Suite for Solo Cello
October 18, 2009 – Rafael Figueroa, cello
Gaspar Cassadó was one of the foremost cellists of the 20th Century. A musician of great versatility, he appeared regularly as a soloist with the world’s finest conductors and orchestras; performed chamber music with the most renowned musicians of the day; and produced a sizeable body of charming, well-crafted compositions and arrangements designed to showcase his own considerable talents as a cellist. His performance style and compositional oeuvre are often likened to those of the violinist Fritz Kreisler, who also wrote and performed his own concertos, showpieces, and charming recital encores that display the performer’s wit, agility, and lighter side.
Born in Barcelona in 1897, Cassadó progressed quickly in his musical studies. In 1906 the emerging 21-year-old cellist Pablo Casals attended a performance by the nine-year-old prodigy and was so impressed that he invited him to become his first fulltime student. Cassadó eventually attained a scholarship from the city of Barcelona to move to Paris, where he studied for many years with Casals. Cassadó considered Casals to be his greatest musical influence and his “spiritual father.”
While in Paris, Cassadó also pursued his studies in composition, working closely with such masters as Manuel de Falla and Maurice Ravel. Their stylistic influence can be heard in Cassadó’s 1926 Suite for Solo Cello, which was inspired by Casals’ legendary performances of the Bach cello suites. Up until the early 20th Century, Bach’s six cello suites were not widely known to the listening public; they were regarded as cello teaching material not quite suitable for general consumption. Casals radically altered that perception, performing them often and serving as their staunch advocate. His performances served as a catalyst for a vast outpouring of 20th Century solo cello works by major composers as diverse as Zoltán Kodály, Max Reger, Paul Hindemith, Benjamin Britten, George Crumb, and Gaspar Cassadó.
Cassadó’s Suite for Solo Cello combines the Baroque formalism and dance orientation of Bach’s suites with his own native Spanish flair. The first movement begins, á la Bach, with a free preludium that evolves into a zarabanda, a dignified Spanish dance related to the Baroque sarabande. The movement quotes Zoltán Kodaly’s Sonata for Cello Solo and, reflecting Cassadó’s studies with Ravel, makes extensive use of the motive that begins the famous flute solo from the ballet Daphnis et Chloe.
The second movement is written in the form of a two-part sardana. Beginning with a characteristicly slow, introductory section (in classic saradanas the first tirada was danced with the arms down), the music soon breaks into an animatedly rustic dance in 2/4 (the second tirada was usually danced with the arms up). The jauntily rhythmic flavor of the movement makes this the most overtly “danceable” of the three.
Cassadó continues to honor antique Spanish folkdance styles by basing the final movement largely on the jota, a dance originally performed in colorful costumes and accompanied by castanets. The movement begins slowly with a ruminative intermezzo featuring lyrical, five-beat phrases. The intermezzo gradually gives way to the more vigorous, swinging jota. The movement alternates between the introspection of the intermezzo and the extroverted, flamenco-like jota, bringing the suite to a lively, Spanish-style conclusion.
By Michael Parloff