Pau Casals i Defilló (December 29 1876 – October 22, 1973), best known during his professional career as Pablo Casals, was a Spanish Catalan cellist and later conductor. He made many recordings throughout his career, of solo, chamber, and orchestral music, also as conductor, but Casals is perhaps best remembered for the recording of the Bach: Cello Suites he made from 1936 to 1939. An ardent supporter of the Spanish Republican government, after its defeat in 1939, Casals vowed not to return to Spain until democracy had been restored, although he did not live to see the end of the Franco dictatorial regime.
In 1893, the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz heard him playing in a trio in a café and gave him a letter of introduction to the private secretary to María Cristina, the Queen Regent, in Madrid, Spain. Casals was asked to play at informal concerts in the palace, and was granted a royal stipend to study composition at the Conservatory de Musica y Declamacion in Madrid with Víctor Mirecki. He also played in the newly organized Quartet Society.
In 1895 he went to Paris, where, having lost his stipend from Catalonia, he earned a living by playing second cello in the theater orchestra of the Folies Marigny. In 1896, he returned to Catalonia and received an appointment to the faculty of the Escuela Municipal de Música in Barcelona. He was also appointed principal cellist in the orchestra of Barcelona's opera house, the Liceu. In 1897 he appeared as soloist with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra, and was awarded the Order of Carlos III from the Queen.
Back in Paris, Casals organized a trio with the pianist Alfred Cortot and the violinist Jacques Thibaud; they played concerts and made recordings until 1937. Casals also became interested in conducting, and in 1919 he organized, in Barcelona, the Orquesta Pau Casals and led its first concert on October 13, 1920. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Orquesta Pau Casals ceased its activities. Casals was an ardent supporter of the Spanish Republican government, and after its defeat vowed not to return to Spain until democracy was restored.
He settled in the French village of Prada de Conflent, on the Spanish frontier; between 1939 and 1942 he made sporadic appearances as a cellist in the unoccupied zone of southern France and in Switzerland. So fierce was his opposition to the Francisco Franco dictatorial regime in Spain that he refused to appear in countries that recognized the authoritarian Spanish government. He made a notable exception when he took part in a concert of chamber music in the White House on November 13, 1961, at the invitation of President John F Kennedy, whom he admired.
Throughout most of his professional career, he played on a cello that was labeled and attributed to "Carlo Tononi ... 1733" but after playing it for 50 years it was discovered to have been created by the Venetian luthier, Matteo Goffriller around 1700. It was acquired by Casals in 1913.
On August 3, 1957, at 80, Casals married Marta Montañez Martínez, a young student of his from Puerto Rico. They settled in the town of Ceiba and lived in a house called "El Pesebre".
Casals was also a composer; perhaps his most effective work is La sardana (The Sardana), for an ensemble of cellos, which he composed in 1926. His oratorio El pesebre (The Manger) was performed for the first time in Acapulco, Mexico, on December 17, 1960. One of his last compositions was the Himne a les Nacions Unides (Hymn of the United Nations); he conducted its first performance in a special concert at the United Nations on October 24, 1971, 2 months before his 95th birthday.
Casals had his memoirs recorded by Albert E. Kahn: Joys and Sorrows; Reflections (1970).
Casals died in 1973 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the age of 96. In 1979 his remains were laid to rest in his hometown of El Vendrell, Catalonia. He did not live to see the end of the Franco dictatorial regime, but he was posthumously honoured by the Spanish government under King Juan Carlos I, which issued in 1976 a commemorative postage stamp in honour of the centenary of his birth.
In 1989, Casals was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
The International Pau Casals Cello Competition is held in Germany under the auspices of the Kronberg Academy once every four years, starting in 2000, in order to discover and further the careers of the future cello elite, and is supported by the Pau Casals Foundation, under the patronage of Marta Casals Istomin. One of the prizes is the use of one of the Gofriller cellos owned by Casals.
The first top prize was awarded in 2000 to Claudio Bohórquez.