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Gaspar Cassadó died in 1966, but the mystery around his missing music endures

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Somewhere in Tokyo, dozens of nearly forgotten musical scores are gathering dust. They were penned by the late Spanish composer Gaspar Cassado, who died nearly 60 years ago. Some of the works have never been performed. The scores have been sealed away and are nearly impossible to access, which is what an American musician wants to change. NPR's Olivia Hampton has the story.

OLIVIA HAMPTON, BYLINE: Gaspar Cassado died in 1966, but the mystery around his missing music endures. And that's because there's something singular about that music - Catalan flair from his roots in northeastern Spain, but also stamped with a blend of influences from his time roaming across a Europe devastated by two world wars.

KATIE TERTELL: I will never forget the first time I heard his solo suite, and it just sort of stopped me in my tracks, and I thought, wow, that's powerful. It's very soulful.

(SOUNDBITE OF GASPAR CASSADO'S "SUITE FOR CELLO")

HAMPTON: That's Katie Tertell. She's an American cellist based in England who founded the Appalachian Chamber Music Festival. I caught up with her in the waning days of summer in Shepherdstown, W.Va. It's one of several towns where the festival's third edition took place in churches, concert halls, outdoors and even an old train station.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHELLE: Can you do your cadenza? So we just...

TERTELL: Sure.

RACHELLE: Or the end of it or something?

TERTELL: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HAMPTON: Through the festival and her concerts in the U.S. and Europe, Tertell is breathing new life into Cassado's work.

TERTELL: It has the spirit of Catalan culture and his experiences in Europe, but I think it is a very energetic music that is informed by dance elements. It's informed by cultural elements from North Africa and from France. The second movement in the first quartet, you hear a reference to the sadhana, which is a Catalan dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF GASPAR CASSADO'S "QUARTET NO. 1")

HAMPTON: Tertell gathered two violinists and a violist to join her for the U.S. premiere of another piece, Cassado's second string quartet, in late August.

(SOUNDBITE OF GASPAR CASSADO'S "QUARTET NO. 2")

TERTELL: To see audiences' responses gives me a lot of hope that this - it is worth gaining access and finding his unpublished works because his music has a lot to say and a lot to offer. Cassado's music is unique because he wasn't obsessed with his legacy in the way some composers and even performers such as Pablo Casals - everyone knows Casals, but in part it's because he really cared about how he would be lived on through history, how we would remember him. Cassado was a student of Casals, his favorite student, from what we know.

HAMPTON: The two Catalan cellist composers met in 1920s Paris, but the relationship soured in the years after the Spanish Civil War under the fascist rule of Francisco Franco and then through the Second World War. So staunch was Pablo Casals' opposition to the Franco regime that he refused to play in any country that recognized the dictator's government. He made a much-publicized exception for John F. Kennedy in 1961 and earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom two years later. In contrast, Cassado described himself as apolitical.

TERTELL: So Casals was a pacifist, and he was very anti-Franco and actually left Spain and didn't return until after Franco's death. And he was quite definitive and staunch on his approach to this. Whereas Cassado being younger, I think, was more interested in performing. And he did play for the fascists, and he performed in Germany during the Second World War.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TERTELL: Because of those decisions, as a young artist, I think Casals held that against him. So for a long time, Casals almost refused to acknowledge that Cassado had ever been his student, and that really interfered with Cassado's exposure in America.

HAMPTON: Casals was already an established figure in America, and he wrote an accusatory letter about Cassado that was published in The New York Times. Cassado was forced to scrap a planned U.S. tour as a result and even lost a contract with Columbia Records.

TERTELL: As a result of that, he was sort of canceled, I guess, before that was the thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HAMPTON: Only a small handful of Cassado's works are performed today, pieces like his cello suite...

(SOUNDBITE OF GASPAR CASSADO'S "SUITE FOR CELLO")

HAMPTON: ...Or the "Dance Of The Green Devil."

(SOUNDBITE OF GASPAR CASSADO'S "DANCE OF THE GREEN DEVIL")

TERTELL: He still had a very successful solo career in Europe, performing both on his own as a soloist, but also with his wife, Chieko Hara, who was a pianist. As a result of that, we don't know his name the way we know Casals' name, even in the music world.

HAMPTON: Hara died in 2001. In her will, she left her husband's papers to Tamagawa University's Museum of Educational Heritage in Japan. Sixty-four unpublished scores are believed to reside there. Only about 25 of Cassado's works were published in his lifetime. Many have gone out of print.

TERTELL: There are more solo cello pieces. We think that there's more chamber music as well as an orchestral piece. He wrote a lot of guitar music as well, so quite a wide variety of works. We often say we need a broker to get into these archives. Many people have tried to go in the past and gain access to these archives, but they haven't had the kind of three-pronged understanding - somebody who not only speaks Japanese, but understands both the academic and musical reasons we want to get in there, and then academics and musicians who are studying this and know what to look for. So it is complicated process, and no one's quite cracked the nut yet, but we are hoping to do that soon.

HAMPTON: As part of her journey in telling a Cassado's forgotten story, Tertell is seeking to introduce around 30 of the unpublished works, presenting them to the public through performances, high-caliber recordings and editions of the scores.

TERTELL: The energy, the vivaciousness of what he writes, it's what continues to inspire me to play his music and to be passionate about sharing it with other people.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HAMPTON: This year, Tertell has towards some of these works with other musicians in the U.S. and Europe. They plan to give Cassado's "String Quartet No. 3" its U.S. premiere early next year in New York City. Olivia Hampton, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Oliva Hampton