Pablo Casals, born in Vendrell, Spain to a Puerto Rican
mother, is thought by many to be the greatest cellist who ever lived. His
recordings of the Bach Cello Suites, made between 1936 and 1939, are considered
unsurpassed to this day.
Casals’ prodigious musical talent became evident
early. By the age of four he could play the violin, piano, and flute (having
been taught by the church organist and choir director). When he first heard a
cello at the age of 11, he decided to dedicate himself to that instrument, and
he had already given a solo recital in Barcelona three years later at the age of 14.
Five years later he was on the faculty of the renowned Municipal
School of Music in Barcelona and was principal cellist of the Barcelona Opera House. He gained
international acclaim in a career of such length that he performed in the
United States for both President Theodore Roosevelt
and President John F. Kennedy.
Yet even having attained such unquestionable mastery
of his instrument, throughout his entire life Casals maintained a disciplined
regimen of practicing for five or six hours every day. On the day he died, at
the age of 96, he had already put in several hours practicing his scales. A few
years earlier, when he was 93, a friend asked him why, after all he had
achieved, he was still practicing as hard as ever. “Because,” Casals replied, “I
think I’m making progress.”