I\’ve been immersed in youtube videos of Pau Casals, the great cellist and interpreter of Bach. There are videos of him in his seventies, toddling around with his black umbrella in the villages of southern France, just over the border from his native Catalonia, which he never reentered after the Spanish Civil War, as a protest against the Franco regime. There are recordings of him playing the Bach Cello Suites, which he rediscovered and performed all over the world. There are tapes of his speeches, and his heart-breaking performance of a Catalan folk song at the U.N., when he was well into his nineties–his bowing shaky, his vibrato gone, but the feeling and the passion all there.
When he was 93, he continued to play the cello three hours every day, beginning with scales and arpeggios, and ending, every day, with one of the cello suites by Bach. When somebody asked him why he did this, he answered \”I\’m beginning to notice some improvement.\”
In one interview, he tells how, when he was seventeen, he was invited to perform for the Queen of Spain and her court. His mother went with him, along with a baby, one of Casals\’ many siblings. When, during the performance, the baby began to cry, Mrs. Casals, without a second thought, put him to her breast, and nursed him.
(That baby, by the way, grew up to be a fine violinist, who shared a music stand with my father in the Barcelona City orchestra, in the 1950s.)
In that same interview, the 95-year-old Casals is asked what keeps him going. \”I can look at a tree, at a plant, for an hour. Such beauty!\” he exclaims, raising his hands. \”You see,\” he says, his black eyes twinkling, \”most people don\’t live. I live!\”
You can see Pau Casals (whose name in Catalan means \”Paul,\” but also \”peace\”) here.