Vital Signs

Remembering Casals

Talking to musicians or composers has its values, but it seldom adds much to what we know of music. Mozart's letters to his father give you a few insights into the creative process, but Beethoven's are merely a peep into his psyche. Of all the composers who have written about their work and that of others, only Berlioz, and perhaps Stravinsky, could impart with any penetration an internal sense of music—and Berlioz's best commentary was on the art of conducting. So I was not particularly stirred when Newsweek's music editor, a busty Texan whose idea of criticism was to shout obscenities over the phone at the Met's Rudolf Bing, said to me, "If you can take time out when you're in San Juan from the story you're doing on Puerto Rico, why don't you go talk to Pablo Casals? lie's giving a concert down there." The "concert" was the Festival Casals—after the Prades Festival, his second major break of a long self-exile from public performance.

My lack of enthusiasm had nothing to do with what I felt about Pablo Casals as a musician. The cello is a cruel and inhuman instrument, and as a boy I had watched a friend's father—a cellist for the Philharmonic—at practice, his face a reflection of both pain—"the torment," Casals called practicing—and patience. Casals was then, and in my judgment always will be, Mr. Cello, and in listening...

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