Score: IMSLP

Gasper Cassadó (1897 - 1966) was a Spanish composer and cellist. He began his cello studies with his father, Joaquín Cassadó Valls, and continued to the Barcelona conservatory before finally moving to Paris and studying with Pablo Casals. He would also study composition with Ravel and Manuel de Falla.

Beyond his very accomplished preforming career, where he played with such artists as Alicia de Larrocha, Cassadó was famously known to prepare a transcription of Frescobaldi’s Toccata… well…

The Frescobaldi transcription is the second in a series of six such arrangements issued by Universal Edition under the general title of Collection de Six Morceaux Classiques. The publisher prefaces the score with a stern warning that public performance of the work will be permitted only on the condition that Mr. Cassado’s name appear on the programme “along with that of the original composer.”


[All transcriptions] must share one very important characteristic in common: they must be based on an original model that should be readily identifiable and available for study and comparison. It is on the basis of such study and comparison alone that the conscientious performer may arrive at an intelligent conclusion regarding the validity of the transcriber’s art.

Cassado’s transcription is unique in this regard: for if there is an original model lying about somewhere, nobody has yet been able to find it.

This lead to great confusion which was further complicated when, in 1942, cellist-composer Hans Kindler arranged the “Frescobaldi” Toccata for orchestra… using only Casaadó’s Edition. Embarrassment ensues and now we just don’t talk about it.

This piece (Sonata in the Old Spanish Style), however, was written by Cassadó near the beginning of his composition career. This work was originally written for cello and piano but was later orchestrated by Cassadó himself for cello and full orchestra. It was first premiered in 1924 by the Cassadó.

During the 1920’s the world was going through a social and cultural rebuilding phase in the wake of World War 1. This period saw a multitude of artists reflecting on the war and what post-war life should look like. The 1920’s brought us Holst’s The Planets (minus Pluto 😅), Ravel’s La Valse, and Ralph Vaughn Williams’ The Lark Ascending.

There also seemed to be a desire to go back to a time pre-World War 1. Diaghilev had approached Stravinsky and wanted to create a ballet around a 18th century commedia dell’arte. This piece would be his Pulcinella ballet where Stravinsky remarked: “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course—the first of many love affairs in that direction—but it was a look in the mirror, too.”1 Shortly before this, Prokofiev had written his first symphony which was very much in an older style as well. This desire to look back to way the world was may have been part of the reason Cassadó decided to write this piece in the manner that he did. Though, with the evidence I found, it is also just as possible that he wrote a piece that drew from older styles just as a composition exercise.

Sonata in the Old Spanish Style is written in three movements and follows a standard fast–slow–fast form. While the three movements resemble traditional Baroque dances, the traditional dances seem to only serve as inspirations to the movements in the composition. Starting with a slow introduction, the first movement resembles a French bourrée. The two main characteristics being an agogic or dynamic accent on the second half of each bar and having a rhythmic component that is primarily dactylic2. The second movement, to me, feels like a chaconne. However the melody is the more static element as opposed to the harmony and it is not in 34 or 32 time. The last movement is almost certainly in the form of a gigue or jig. This becomes more apparent after the section where the soloists plays pizzicato. Following this section the tempo picks up and the 3 - 1 rhythmic direction is felt more solidly.

  1. Saint Louis Symphony Program Notes. However, leads to a dead link via Wikipedia. [return]
  2. Absolutely beyond the scope of this little primer, but interesting enough. Dactylic comes from ancient Greek/Latin and follows the foot construction of one long syllable followed by two short syllables. [return]