Pablo Casals began each day for more than seventy years by playing Bach.
Casals landed his first professional job at the Café Tost in Barcelona. Soon he began to devote one night each week to classical music, to which he was becoming increasingly attracted. […] During his stint at the café, an event occurred that would transform not only his own life but the entire course of music appreciation. During one of his father’s visits, they stopped in an old shop in search of scores to expand the repertoire for his classical nights. As Casals later recalled in a 1970 memoir, he “came upon a sheaf of pages crumbled and discolored with age” – the six unaccompanied cello suites by Bach, written around 1720 and completely forgotten – Casals’ music teachers hadn’t even heard of them. Casals was staggered by the “magic and mystery” of such rich writing for his instrument.
All I could do was stare at the pages and caress them. … I hurried home, clutching the suites as if they were the crown jewels. … I read and reread them. I was thirteen at the time, but for the following eighty years the wonder of my discovery has continued to grow on me. Those suites opened up a whole new world. I began playing them with indescribable excitement. They became my most cherished music. I studied and worked at them every day for the next twelve years.
Once Casals did begin to play the Suites in public he launched a full-scale reassessment of Bach. Although they had previously been dismissed as cold, academic exercises, Casals plumbed their depths and poured out radiant poetry.