Zino Franscescatti (violonist) talks about Robert Casadesus
– How did you meet ?
First of all, Robert Casadesus was Parisian : he lived in Paris, he studied at the Paris Conservatoire. As for me, I was from Marseilles (I studied at the Conservatory of Marseilles). Consequently, we didn’t have the occasion to meet. Afterwards, we began careers that took us to different countries.
I think that before getting to know Robert well in America, I met him once. I went to one of his concerts in Amsterdam, where I was playing myself. But that didn’t really bring us together. I congratulated him, and he said: ‘Ah! I know you!’, etc. And then each of us went back to Paris on his own.
But it was in America that we became closer-we were sort of exiles, in a way. The War had had brought us together. At the time we were renting two houses close to one another. And obviously, quite naturally, we said to each other: ‘And how about if we were to make a bit of music?’
Certain afternoons, when we were in the mood, we managed to play six or seven sonatas: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc. And then we went out for a bicycle ride, all that. It wasn’t work-it was simply an artistic pleasure. Nonetheless, we gave concerts. We were in Great Barrington [Massachusetts], where he was in charge of American students from the Conservatory of Fontainebleau, and Madame Casadesus was helping my wife give lessons (my wife was a solfeggio teacher).
As for me, I wasn’t doing a thing-I was observing, I listened to the students, I drove people around, etc. But we invited our manager-we both had the same manager-, and he came. And, as usual after the meal, they went outside to sit in the garden, and the rest of us went to the piano and violin and began. And that, naturally, the manager, immediately, that set off something in his brain, and he said to himself: ‘We’re going to have them play together!’
We thus had the same manager, it was Master Arthur Johnson. That man immediately thought, and our first official concert was for the New York Philharmonic, for retired or sick musicians-I don’t remember exactly. And it was a great event; we filled the hall. It was in 1943 or ’44. We definitely played a sonata by Fauré or the Franck Sonata.
Fauré’s Sonata No.2 we played on the radio for Fauré’s birthday (he was born around 1840). I had never played Fauré’s Sonata No.2-it was always the First that was played. But we had to play both Fauré sonatas. So I worked-we worked-, and, for the first time, we played the two Fauré sonatas on the radio. That was in 1940 or ’41. It was quite well received.
Zino Franscescatti interviewed by Myriam Soumagnac about the duo he formed with Robert Casadesus.
‘L’intemporel Robert Casadesus’
With his clarity, concision and modesty, Robert Casadesus is the very model of the French artist for whom Classicism is expressed by the ‘nothing excessive’ of which André Gide was fond.
Robert Casadesus had confided in 1969 :
‘I have models-Fauré, Roussel, Saint-Saëns-because their form is absolutely classical. ‘
Jean Roy (L’intemporel Robert Casadesus).
In the composer’s eyes
Dinu Lipatti was not completely satisfied with Karajan’s conducting in Mozart’s Concerto No.21, Clara Haskil did not always have luck with her conductors, Edwin Fischer ended up conducting himself from the keyboard. None of those great artists and eminent Mozartians found the ideal partner, the perfect alter ego such as Robert Casadesus found in George Szell. The way in which that authoritarian conductor and this pianist, who was hardly expansive, arrived at that fraternal fusion is something of a musical miracle that only Montaigne’s remark manages to explain: ‘Because it was me and because it was he.’ Better than anyone else, they understood that Mozart’s concertos are operas in disguise, but that one succeeds in piercing the mystery by playing them like chamber music. One must not be oneself when playing Mozart-it is necessary to play at being someone else. That is how one succeeds in finding one’s own truth. Robert Casadesus does nothing else when he puts himself in the place of the oboe, the clarinet or bassoon, thereby imitating the dressing up of the Countess and Suzanne, or Cherubino or the two fake Turks in Così fan tutte.
Robert Casadesus belonged to a generation of interpreters who lived music from the inside because they were also composers, like Furtwängler and Lipatti. ‘You have to be a composer yourself to play like that,’ Maurice Ravel said of Robert Casadesus. He was talking about the natural way of revealing the profound structure of a work, of going straight to the essential and knowing how to distinguish the initial force from its message. Although Robert Casadesus was not an electrifying phenomenon like Horowitz, or a great charmer like Arthur Rubinstein, he nonetheless established himself in America and has his star on Hollywood Boulevard.
If the greatest musicians living in the United States (Toscanini, Mitropoulos, Ormandy, Szell) recognized the singularity of his talent, it was because he brought something essential to music: an integrity, thought, a gestation of things. He was not the Frenchman on call when needed to play Ravel and Saint-Saëns; he was someone who felt and breathed music like no one else. All music! Avoiding the clichés attached to each composer, he knew how to deliver their secret intimacy. His Beethoven was Beethovenian, his Mozart Mozartian and his Chopin infallibly right, on the level of style and character. Listen to his version of Haydn’s Sonata in A flat re-released by Sony-it’s not at all like his Mozart sonatas. For there are no ‘tricks’, no recipes or superficiality in Robert Casadesus’ playing. There is only a penetrating look straight into the composer’s eyes-something as difficult (or impossible, in the opinion of La Rochefoucauld) for a human being as staring at the sun or at death.
May he who had that courage receive our full gratitude.
Olivier Bellamy, author and filmmaker.
Pierre Bernac (baritone) talks about Robert Casadesus
I knew Robert Casadesus when we were both quite young. You know, we were born the same year, 1899, which explains my trembling, old man’s voice. And I knew Robert when he was a very young pianist, I heard him several times in drawing rooms, while he was still at the Conservatoire or recently graduated. And I knew him from that moment on, but we never worked closely together for we had very different lives that involved a good deal of travelling. I had the greatest admiration for him. In my opinion, he had an absolutely incomparable purity of style. And I was very happy to have the occasion of making music with him-unfortunately, all too rarely.
When we were both at the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, I as professor and he as director, I believe, we didn’t make music together on that occasion. But it so happened that I really wanted to record Schumann’s Loves of the Poet, the Dichterliebe. And, as you perhaps know, for 25 years I teamed up with the composer and pianist Francis Poulenc. But when I told Poulenc that I really wanted to record the Dichterliebe, he answered: ‘But look, you would need a great solo pianist to play that work with you.’ And that’s how I got the idea of asking Robert. He was spending a good part of his time in the United States, and I myself was in the United States in 1952 and I asked him if he would agree to do this recording with me.
In early 1952, we were both in New York, and there were no problems, because we were both working with the same record company, Columbia. As a result, there was no difficulty on that score, and we recorded the work. We worked naturally together. I must tell you that, as of the first rehearsal, we felt a very strong communion between us, and there was no difficulty whatsoever.
It’s worth noting that the Germans themselves consider that the French play Schumann extremely well. There were the greatest pianists, Cortot and others, who played Schumann in a rather remarkable way. And in the opinion even of the Germans and myself, I consider that Robert Casadesus played Schumann, perhaps in our French way, but he played him admirably. This is not the same thing for the other Romantics, but Schumann, perhaps because he was Rhenish, suits the French temperament pretty well. I must say that I always had a great passion for his music, and especially his piano music, I would say, and, naturally, the lieder.
Poulenc was extremely modest and thought that maybe he didn’t have the great technique that would let him completely dominate the work. In any case, I found that infinitely respectable and was very happy to record with Robert. We thus rehearsed together and then one fine day, we arrived at the studio and began to record, one song at a time, as is usually done. But at the end of the second or third song, I said: ‘Listen, this is impossible. It’s absolutely impossible, we can’t find the atmosphere of this cycle if we record like this.’
We started all over and went from the first note to the last, in a single spurt. And we went back the next day and redid, I think, two or three songs in all. That’s just to tell you there was no editing. I think everyone knows what editing is and that you can cut the tapes, giving perfect interpretations thanks to these sewing these bits together. But no, there it was absolutely a first attempt, which maybe explains a certain spontaneity in the interpretation. From the performer’s point of view, it is certain that you can’t find the same atmosphere if you do it by bits and pieces, fragment by fragment. You have to have the overall movement, the overall impression. And that’s why I hope one can find a certain atmosphere in this.
Pierre Bernac interviewed by Myriam Soumagnac, concerning his encounter with Robert Casadesus around Schumann.
Guy Sacre (La musique de piano)
From such a consummate virtuoso, one would have expected brilliant works, what is called, a bit pejoratively, ‘pianist music’. But no, Casadesus has no weakness for podium prowess; he composed Etudes, a Toccata, but as in addition to his four Sonatas, in which music comes before the fingers. Let us even make so bold as to claim that he has no particular tenderness for the piano;
he devoted only about one fifth of his production to it; a couple of dozen chamber works, eight concertos and seven symphonies clearly bear witness that his own instrument did not obsess him. But he came back to it regularly, maintaining friendly relations with it, on a footing of equals, without sacrificing to it his aesthetic choices, which go back to his beginnings in composition.
Dictionary of composers and works
Editions Robert Laffont S.A., Paris, 1998.