. S. Bach’s Magnificat, the choral music of Tomas Luis de Victoria, the third Sonata for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem belong to the earliest musical experiences of my childhood and teens. Those first encounters made such an impression on me and illuminated so clearly the future direction of my life, that sometimes it is as if I were still searching for those ineffable pieces of music that gave me so much joy at that time in my life.
At the age of six, when I began training as a chorister at the religious school in Igualada, I gradually discovered along with the other children the beauty of Gregorian chant and the wonderful music of Tomás Luís de Victoria and other Golden Age masters. I can also still remember as if it were yesterday the powerful impression made on me when I first listened to a recording of J. S. Bach’s Magnificat and, almost simultaneously, Bach’s third Sonata for Viola da gamba and harpsichord performed by Pau Casals on the cello and Mieczysław Horszowski at the piano (at that time I didn’t even know that it was a work for viola da gamba!) It was the end of a swelteringly hot summer, and at the age of 10 I was slowly recovering from a serious typhoid infection from which I very nearly died. During the two months of my long convalescence, the only personal happiness I enjoyed was reading a little and, above all, listening to music on my little radio all day long. I was immediately and permanently overwhelmed by the beauty of those performances and even more so by the intense emotion radiating from those old scores by Bach. After battling against serious illness, day by day I began to experience the benefits of music for both my body and my soul. It was truly staggering to realize that those powerful works, created and performed by mortal human beings, have become immortal masterpieces, thanks to their beauty and depth of emotion.
Five years later, in 1956, while listening to a rehearsal of Mozart’s Requiem accompanied by a string quartet at the Conservatoire in Igualada, I was so overcome by the power of the music that I made up my mind there and then to become a musician. I chose the cello and for the first time in my life I embarked on a path of self-study and work that was a source of great happiness. For nine years I studied eight hours a day, and after finishing my studies at the Conservatoire in Barcelona in 1965, I discovered the viola da gamba and fell in love with this neglected instrument. Totally fascinated by early music, I set out on my pilgrimage to the great music libraries, a journey which took me from Barcelona to Paris, London, Brussels, Bologna, Madrid, etc., and after three years of studying by myself, I was accepted to study with August Wenzinger at Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in Basel. The rest is common knowledge… It is a truly miraculous moment when you realize that you have found your way and a home in life. Mark Twain was right when he said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”, because from that moment on, life becomes the most wonderful and stimulating experience.
Could it be that adult life is just a quest for the happiness we felt when we were pure, innocent children? Making music is also about seeking and developing a particular way of life… A life that can only blossom through seeking and sharing beauty and happiness.
This reminds me of the wild strawberries in a beautiful Zen story: “A man was calmly walking in the forest when suddenly a tiger appeared and began to chase him. He ran and came to a precipice and started to climb down; he thought he was safe, but when he looked at the bottom of the precipice, he saw that there was another tiger waiting there. He paused, not knowing what to do. Then suddenly, seeing some wild strawberries growing near him, he picked them and began to eat them, saying to himself: How delicious these wild strawberries are!”
The wild strawberries of the story may be the work we are passionate about, or anything that we decide to do with relish and concentration: singing, working in the garden, writing, mountain climbing, playing a piece of music, or listening to J. S. Bach’s Magnificat... In other words, it is knowing how to find happiness in whatever we do, and if we do it well, then all the tigers, both those lurking within us and those we imagine to be outside us, vanish. And then life begins to be much more beautiful.
Cuba, Lisbon and Bellaterra, Autumn 2014
Translated by Jacqueline Minett