A Great Musician – and More

Pablo Casals (1876-1973)

Pablo Casals is a name perhaps you have heard of, maybe a musician associated with Bach, maybe also that he lived a very long time.  This is a good beginning.

Pablo Casals (or “Pau”, his Catalan name) was from an early age a renowned cellist, later a conductor and composer.  He is famous for unearthing, performing and recording under very difficult circumstances the Unaccompanied Cello Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach.  Like many in this series on exemplary individuals, Casals came from a tumultuous place, the Catalan area of present-day Spain, and lived through tumultuous times, the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath.  Casals was a Catalan patriot and a Spanish Republican who opposed the right-wing campaign and later the government of Francisco Franco to his dying breath.

Casals was famous for the length of his career: as a young cellist he performed for both Queen Victoria in England and Theodore Roosevelt in the United States; as an octogenarian he performed for John F. Kennedy at the White House.

As one of the past century’s great music performers and as a fighter against fascism and for world peace, Pablo Casals has well earned his way into my series of Exemplary Individuals.  He helped shape the mold of the celebrity/activist with which we are more familiar today.  As somebody who also was energetic and engaged until about two weeks before his death at the age of 96, Casals has earned special place in my aging affections.

The place to begin is Barcelona and the time is in the year 1890. Then Casals was a thirteen-year-old musical prodigy, recently relocated from his “dusty” small-town birthplace of Vendrell to the musical conservatory in the big city.  Casals’s mother had moved to Barcelona with him and his father, a musician who trained Pablo and is brother when they were young, was in town visiting.  One afternoon father and son wandered into a second-hand music store, looking for some cello music for young Pablo to play.  Under a stack of scores was a tattered edition of Bach’s Cello Suites (a copy in French) that Pablo took with him.

From this accidental beginning wonderful things would happen but very slowly. I do not have the specific date, even the month, when he found this music, yet Pablo’s astrology for this year is striking.

Transiting Pluto in Gemini was stationing in opposition to his natal Venus in Sagittarius in the summer of that year and the transit was that autumn; this would correspond to an intensification and focusing of his musical interests.  Pluto can bring out obsessive qualities but can also be creative. Transiting Uranus in Libra was in square to his Mercury in Capricorn during the summer of 1890, a transit that can surprise the settled mind, even that of a thirteen-year old musical genius. Casals’ secondary progressions for that year included progressed Venus trine progressed Uranus in Leo. Add to this progressed Neptune going direct and we have  an artistic upheaval for this young musician.

“How could anybody think of Bach as ‘cold’ when these suites seem to shine with the most glittering kind of poetry…I discovered a new world of space and beauty…the feelings I experienced were among the purest and most intense of my artistic life.”

These Cello Suites, previously ignored for almost two hundred years, formed the center of Casals’ musical training and practice, yet he did not perform them in public for the thirteen years following his discovery of them.  Later they became the central part of his solo performances. Many decades afterwards, during the time of the Spanish Civil War, he recorded them  in England and France. Today the Cello Suites are a staple in the modern Bach repertoire, and are frequently performed and recorded for the cello and on other instruments. Here’s a sample of his work, a later video of Casals playing Bach’s Suite #1.




Casals as Saturnine

Casals without outer planets. Note Lot of Daimon/Spirit in Seventh. Click for larger picture in different tab.

Leo rising yields Sun in Capricorn as ruler of his Ascendant and we also note Mercury in Capricorn.  You can see little physical resemblance between Casals’ appearance the stereotyped mangy “Leo” flowing locks – indeed Casals was cursed with  premature baldness, and his body type has not trace of popularly-conceived Leo. Casals’ astrological chart, however, quickly reveals the prominence of Capricorn and its ruling planet Saturn. He fits in well with the stereotype of Capricorn: hard-working, determined, able to endure reversals and soldier on, and strong energy late in life.

The Sixth House is not a place of visibility and charisma – these planetary positions in this place instead reward consistent effort and allowing one’s work to speak for itself.  For a “rock star” of a musician in the first half of the twentieth century, Casals didn’t look or behave like a rock star.

Saturn, the dispositor of Sun and Mercury, is in sextile to the Sun itself.  From the Grove Dictionary of Music: “Never a flamboyant performer, he sought tirelessly in practice and rehearsal for the truth and beauty he felt to be an artist’s responsibility and used his formidable powers with a simplicity and concentration that allowed no compromise.”

Apply this to the cello.

Time and again as a young performer, either in the coffee houses in Barcelona or within formal auditions, Casals’ unassuming presence was superseded by the brilliance and beauty of his musical performance.  Doors generally closed to people of humble background or no reputation would open instantly when he began to play. In this way did his career begin in the Spanish court as a teenager and later as an international performer in his twenties.

Saturn, the dispositor of Sun and Mercury, is in sextile to the Sun itself.  Saturn is completely out of sect in this diurnal chart and may also indicate the depression and withdrawal through which he responded to world catastrophe during his middle years.

Mercury is in sect, following the Sun in an evening chart, and is an “evening riser”, visible from the Sun’s beams after sunset.  This placement helped give Casals a practical curiosity, a strong intellect that desires application.  His performances on the cello innovated the use of that instrument and his performances of Bach’s Cello Suites were groundbreaking, yet both arose from intense familiarity enabled from years of hard work, day by day.

Since Mercury is also the dispositor for his Moon in Gemini, the extroversion of Gemini and the Eleventh House is modified by the focused goal-orientation of Mercury in Capricorn in the Sixth.  Casals was no man for frivolity.

Returning to Saturn we note something unusual: it is two degrees from his Lot of Fortune and governs his Lot of Daimon or Spirit in Aquarius.  The Saturnine placement of his Lot of Daimon or Spirit reinforces what we know about the Capricorn nature of his Sun and Mercury.

The Wheel of Fortune clearly had a Saturnine cast for him.  His early fame cast him into the monarchical household that was in strong contrast to his and his family’s republican tendencies; even as an internationally-renowned performer he was out of his element; as a prominent artist he was thrust into the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath, after which he isolated himself from his public; finally, in old age, he achieved fame for just being as old as he was. All these are saturnine considerations but modified by another planet — Jupiter.

Casals and the Benefics

Many would love to have this combination of Venus and Jupiter in Sagittarius in the Fifth House or Place in their own astrological charts. Jupiter is in its own sign and Venus is in its house “joy” in the Fifth.  Together they compensate for saturnine dourness, give him a pioneering and inventive spirit, and, from the women he had relationships with or married, no small amount of personal charm.

Book Recommendation: A wonderfully readable blending of the biographies of Casals and Bach, the textual and performance history of the Cello Suites, and an account of his attempting to play Bach’s music.

Mercury is made lighter and more creative by its symmetrical relationship with Venus in Sagittarius – these two planets are in an antiscion relationship, equidistant from the Cancer-Capricorn axis. These contacts make Mercury aesthetically sensitive and make Venus intelligent and mentally resourceful.

In case the link between Mercury in Capricorn and Venus in Sagittarius is obscure, I again quote from the Grove Dictionary: “Usually nervous before a concert, he nonetheless gave the impression of complete control.  His playing was memorable as much for beauty of tone as intellectual strength.”  Now that’s how to play J.S. Bach.

Before we leave Venus we must note Pablo Casals and his relationships and his marriages: a complex topic.  His astrology is also complex: Venus is in the romantically enterprising sign Sagittarius, yet his place of marriage, his Seventh, is governed by Saturn.

Casals had strong attachments early, in the middle, and late in his adult life. He had a turbulent relationship without marriage early with a fellow musician, marked by his fits of jealousy.  He afterwards married an American with whom he separated after a few years but the divorce wasn’t final until long afterwards; this woman referred to him as “jealous, egotistical, and autocratic”.  As a person whose career was always foremost and from a patriarchal culture, I don’t doubt her assessment. He was married twice more as an older man.

Returning briefly to the Lot of Fortune in Pisces, not only does his strong Jupiter govern this Lot but both benefics are in the Tenth House or Place from the Lot. This raises the stature of both planets, especially Jupiter, in accounting for strokes of fortune in his early career.  Perhaps Jupiter and Venus also allowed him to take pleasure in his own craft for its own sake and to take it on faith that worldly success would follow.

Jupiter is not in sect in Casals’ daytime chart and his Jupiter isn’t going to bubble forth and hold court: his increasing authority during his lifetime comes from Saturn, not Jupiter.  Jupiter did allow him to see and act more broadly than his profession as a musician, to take a place in the larger world and use his authority to try to make a difference for others.

Arriving on Mars

Like Jupiter, Mars is in its own sign Scorpio and additionally is in sect in his nocturnal chart.  This Mars is intense, persistent, and can be single-minded when roused.  At nineteen Scorpio Mars exactly squares his Ascendant degree in Leo, augmenting Mars’ importance to his style of being himself.  Mars has a sextile to Mercury, helping provide even more focus and strength to the latter planet.

Mars is in the Fourth House and the traditional depiction of this place as the “Place of Father” needs to be mulled.  In the patriarchal cultures that developed astrology, one’s land and property passed through paternal hands. (It’s still the case with family name.) The oldest male was in charge of the household.

My understanding of the Fourth House includes family tradition and heritage, ancestry and ethnicity, “motherland” as well as “fatherland”.  Casals was raised in a family that prided itself on being Catalan and he supported greater autonomy for Catalonia.  If in Italy one tends to identify oneself with city, in Spain it is one’s region — both are issues of the Fourth House or Place.

Adding Pluto and Uranus

Mars’ prominence becomes clearer when we note that Pluto opposes Mars from the Tenth Place of career or calling.  Although in many ways he lived an enviable life as an adult until the middle 1930’s, this would soon change as first Spain and then much of the world engaged in warfare.  Casals was not to sit on the sidelines but become involved in the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War, assist to help the refugee crisis in its aftermath, and later sacrifice his performance career protesting Franco’s authoritarian regime.

Casals’ Astrological Chart including Uranus, Neptune, Pluto Click for larger image in different tab

Mars and Pluto both square to Uranus that is close to his Ascendant.  In some ways Casals was a more conservative artist than others of his generation, especially in contrast to the ground-breaking work of Pablo Picasso.  However, as a young instrumentalist he experimented with the cello’s bowing and fingering and opened the cello to a far greater range of expression.  Later Uranus expressed itself through his transformation into a political advocate and a stubborn spokesperson for what was perceived by many to be a lost cause.


Prelude to Catastrophe

In 1931, after having supported a dictator to run the country who fled popular revolt, Spain’s King Alfonso XIII himself fled to France, and the Second Republic began.  The government sought quickly to right some wrongs that had accumulated for decades, to reduce the role of the military and the church and to promote land and property reform. They also promised greater autonomy to Catalonia and other regions.

Three difficulties emerged. The Great Depression had quickly spread to Europe, delaying reforms and rendering the country more economically and socially vulnerable.  Secondly, the leftist coalition splintered and ranges from the anarchists who sought to abolish class distinctions to the communists who were authoritarian and were taking orders from Stalinist USSR. Thirdly, a coalition on the right began to form, attracting disaffected military, monarchists, supporters of the Catholic Church, wealthy landowners, and those inspired by the fascist regimes of Italy and  Germany.

In early 1936 new national elections gave a close victory to the republican leadership.  That summer a revolt by the right-wing began in Spanish Morocco and quickly spread to southern and central Spain.  These forces were led by Francisco Franco. The insurgent nationalists (or “fascists”) didn’t count on the intense popular resistance they found.  Thus began three years of civil war that would become a dress rehearsal for World War Two.

Although an international performing artist and conductor, Casals had managed to stay close to his native land.  In 1919 he had founded the Pau Casals Orchestra in Barcelona, building the orchestra from scratch, raising and donating funds to begin and maintain it.  He had also bought property south of Barcelona in San Salvador.  In the 1920’s he watched Catalan language, customs, and autonomy become curtailed, but 1931, with the establishment of the Second Republic, an era of relative freedom for his land began. Like Leonard Bernstein in Berlin sixty-six years later, Casals marked the time by conducting Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and its famous “Ode to Joy”.


In July 1936 Casals was rehearsing his orchestra in Barcelona when he received a note that a fascist military revolt would occur that evening. He ran the orchestra through the remainder of the rehearsal and fled to his home in San Salvador, south of Barcelona. The revolt was turned back but Casals remained at his home, trying to decide what he would do next. Casals turned sixty at the end of the year.

Although Casals’ republican tendencies were obvious, he was not trusted by those of the farther left, due to his youthful patronage by the Spanish royalty and because he lived in a nice place.  Of course the fascists felt he was worthy of execution if they captured him.

For the next three years Casals did what he could do, at home and abroad, to advance the cause of the republicans. He donated to the needy, raised money and publicized the republican cause by performing tirelessly, conducting and performing charity concerts in Barcelona and throughout the world.  He became an internationally-recognized political advocate, conducting countless interviews and lending his name to all the shades of the left.  On separate trips to England and France he recorded the Bach Cello Suites for the first time, a difficult undertaking in the midst of all else that was happening at the time. Here’s the recording made of Suite #2, probably the most melancholic of the six.

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Once again we look to Casals’ secondary progressions, for they tell us much about this turning point in his life.  Progressed Venus is approaching an opposition to Uranus that would be exact at the end of 1936; his music didn’t change at that time but how he used it would change.  (For Casals the use of a recording studio for the Cello Suites was an unwanted but necessary intrusion of technology on his art.)  In the following year progressed Venus would also square Pluto.  When we listen to his recordings we should keep these progressions in mind.  A few weeks after the progressed Venus opposite Uranus was a progressed Full Moon, underlining this major turning point in his life.

Looking ahead in his progressed chart, progressed Mars is soon to conjunct Jupiter.  He needed this energizing and crusading aspect, for progressed Jupiter would soon leave Sagittarius, its own sign, for Capricorn, the sign of Jupiter’s fall or depression. Progressed Sun is moving toward a conjunction with Saturn.  All these would begin in 1938 when times were not good for his side in the conflict or for him.

The end of 1936 featured transiting Neptune in Virgo in square to his Jupiter in Sagittarius; transiting Jupiter was also in this sign.  These were positive developments.  However, Saturn, moving through Pisces, also transited Jupiter at this time. The first year of the Spanish Civil War was a time of emotional peaks and valleys, good news alternating with bad news.  Unfortunately Saturn would also square his natal Moon in Gemini and enter Capricorn and then would come to a conjunction with his Sun.  As time wore and the bad news increased, his burden would increase until, after the Civil War was over, he lapsed into depression.

In 1937 German planes bombed Guernica, a Basque town of some strategic convenience, at the request of Franco’s nationalists. Inspired Picasso to paint one of the most famous works of art of the last century.

He and his fellow republican loyalists faced major global obstacles.  Nazi Germany and fascist Italy came out of the side of Franco’s nationalists and supplied money, arms, and troops.  Stalin’s Soviet Union came out on the side of the opposing republicans but they expected not only monetary compensation but also control for their allied communists in Spain.

The natural allies of the republican loyalists, democratic nations like England, France, and the United States, stayed out of the way. England and France even prohibited the shipment of arms to the Spanish loyalists.  This was in the late 1930’s when France and England were attempting to accommodate themselves to Hitler’s territorial ambitions and were loath to create further complexities.  Casals pleaded to these countries: “Do not commit the crime of letting the Spanish Republic be murdered…If you allow Hitler to win in Spain, you will be the next victims of his madness. The war will spread to all Europe, to the whole world.  Come to the aid of our people.” (Siblin, 111-2)

Soldiers of the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade”, volunteers from the Unites States fighting on the republican side.

For many private citizens, however, the Spanish Republican cause was a crusade against emergent dictatorship and fascism. Over thirty thousand people came to Spain from elsewhere to help in the fight.  A generation before the “Freedom Riders” traveled to the southern United States to participate in the Civil Rights movement, thousands of Americans joined the “Abraham Lincoln Brigade” and suffered heavy losses on the front.  American author Ernest Hemingway came to Spain as a journalist, produced thirty-one dispatches and helped on a pro-Republican film, and later wrote his classic novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

George Orwell, although sick with a lung condition, was also inspired to done a uniform and fight. His experience and disillusion was published in his war memoir Homage to Catalonia and is a riveting read.  Last year I wrote an essay on Orwell for this series: you can read it here.

The other factor that lead to the eventual defeat of the Republicans was the collapse of the left-wing coalition.  On the extremes were the anarchists and the communists, the “moderate” socialists were caught in the middle as was Casals himself. Lacking the military infrastructure and increasingly battling themselves more than the fascists, their common cause would be lost.

Casals’ decennials during this time are also revealing. From 1929 for about the next eleven years, his general chronocrator or planetary lord was Mercury.  When the Second Republic was re-elected in 1936, Mars was specific chronocrator.  Since Mercury and Mars are in sextile in Casals’ natal chart, this was a time these planets could be most useful – in making him an international advocate for the republican cause.  This was followed by Venus and then Jupiter as specific chronocrators, giving him worldwide publicity and also marking his recording the Cello Suites of Bach.  Jupiter’s presence also enabled him to refocus his intentions as the Civil War was lost. By mid-1940 Saturn had taken over as both general and specific planetary lord and this brings us to the aftermath of the Civil War.

Subsequent Catastrophe

During the Civil War Casals found a new home outside Spain.  Although the village Prades was across the border in France, it retained much Catalan culture and was sufficiently familiar to him.  It was also close to the camps that would house hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the new Franco regime.  Many of those who stayed in Spain were imprisoned or executed, as Franco was seeking to consolidate control of the country by eliminating as many perceived opponents as possible.

Casals now focused his attention on helping the refugees however possible, through using his international reputation to bring attention to their plight, conducting fund-raising concerts, and, although his finances were now unstable, contributing what he could.  This began in early 1939 and would continue for a few years.

In early autumn of 1939 the Nazis invaded Poland and military combat would envelop the world for the next four and a half years.  In 1940 France capitulated to Germany and one afternoon Casals had to receive unwelcome soldier guests in his home who invited him to perform in Germany, since Hitler was such a great lover of great German music.  This was not going to happen.

Franco was crafty enough to keep Spain neutral during the War.  With the defeat of the axis powers Spain was gradually restored to the community of nations.  With the cold war beginning, Spain and now perceived as an ally in the conflict with Stalin’s Soviet Union.  When the western democracies began to recognize Franco’s regime in Spain, Casals responded with defiance: he would not perform publicly in any country that recognized Franco.  With one exception he kept to this for the remainder of his life.  He continued to teach and consult as he always had.

Prades, Puerto Rico, and Beyond

By the late 1940’s Casals was in his seventies and had by now earned a fine retirement, certainly as circumstances and resolve had curtailed much of his work. However, one of his eager students hatched a plan to have the musical world come to him. In the early summer of 1950, the two-hundredth anniversary of the death of J.S. Bach, a musical festival was held in Prades that featured him both conducting and performing.

Click for larger picture in different tab.

His solar return that would pertain to this year shows strong angularity – Moon is exalted in Taurus is in his whole-sign first and applies to Venus in Aquarius in his Tenth.  We also see Jupiter in the Tenth, close to his Midheaven degree.

It’s difficult to maintain personal isolation with these strong indicators in angular houses. We also notice Pluto in the Fourth, in square to Moon and opposite Venus: this experience, although fulfilling in many ways as one of the great musical events in postwar Europe, would be difficult for him.

A few years later Casals began to travel to Puerto Rico, where his mother was born, and moved there for good in 1955.  Once there he organized a Casals Festival and a symphony orchestra, working to develop music further in his new country. After a brief marriage he married one of his students, a twenty-year old woman sixty years his junior with whom he lived for the rest of his life.  When asked about the disparity of age between them, he jokingly replied, “I look at it this way: if she dies, she dies.”

Commemorative statue in Vendrell.

In 1961 Casals broke his resolve against performing in any country that recognized Franco’s regime: he appeared at the White House for John F. Kennedy who he had grown to admire.  He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Kennedy. Subsequent events took him to the United Nations where he conducted a performance of his own “Hymn to the United Nations” and received the U.N. Peace Medal. His last concert was in 1973 in Israel, at the age of 95.

Casals died later that year in Puerto Rico and was buried there.  This was two years before the final end of the Franco regime.  Upon the death of France, Casals was given honors by the Spanish state, and in 1979 his body was taken back to be reburied in Vendrell where he was born.