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Robert Casadesus (Piano)

Born: April 7, 1899 - Paris, France
Died: September 19, 1972 - Paris, France

The eminent French pianist and composer, Robert Casadesus, was born into a musical family. As the oldest in the second generation of a prestigious musical family, he inherited the tradition and the potential for an outstanding performance career. He did not follow the family tradition of playing stringed instruments but chose, instead, the piano. His Aunt Rose Casadesus, herself a pianist, instructed him until he entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of ten. At the Conservatory he studied solfege and piano with Louis Diémer, a pupil of Franz Liszt, and with Antonin Emile Marmontel. He achieved the first prize in piano in 1913. From 1913 to 1917, he studied harmony with Xavier Leroux. During this period, he earned a livelihood by playing the celesta and extra percussion effects at the Opera Comique. In 1917, he made his debut as a concert pianist in Paris, with a recital at the Salle des Agriculteurs. He was drafted into the army in 1918. After starting in the Artillery, he was transferred to the Engineers Corps band where he was a drummer. In 1919, he was awarded the first prize for harmony at the Paris Conservatory, having finished his study with Leroux. He received the Prix Diémer from the Conservatory the following year.

Two important events occurred for Robert Casadesus in 1921: He married Gabrielle L'Hôte (Gaby Casadesus), and he became assistant to Isidor Philipp at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau. The Fontainebleau School had been founded after World War I by Walter Damrosch and Francis Casadesus (Robert's uncle) as a summer school for American students in instrumental music and composition. At the end of the summer, he started his international career as a concert pianist by playing in major cities throughout Europe.

In 1922 Robert Casadesus met Ravel and, as a result of this meeting, a strong working friendship developed between the two. Robert traveled and studied with Ravel and became a leading interpreter of his music. In 1926 and 1927, he continued his tours to the capital cities of Europe, each year increasing the number of commitments for recitals and playing with the major orchestras. His first son, Jean, was born in 1927. The following year Robert was chosen to play the inaugural concert for the opening of the new Salle Pleyel. He also began playing recitals with Gaby, performing two-hand and four-hand pieces, some of which were his own transcriptions. In 1928, Robert made his first recording for Columbia in Paris, among which was Ravel's "Jeux d'eau." For the 1929 season, fifteen concerts in Moscow were added to his itinerary.

During the 1930's, the scope of Robert Casadesus's activities increased. The European concert tours were augmented in 1931 to include South America and, in 1933, Africa and the Middle East. In 1935, he made his first concert tour to the USA. While here, he was engaged by Arturo Toscanini to play the Brahms Second Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra the following season. In 1932 his second son, Guy, was born. During 1930, he had made other recordings with Columbia, establishing a relationship that was to continue for the rest of his professional life. That same year his String Quartet, Op.13, was premiered in Paris. In 1934, in Warsaw, he and Gaby played the first performance of his Concerto for Two Pianos, Op.17. Durand, publisher of the music of Debussy and Ravel, issued Robert's Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op.18, in 1935. Also in 1935 he succeeded Isidor Philipp as head of the piano department of the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau. In 1939, Casadesus received the French Legion of Honor and the Belgian Order of Leopold.

War breaks out! After the fall of France, Robert Casadesus and Gaby established the Fontainebleau School at Newport, Rhode Island. In 1942 the Fontainebleau School was moved to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. The Casadesus' made their home with their sons in Princeton, New Jersey, which was convenient to Manhattan and Philadelphia and had an active European community. Here they lived during the was years, 1940 to 1946. Throughout this period, Robert continued a varied and busy concert career, playing his first recital at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1941, and appearing with all the major American orchestras on a regular basis. In 1941, he began working with producer Goddard Lieberson at Columbia Records; they did many recordings over the years, including all of the piano music of Ravel and much of Debussy's. In 1942, Robert and Gaby's daughter Thérèse was born ("La naissance d'une dauphine!"). In the 1940's, his lifelong friendship and collaboration with Zino Francescatti, the great violinist, was begun. Robert continued to take time to compose, dedicating his Second Sonata for Piano and Violin, Op. 34, to Francescatti.

After the war, in 1946, Robert Casadesus, now Director of the American Conservatory oversaw its return to Fontainebleau. He resumed his tours of the major European cities. From that time on, the Casadesus family established a pattern of spending summers in France and at least part of the winters in the USA, making their home in Princeton. Casadesus's North American tour itinerary covered the USA and Canada from coast to coast with recitals in San Francisco, Vancouver, Houston, San Antonio, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York, just to mention the larger cities. Beginning in 1948, a number of his works were premiered by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. These included the Second Piano Concerto, Op.37, conducted by Leopold Stokowski (composer at the piano), the Suite for Orchestra, Op.47, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, and the Three Dances, Op.54, commemorating the 25th anniversary of Casadesus's American debut. The Concerto for Three Pianos and String Orchestra, Op.65, was given its first performance by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Lukas Foss. In 1969, he played his 100th concert with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Through these years, Robert Casadesus received many honors from Europe and the USA. In 1949, he was asked by the Polish Government to give an all-Frédéric Chopin recital in the Albert Hall, London, commemorating the centenary of the composer's death. In 1950, he was promoted to the rank of Officer in the French Legion of Honor in recognition of his outstanding musical career. Then in 1964 he became a Commander in the Legion of Honor. In 1968 he was awarded the Brahms medal in Hamburg as well as the gold medal of the city of Paris. He was asked to play the L.v. Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto at the Bonn Festival during the L.v. Beethoven bicentenary in 1970. During these busy years of concert tours and composing, Robert also continued to record extensively for Columbia. In 1946, be began making records with Francescatti: the ten sonatas for piano and violin of L.v. Beethoven, as well as works of J.S. Bach, Chausson, Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, César Franck, W.A. Mozart, and Casadesus's own Sonata No.2, Op.34. Casadesus was awarded the Grand Prix de l'Academie Charles Cros and the Grand Prix de l'Academie du Disque for the complete recording, on LP, of Ravel's piano music. With George Szand the Cleveland Orchestra he recorded a number of W.A. Mozart piano concertos. In 1965 he was awarded the Netherlands' Edison award for his recordings.

In America, Casadesus was honored in the 1947 annual recorded music awards for his recording of the Debussy Preludes Book II (Columbia), and, in 1962, he and Gaby were nominated by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences for best classical performance for "French Piano Music-Four Hands." (Columbia). The Bell Telephone Hour produced a one hour television film, in 1967, on Robert, Gaby and Jean Casadesus, titled "The First Family of the Piano." Almost from the beginning of Casadesus's concert career, Gaby had joined him in many recitals for piano, four-hands, and two pianos. Beginning in 1950, Jean, their son, played many concerts with his parents. Both Gaby and Jean had successful careers of their own -- Jean until his death in a car accident in 1972. Gaby continued to teach master classes at Fontainebleau.

Robert Casadesus died in Paris, September 19, 1972, after a short illness. His Seventh Symphony, Op.68, with the chorus "Israel," was premiered at Alice Tully Hall at New York's Lincoln Center a few weeks later. Gaby Casadesus died in Paris on November 12, 1999.

More Photos

Source: International Piano Archives at Maryland, UM Libraries
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (March 2007)

Robert Casadesus: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

Robert Casadesus - Biography, Discography (Youngrok Lee)
Robert & Gaby Casadesus (International Piano Archives at Maryland, UM Libraries)

Robert Casadesus (Official Website)
Robert Casadesus - A model website for an exceptonal artist
Robert Casadesus - Biography (AMG)

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Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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