Gaspar Cassadó

1897 1966

Gaspar Cassadó

Composer

Biography

Cassadó was an early 20th century cellist and composer from the Catalan region of Spain. He was the protégé of cellistPablo Casals. Cassadó enjoyed a very successful career and his cello playing was highly admired until his falling out with Casals. He also later became notorious for his fraudulent transcriptions of many works.

Gaspar Cassadó was born in Barcelona in 1897 into a musical family. His father, Joaquin, was a composer and organist who ran a piano store together with his wife. Cassadó’s musical training began at the age of five in the church choir, under his father’s direction. He then began studying cello with Dionisio March, while his older brother Agustín studied violin. Cassadó studied for a time at the Barcelona Conservatory and in order to improve the level of his sons’ musical training, Joaquin decided to move to the family to Paris in 1907. In Paris, Gaspar began his studies with Casals while his brother studied with Jacques Thibaud. He also studied composition withMaurice Ravel and Manuel de Falla.

Pablo Casals had little time for students during this period, as he was at the height of his performing career. However, after hearing Cassadó play, he eagerly took him on as one of his three students. Cassadó’s training with Casals shaped him as a musician. Cassadó later described some of his early revelations after having heard Casals perform the Bach’s fifth cello suite, ‘It is possible to assert that a great performer is an improviser at the same time. He never performs the same composition twice in the same way’. He also learnt that ‘The study of each new piece meant methodical work aimed at the recreation of the character of the music studied’.

During his studies in Paris, Cassadó was surrounded by some of the greatest musicians of the time, includingClaude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie <>. He also became friends with fellow Spanish composers Alfredo Casella, Joaquin Turina and Isaac Albéniz.

During this time, the Cassadó Trio was also formed, consisting of the two Cassadó brothers, Agustin and Gaspar and their father Joaquín. Together, they gave many concerts in Paris. In 1914, the family returned to Barcelona due to the outbreak of World War I. Agustín died shortly after their return, possibly from influenza.

Gaspar’s career began to flourish within Spain and he appeared in the Palau de la Música Catalana with more established artists such as Arthur Rubinstein. By the end of the war, Cassadó was recognized as one of Spain’s leading musicians. He was featured on two of the four concerts devoted to Spanish composers by the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra in 1921 with premieres of works by Enric Morera and also his own father.

After the war, Cassadó also became recognized internationally. He performed frequently in Paris and Italy and also began composing. He refused to declare himself a composer and even referred to his compositional activities as a hobby. In addition, he attributed many of his works to famous composers such as Schubert and Boccherini, mimicking the earlier actions of violinist Fritz Kreisler. He premiered one of his first works for cello and piano,La hilandera, el reloj y el galán in 1922.

In 1928, Cassadó’s Rapsodia Catalana was premiered by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of William Mengelberg. The work is based on songs and dances from Cassadó’s home town. In the same year, he premiered his arrangement of Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata for cello and orchestra with the Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler, in a concert that marked the 100th anniversary of Schubert’s death.

Around this time, Cassadó and Casals also began performing together. Cassadó appeared frequently with the Orquesta Pau Casals, founded by Casals in Barcelona after World War I. There, he performed theBeethoven Triple Concerto,Strauss’ Don Quixote and much standard concerto repertoire. He also performed works by contemporary Spanish composers and his own Concerto in D minor, dedicated to Casals. Casals also conducted premiers of some of Cassadó’s orchestral works, including theVariaciones Concertantes for piano and orchestra and theRapsodia Catalana. Casals also performed, as soloist, in some of Cassadó’s music, most notably the Concerto andRequiebros.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 resulted in Casals fleeing the country and abandoning his career. Cassadó, however, was at the height of his career and continued soloing extensively, though not again in Spain until 1942. This resulted in a rift between the two men, and Casals wrote a letter published in theNew York Times in 1949 casting a negative light on Cassadó, effectively destroying his career. Casals was outraged that ‘Cassadó made himself a brilliant career in Germany, Italy and Franco Spain […] when knowing that I am undergoing exile for having played the opposite card, he used my name to cover himself. A revolting cynicism’. Though Casals’ letter was not entirely factual (Cassadó didn’t perform again in Spain until 1942 and only performed once in Germany), Cassadó was never able to fully recover his reputation. Much later, through their mutual friend Yehudi Menuhin, the two men regained their friendship.

As a composer, Cassadó provided many works bearing the names of other composers, most notably his Toccata, supposedly byFrescobaldi. Despite the fraud, this work still appears frequently on concert programs. When confronted about the original manuscript, Cassadó claimed that the manuscript was found in the archives of La Merced and was presumably originally written for solo organ. He further lied, stating, ‘I cannot be absolutely sure whether it was Frescobaldi or another author who did the rest, though in some passages one can easily find some characteristic “frescobaldiane”’. It can be assumed that Cassadó feared any further damage to his reputation and therefore didn’t admit to his forgery. He also had a set of pieces published in 1925 including works attributed to Schubert, Boccherini, Couperin, Gottlieb Muffat and Martin Berteau. Of these works, theAllegretto by ‘Schubert’ still appears on programs as a popular encore.

Cassadó’s legitimate works include nearly 70 transcriptions for cello and piano, the most popular being theIntermezzo from the opera Goyescas by Enrique Granados. He also wrote original works for cello, three string quartets, piano works and a violin sonata. His most famous work is theRapsodia Catalana. Of his works for cello and piano, the Suite for Solo Cello and theRequiebros are the most well-known today.

Cassadó’s disregard for the rules can also be observed in a story about his premiere of theConcierto Galante by Rodrigo, which Cassadó apparently found too long, and thus showed up to the rehearsal with a part he had cut apart with scissors, eliminating areas of the score he felt unnecessary, mostly the orchestral sections.

Cassadó’s health suffered in 1966, and he ignored his doctor’s advice to rest, continuing to perform. He died on Christmas Eve of a heart attack while visiting his brother in Madrid.

Header image courtesy of Melo Classic Other images courtesy of Sound Fountain and Mac McClure

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