The man who would become the world's greatest cellist never heard one until age 11. By then he was an accomplished singer, pianist, violinist and (once his feet could reach the pedals) organist.
Three years earlier, when he had been enthralled by a street performer on a makeshift upright bass consisting of a bent broom handle with a single string, his father made him a crude replica from a gourd. (As a reminder of his humble origins, Casals kept it displayed in his home all his life). When Casals finally heard a cello in a trio visiting his remote Catalan village, its sound stirred him as human and profound.
Until then, the cello was deemed unsuitable for sensitive displays of emotion and was typically relegated to a role of accompaniment (as when chugging along with Baroque music). "Proper" technique of the time stemmed from strict training in which a student was made to hold a book under his bowing arm to restrict movement and to produce an unvarying tone. From his earliest lessons, Casals rebelled and resolved to liberate the cello from its chaste subordinate chore. Casals revolutionized bowing technique by using only portions rather than the entire expanse of the bow, lifting it from the strings and shading the tonal quality to emphasize the musical essence. He also pioneered percussive fingering (stopping the strings decisively rather than sliding the whole hand between notes),One of Casals' first Columbia 78s expressive intonation (varying the tuning according to harmonic demands), rhythmic vigor, varied attacks and decisive accentuation. His innovations bred interpretations having a compelling inner logic and an instinctive feeling for structure and meaning. Casals created a sense of style.
Throughout his career, Casals never forgot his roots and remained immersed in his deep abiding love of mankind. Rather than cater to the elite, Casals believed that the people who had produced a country's wealth should share its cultural riches. With his Barcelona orchestra, he launched wildly popular concert series to which only low-paid workers were eligible to subscribe (for six pesetas – about $1 – for an entire season) and insisted that their acclaim "meant more to me than any applause I had ever received."