950, American admirers organised a festival around him in Prades, his adopted home in the French Pyrenees and Casals flourished again as chamber musician, teacher, conductor and musical philosopher. In 1956 he emigrated to his mother’s native Puerto Rico, from where he emerged to perform in 1958 at the United Nations and in 1961 at the White House. He died in Puerto Rico in October 1973, aged 96.