“I went to meet Casals in April 1950. I was in Paris at the Chatelliers’, the French family I used to stay with every time I came to Paris. I had written to him: ‘Maître, would you allow me to visit you before the festival?’ I was dying to see this great musician, this great humanist who already had this legendary aura. He answered me immediately: ‘Come, come, I’m waiting for you!’
Casals lighting his pipe
I took the train to Prades with great curiosity, but also with terrible fright, because I was aware that he would ask me to play for him. I didn’t want to play for him. I was too scared. I invented a little trick to make him play duets with me. I knew he was a very good pianist. That way, I’d sneak in at the piano next to him. I could warm up, let the nervousness fade and then make a good impression with my playing! Before leaving Paris, I looked for a score and finally found a four-hand transcription by Debussy of Schumann’s Six Canons Opus 56 for pedal piano, which I brought to Casals.
I knocked on his door. He opened the door for me, in a little cardigan, in all simplicity, with those beautiful big blue eyes, with his warmth. We sat down and started chatting. He smoked his pipe. He started by flattering me, saying that he had heard a lot about me. He eventually said: ‘Do you want to play something for me?’ I replied: ‘No, Maître, I’m too scared. But I suggest we play some duets together. Do you know this work by Schumann?’. How cheeky! ‘No, no, I don’t know it’, said Casals. ‘Oh! How interesting!’ And we immediately started to play. His upright piano was terrible, but Casals was thrilled by the beauty of the music.
When we finished, he asked me: ‘Now, do you want to play something?’ And I played Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in E minor which I had prepared for the festival. He jumped up with excitement: ‘It’s a revelation. Wonderful, wonderful!’ And then Casals went to the next room and came back with his cello: ‘Now I am going to play for you.’ And he played the entire D minor Suite by Bach for me… just me… and him right in front of me. I was in complete awe.
At that very moment I fell in love with Casals forever. He was the most generous, the most humane person you could imagine. A great friendship developed. That year, after the festival, he said that if he ever played in public again, it would be with me. This experience, as any music lover can understand, left its mark on me for life.”
In Prades (1950)
“When I became aware of the loneliness to which Casals would return after the festival, I decided to stay with him. I did the same for the next two years. We made a lot of music together, but we didn’t talk much about music. We talked about anything and everything else. I had taken on the role of a son, and our relationship was wholly filial. I stimulated him and teased him with my youth and talent. He allowed me to challenge him. I was the only one. I don’t know how I got the idea to do so, but he enjoyed it. We always kept this very straightforward and affectionate relationship, despite the difficult times and the distance.
After the 1950 festival, Casals arranged that I be invited to perform in Portugal (Lisbon) and in Italy (Società del Quartetto di Milano, Turin and Florence). I already had concerts in Switzerland, two recitals that Serkin had offered me. I didn’t come back to the United States until December. I had been in France for eight months. .
Each time I went to Prades, I would have a Steinway sent for me. At Casals’ house, there was the little Gaveau. I played for him and asked him for feedback and advice, but all he did was to go into extasies. When I played the Brahms Handel Variations, he exclaimed that it was better than anything he had ever heard. I again asked him for criticism and Casals laughed in my face.
I would come around noon for half an hour, and again, almost every day, at 5:30. We would play until 7:00 – all kinds of music, sonatas and concertos. I brought a lot of scores: the Beethoven and Brahms sonatas of course, but also Mendelssohn and Rachmaninoff’s (a big job for the pianist, but I knew he had played it with Rachmaninoff himself!). I accompanied him in concertos by Lalo, Saint-Saëns, Haydn, Dvořák, Schumann, etc. I teased him by telling him that it was too difficult for him, that he was too old, but that he had to try anyway! No one else would have allowed that. He was always treated with obsequious deference and he was delighted that I was teasing him like this. We were friendly, like a grandfather and his grandson.”
The 1951 Perpignan Festival
“In 1951, I came to Prades very early, in May, when the Festival program was announced. By then, my role had changed. I was always the youngest, among the prestigious elders – Myra Hess, Clara Haskil, Serkin, Horszowski. I had been assigned a “little” Mozart concerto, the 14th in E flat major, but it suited me very well as I had played it a lot with Busch. Above all, I had the great honor of sharing two entire Beethoven trio concerts with Casals and Schneider and of recording them after the festival! There were many magical moments, especially for me. But there was never the same communion, the same euphoria as the previous year. In Perpignan, we were all scattered around, whereas we had been so close and always together in the little town of Prades. And Perpignan was so hot and windy!
A concert at the Palace of the Kings of Majorca during the 1951 Perpigan Festival
In August, after recording the trios, Sasha and I left for Greece, but before coming back to America we wanted to make a detour to Prades, and Isaac joined us. He was returning from Israel with his new wife, Vera. He had just married her, two weeks after meeting her, it was love at first sight! We spent a few days with Casals in a happy and joyful mood, and we had a musical orgy.”
Festival 1952 in Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa
Rehearsing with Jennie Tourel
“The 1952 Festival was great, with an incredible program of chamber music. Some recordings, such as Schubert’s String Quintet in C or Brahms’ Sextet in B flat, are landmarks in the history of recorded music. My own great moment was the fourth concert together with Jennie Tourel, Isaac Stern and Casals: 8 Schubert songs from Die schöne Müllerin, Schumann’s Violin Sonata Op. 105, the Brahms Cello Sonata No. 1 and Trio No. 3. I was also supposed to record both works by Brahms, but the recording schedule was disrupted because Casals had been ill and was unable to play the cello for several days. The Sonata was only recorded during the concert and the Trio during a rehearsal. We have not authorized their release.
Casals and Schneider bursting into laugher
There had been some tension before and during the festival. Schneider, who had been the backbone of the first three editions, was upset by the demands and the incompetence of the French Committee. He was also offended by the reproaches of musicians who had been part of the orchestra for the previous two years. Some of them were so disappointed that they even tried to convince Casals to organize a symphonic festival after the chamber music one. Moreover, Schneider had fallen madly in love with Geraldine Page and it took up his entire mind and a lot of his time. He decided to give up Prades, displaying a little bitterness and taking Stern along with him. However, he kept all his affection and admiration for Casals and would prove it a few years later. With Schneider gone, I was the closest musician to Casals and I had no choice but to take over. I was not at all prepared for such a task, but when we discussed the situation with Casals, this decision seemed natural to us. Looking back, I would say it was a bit of a crazy challenge, even completely crazy – but despite the difficult moments, it was a fabulous experience which I certainly don’t regret.”
Preparing the performance of the Misteri de Sant Pere Urseol
The 1952 festival ended with an additional concert on June 30, to benefit the Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa. A few days later, there was a performance of the Misteri de Sant Pere Urseol, a morality play of J. S. Pons. It was the story of Pietro I Orsoléo, the doge of Venice, who gave up power to retire at the Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa to seek out God in solitude and silence. Casals had composed a stage music for which he had probably arranged some excerpts from his oratorio El Pessebre. Charles-Henry Reymond, the critic for the Independant of Perpignan, was very laudatory, considering that the music was “in perfect harmony with the text”. Eugene Istomin took the piano part, assisted by flutist Bernard Goldberg and oboist Leila Storch, who recalled that she had played a charming oboe solo from the top of the nearby hill and that Casals himself played percussion.
Concerts and recordings at Prades Festival between 1950 and 1952
Concert on June 19 : Church of St. Peter Bach. Trio Sonata in G BWV 1038 (with Isaac Stern and John Wummer) ; Toccata in E minor BWV 914 ; Partita No. 2 in C minor BWV 826.
Bach. Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D BWV 1050. Joseph Szigeti, John Wummer. Prades Festival Orchestra, Pablo Casals. June 10 & 12. Prades Girls’ College.
Bach. Trio Sonata in G BWV 1038 1038. Isaac Stern, John Wummer. Date unknown. Prades Girls’ College.
Bach. Toccata in E minor BWV 914; Partita No. 2 in C minor BWV 826. London (probably Abbey Road). Date unknown.
July 12. Palace of the Kings of Majorca. Beethoven, Trio Op. 1 No. 2; Trio Op. 11; Trio Op. 70 No. 2. Alexander Schneider, Pablo Casals.
July 16. Palace of the Kings of Majorca. Beethoven, Kakadu Variations Op. 121a; Trio Op. 1 No. 3 ; Trio op. 97 ”Archduke”. Alexander Schneider, Pablo Casals.
July 18. Palace of the Kings of Majorca. Mozart, Concerto No. 14 in E flat K. 449. Perpignan Festival Orchestra, Pablo Casals
Mozart, Concerto No. 14 in E flat K. 449. Perpignan Festival Orchestra, Pablo Casals. July 20. Perpignan Theatre.
Beethoven, Trio Op. 1 No. 2; Trio Op. 11; Trio Op. 70 No. 2. Trio op. 97 ”Archduke”.Schubert, Trio in B flat D. 898. Alexander Schneider, Pablo Casals. August 1951 (precise dates unknown). Perpignan Theatre.
June 21. Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa. Brahms, Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor Op. 38. Schumann.Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor Op. 105. Schubert, 8 Lieder from Die schöne Müllerin. Brahms. Trio No. 3 in C minor Op. 101. Jenny Tourel, Isaac Stern, Pablo Casals.
June 25. Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa. Schubert, Trio in B flat D. 898. Alexander Schneider, Pablo Casals.
Brahms, Cello Sonata No. 1 in E minor Op. 38. Pablo Casals. June 21. (on acetate discs).
Brahms. Trio No. 3 in C minor Op. 101. Isaac Stern, Pablo Casals. Precise date unknown. Taped in rehearsal, not released.
Bach. Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D BWV 1050, first movement. Eugene Istomin. Joseph Szigeti, John Wummer. Prades Festival Orchestra, Pablo Casals. Recorded for Columbia on June 10 & 12, 1950
Beethoven. Trio in B flat major Op. 11, first movement (Allegro con brio). Eugene Istomin. Alexander Schneider. Pablo Casals. Recorded in August 1951.
Mozart, Concerto No. 14 in E flat K. 449, last movement (Allegro ma non troppo) . Perpignan Festival Orchestra, Pablo Casals. Recorded for Columbia on July 20, 1951.
Brahms. Trio No. 3 in C minor Op. 101, first movement (Allegro energico). Eugene Istomin, Isaac Stern, Pablo Casals. Taped in rehearsal in June 1952.
The splendor of the Abbey of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa and the Pyrenees