I Feel that I Am Making Daily Progress

Pablo Casals? Apocryphal?

cello03Dear Quote Investigator: Pablo Casals was a brilliant cellist, and I love a remark that he reportedly made when he was in his eighties or nineties. He continued to practice intensely with his cello in those golden years, and when he was asked why he was so diligent he replied with one of these statements:

I think I’m making progress.
I think I see some improvement.

Is one of these remarks accurate?

Quote Investigator: There is evidence that Pablo Casals did make a comment of this type more than once. The earliest instance located by QI was published in the “New York Times” in 1946. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

When the Germans were driven off French territory in 1944, Casals wrote me in one of his first letters after the long enforced silence of the occupation:

“Now that the enemy has been forced to leave, I have resumed my practicing and you will be pleased to know that I feel that I am making daily progress.”

This striving for “daily progress” reflects his modest approach to his art and is the key to the secret of why “Casals is ageless.”

The letter from Casals was written to Maurice Eisenberg, the author of the “New York Times” article. Casals was born in December 1876, so for most of the year 1944 he was 67 years old.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1958 the popular syndicated newspaper columnist Leonard Lyons discussed a short movie featuring Pablo Casals that included an exchange between the director and Casals about the purpose of his cello practice sessions: 2

THE MUSICIAN: Pablo Casals, who performed at the UN recently, is 81. He agreed to have Robert Snyder make a movie short, “A Day in the Life of Pablo Casals.” Snyder asked Casals, the world’s foremost cellist, why he continues to practice four and five hours a day. Casals answered: “Because I think I am making progress.”

The IMDb Internet Movie Database has an entry for the film “A Visit with Pablo Casals” directed by Robert Snyder with a date of 1957. Casals would have been 80 years old for most of 1957. QI has not seen this movie and is not certain when it was filmed. 3

In May 1959 the anecdote about Casals given by Lyons was published in the mass-circulation periodical “Reader’s Digest”. The account was shortened by the omission of the reference to the movie source of the dialog: 4

The world’s foremost cellist, Pablo Casals, is 83. He was asked one day why he continued to practice four and five hours a day. Casals answered, “Because I think I am making progress.”
— Leonard Lyons

This item was picked up by other periodicals such as the “Omaha World Herald” which included an acknowledgement to “Leonard Lyons in Reader’s Digest.” 5

In 2007 the “Herald Democrat” of Sherman, Texas printed an article by a local pastor that included a version of the tale in which Casals was 95 years old: 6

Pablo Casals, the famous Spanish cellist who lived to be 97 years of age, when he reached 95, a young reporter threw him a question: “Mr. Casals, you are 95 and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” And Mr. Casals answered, “Because I think I’m making progress.”

The actor Kevin Kline presented an entertaining story about Casals that was recorded on the website of “Interview Magazine”. Klein spoke to Emma Brown who is an online editor for the magazine during the filming of “My Old Lady”. According to “Hollywood Reporter” filming began in Paris in September 2013: 7 8

It reminds me of a story about the cellist Pablo Casals—he was one of the greatest cellists of the 20th century. He was famous for beginning every day by playing all six Bach unaccompanied cello suites. And someone, Mr. Casals’ wife, said, “Why do you insist on playing all six suites each day?” And he said, “Because I think I’m getting better.” I think it’s really easy to lapse into bad acting at any given moment. But I find that the more I’ve done it, the more I see some improvement. Or I don’t see it, because I tend not to watch myself, but I feel it.

In conclusion, there is substantive evidence that Casals made a remark about making progress in 1944 when he was 67 or 68 years old as indicated by the 1946 citation. There is also good evidence that he made a similar remark circa 1957 when he was 80 years old. Viewing the film created at that time would establish the precise dialog. It also seems possible that Casals reprised the comment at a later time.

Image Notes: Cello detail from aischmidt at Pixabay. Pablo Casals portrait by Ramon Casas. Public domain work of art. Retouched, cropped, and resized.

(Great thanks to Jack Healy and Beth whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1946 December 29, New York Times, Casals at 70: Great Spanish Cellist Waits For Country’s Liberation by Maurice Eisenberg, Quote Page 45, Column 8, New York. (ProQuest)
  2. 1958 November 4, Daily Defender, Lyons Den by Leonard Lyons (Syndicated), Quote Page 5, Column 1, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest)
  3. Website: IMDb Internet Movie Database, Entry title: A Visit with Pablo Casals, Entry year: 1957, Website description: Database of information about movies run by IMDb.com, Inc., an Amazon.com company. (Accessed imdb.com on February 12, 2014) link
  4. 1959 May, Reader’s Digest, Volume 74, Personal Glimpses, Start Page 29, Quote Page 30, Column 1, The Reader’s Digest Association, Pleasantville, New York. (Verified with microfilm)
  5. 1959 April 25, (Evening World Herald) Omaha World Herald, For Quick Reading: No Time to Quit, Quote Page 4, Column 2, Omaha, Nebraska. (GenealogyBank)
  6. 2007 January 5, Herald Democrat, Section: Religion, “After the gifts are opened, what’s next?” by Trey Graham (Rev. Trey Graham is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Melissa), Quote Page Unknown, Sherman, Texas. (The database text used the word “reported”. Here it has been changed to “reporter”) (NewsBank Access World News)
  7. Website: Interview Magazine, Article title: FILM: French Lessons with Kevin Kline, Article author: Emma Brown, Date: Website provides no date, Website description: Website of magazine founded by Andy Warhol. (Accessed interviewmagazine.com on February 12, 2014) link
  8. Website: Hollywood Reporter, Article title: Toronto: Kristin Scott Thomas Boards Israel Horovitz’s ‘My Old Lady’, Article author: Borys Kit, Date on website: 2013 September 6, Website description: Hollywood news. (Accessed hollywoodreporter.com on February 12, 2014) link