The Casals Quartet commemorated the 50th anniversary of Catalan cellist and peace activist Pau Casals’ legendary UN speech with a concert that took place on Thursday evening at Geneva’s Les Salons theater. Organized by the Catalan government delegation to Switzerland, it was attended by Catalonia’s foreign minister, Victòria Alsina.

“Pau Casals was not just one of the 20th century’s greatest cellists, internationally recognized as one of the finest performers of his time. Above all, he is one of the most universal Catalans in history”, Alsina said.

‘I am a Catalan’

On 24 October 1971, Pau Casals was awarded the UN peace medal in recognition of his work towards peace, justice, and freedom. The musician appeared before the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York and delivered an impassioned speech in which he famously praised Catalonia’s contributions to peace and democracy, proclaiming “I am a Catalan.”

Following his speech, he broke his vow to not play the cello in public as long as Spain was ruled by dictator Francisco Franco and performed El Cant dels Ocells, a traditional Catalan folk song that he himself popularized.

The life of Pau Casals

Born in 1876 in El Vendrell, in southern Catalonia, Casals learned music from his father and would go on to become one of the greatest cellists ever, widely praised for his recordings of the Bach Cello Suites, and playing for the likes of Queen Victoria and U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

A supporter of the democratic Second Republic government of the 1930s, Casals fled Spain to escape the Franco regime and died in 1973 in Puerto Rico, his mother’s home country where he had resided for several decades, at the age of 96.

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