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The Commodification of Cold War Ideologies: the Reception of Casals in Japan and the Sinophone World in the Post-Cold War Era

In: International Journal of Taiwan Studies
Author:
Min-Erh Wang Faculty of Music, St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

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Abstract

This article examines the reception of Pablo Casals, the Spanish cellist and humanitarian, in Japan, Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong in the post-Cold War era from the perspective of consumer capitalism. It argues that although the Cold War ended in 1991, instead of being criticised, the Cold War ideologies, including communism, anti-communism, socialism, and humanitarianism, were intertwined with and consolidated by capitalism in the post-Cold War era. This article reveals how the legacies of Casals were interpreted differently in these places within the context of domestic and regional politics and discusses how the Cold War ideologies were commodified in the post-Cold War era. By conducting a multilateral dialogue between Japan and the Sinophone world, this article attempts to gain a clearer understanding of the geopolitical history of East Asia in the post-Cold War era from a musical perspective.

1 Introduction

In the existing literature, studies on the music history of Taiwan generally focus on the domestic context of Taiwan (Hsu, 1991; Lu, 2003). Yet, from the 2010s onwards, scholars began their projects by examining the music history of Taiwan within the regional context of East Asia (Janz & Yang, 2019; Oh, 2014). Following this ongoing trend, this article attempts to further contextualise Taiwan within the cultural scene of Japan and the Sinophone world in the post-Cold War era by focusing on the reception of Western art music as a way of contributing to the field of Taiwan studies from a musical perspective.

From the 1980s onwards, capitalist commodities began to mollify the economic system of the Cold War (Rosenberg, 2010). In the East Asian context, several facts also suggest that the Cold War was approaching its end. After forming an official diplomatic relationship in 1972, Japan had become China’s largest trading partner by the mid-1980s (Schaller, 2010: 176). Meanwhile, the antagonistic relationship across the Taiwan Strait was softened by a series of policies implemented by both governments, including the ‘Opening and Reforming’ policy in China and the lifting of martial law in Taiwan. The Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984, which led to the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, marked the final stage of the diplomatic normalisation between China and the UK, which had begun in 1972 (Mark, 2017). However, scholars have pointed out that although the Cold War ended in 1991, its ideologies, including communism, anti-communism, socialism, and humanitarianism, have not been extensively criticised in the post-Cold War era (Bourdaghs, Iovene & Mason, 2021; Chen, 2010; Westad, 2005). Taking these critical remarks as the point of departure, this essay suggests that in order to further criticise the Cold War ideologies, the role of capitalism and its underlying principle of consumerism in the post-Cold War era should be clarified as the global order changed from a bipolar system to a monopoly of capitalism from the 1990s onwards.

From the perspective of the music industry, the most widely spread commodity in this period was the compact disc (cd). Since the invention of the cd in the early 1980s, the circulation of music in the global market was enhanced by this format (Patmore, 2009: 133). Compared to sales figures in 1981, consumption saw a growth of 86 percent in the US, 106 percent in Japan, 57 percent in the UK, and 25 percent in Germany in 1995 (Patmore, 2009: 133). Against this background, this article asks: (a) how cd sales were promoted; and (b) how the ways for stimulating sales numbers correlated with Cold War ideologies in the post-Cold War era. It presents the reception of the Spanish cellist and humanitarian Pablo Casals (1876–1973) in Japan and the Sinophone world in the post-Cold War era as a case study to reveal how the recordings of this musical figure were promoted through recounting and affirming his Cold War image from the perspective of consumer capitalism. This article argues that Cold War ideologies were still widely circulated in the post-Cold War era. Meanwhile, the reception of Casals in Hong Kong offers an alternative perspective from which to discuss the role of his humanitarian image in the promotion of his cd sales, suggesting that without his positive Cold War image, Casals’ musical performance may not have been valued as highly as the current reputation he enjoys.

2 Western Art Music, Cold War Ideologies, Casals, and Consumer Capitalism

Since the late nineteenth century onwards, Western art music has gained a foothold in Japan and the Sinophone world. During the Cold War, Western art music was further promulgated in ‘Third World’ countries as it was utilised by the US as an agent for cultural diplomacy (Fosler-Lussier, 2015). Meanwhile, Western art music is widely appreciated in these places due to its association with European high culture and its potential for upward social mobility (Yoshihara, 2007). In other words, Western art music has been regarded as a representation of ‘cultural capital’ to symbolise one’s social status. Thus, two questions can be raised here: (a) what political messages were delivered by the US through promulgating Western art music; and (b) how were these messages perceived in Third World countries during and after the Cold War? For the first question, Westad (2005: 4) has pointed out that ‘liberty’ and ‘justice’ were the ideologies adopted by the US and Soviet Russia to legitimise their intervention in the Third World:

Locked in conflict over the very concept of European modernity—to which both states regarded themselves as successors—Washington and Moscow needed to change the world in order to prove the universal applicability of their ideologies, and the elites of the newly independent states proved fertile ground for their competition. By helping to expand the domains of freedom or of social justice, both powers saw themselves as assisting natural trends in world history and as defending their own security at the same time.

Bricmont (2006: 10) further used the term ‘humanitarian imperialism’ to describe the abuse of human rights under the imperialistic agenda of the West:

[W]hen the first Europeans arrived in distant lands, they discovered ‘barbarous customs’ [prompting a] humanitarian imperialism, which uses the denunciation of those customs to legitimise our interventions, wars, and interference.

Based on these criticisms, this section aims to clarify how the ideologies of liberty and humanitarianism were embedded in the construction of Casals’ positive image, which served as the basis for his appreciation in Japan and the Sinophone world.

In the English-language literature, Pablo Casals was generally understood as a musical humanitarian through his anti-Franco and anti-fascist stance and advocacy of freedom during and after the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War (Casals & Corredor, 1957; Casals & Kahn 1970; Kirk 1974). Meanwhile, Casals’ performance of the Bach cello suites and at the Prades Festival were connected with his political stance to be an indispensable part of his humanitarian contribution (Taruskin, 2009). Yet, Casals’ image as a musical humanitarian should not be taken for granted as he was one of the figures supported by the US to disseminate its influence over other regions of the world. Silva Lazo (2013, 2015, 2017) has examined Casals’ legacies in Puerto Rico from an indigenous perspective to demonstrate how the career of this musical figure was involved in the neocolonial agenda of the US. In other words, Casals’ image as a humanitarian is significantly related to global Cold War politics.

From an East Asian perspective, although Casals never performed a concert in Taiwan or China, and visited Japan only once in 1961, his image as a musical humanitarian was widely circulated in these three countries through recordings and written materials. From the 1950s onwards, Casals was introduced to Japan, Taiwan, and China through the translation of his biographies. Based on the existing literature, in the post-Cold War era, critics from these three countries began to articulate their own voices to re-evaluate Casals’ legacies by reviewing his recordings. Casals has a versatile discography, which covered nearly all the masterpieces for the cello from the Baroque to the Romantic period, including concertos by Haydn, Boccherini, Schumann, Dvořák, and Elgar; cello sonatas by Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms; and the first complete cycle of the Bach cello suites. In addition, partnered with Jacques Thibaud and Alfred Cortot, his interpretations of chamber music repertoire and live concerts at the Prades Festival were also recorded. All these recordings were reissued in cd format in the 1990s, serving as the basis for the East Asian appreciation of his performances. Yet, although the reception of Casals derived from similar origins of sources, the ways in which he was appreciated in Japan, Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong were different due to the domestic politics of each place. By focusing on the promotional articles of his recordings found in Japanese, Taiwanese, and Chinese music magazines, this paper discusses how the reception of Casals in these places were mediated by the entangled ideologies of Cold War and of capitalism within the domestic and regional political context.

With regards to the question that asks how the Cold War ideologies were perceived in Japan and the Sinophone world, this article suggests that attention should be given to the consumption of Western art music in non-Western countries. Although Timothy Taylor’s book Music and Capitalism: A History of the Present focuses on American popular music, it offers valuable insights into the relationship between capitalism and music more widely from the perspective of consumption. Taylor (2016: 6) argues that capitalism is not only an economic system and ‘doesn’t simply have cultural “effects”; it is, rather (as all capitalisms are), cultural: it shapes culture as it is shaped by culture, not some kind of externality that can be easily apprehended, an economic base that “determines” a cultural superstructure’. How, then, does the cultural system of capitalism affect daily musical life? Instead of focusing on the production of music, Taylor (2016: 15) sheds light on listeners’ reception by arguing that consuming music is a way for one to ‘display status or one’s belonging in a particular social group rather than another’. Two enquiries about the applicability of Taylor’s framework are made here. First, how could the consumption of Western art music be analysed according to the theoretical model of neoliberal capitalism? Second, as Taylor’s framework focuses on an individual level of consuming music, is it possible to adopt Taylor’s model on a national level? Based on these discussions, this article examines the reception of Pablo Casals in Japan and the Sinophone world in the post-Cold War era from the perspective of consumer capitalism to illustrate how Cold War ideologies entangled with capitalism and circulated in these places in the post-Cold War era.

3 The Japanese Reception of Casals from the Mid-1980s Onwards

From the late 1970s to 2010, Japan was the second-largest economy in the world. Within this context, it attempted to challenge US dominance politically and economically in the 1980s and 1990s (McGregor, 2017). Yet, by examining the Japanese reception of Casals, this section demonstrates how Japan was restricted by the Cold War ideology imposed by the US in the cultural sphere. The introduction of Casals’ biographical account was quite comprehensive in Japan. Following this, most articles about Casals from the mid-1980s onwards were reviews of his recording of the Bach cello suites. By reviewing his cello performances as well as his career, Japanese critics drew connections between his humanitarian contribution and his musical performance.

Casals’ recording of the Bach cello suites was generally the best-regarded interpretation since it was the only performance recorded before the Second World War (Inoue, 1985). In addition to the milestone established by Casals in the history of performing the Bach cello suites—at least, as claimed by Japanese critics such as Inoue—his musical legacies were connected with his Cold War image as a humanitarian. By focusing on the concerts Casals gave in the post-war era, Hirokazu Sugano, a Japanese composer and critic, demonstrated how Casals’ political stance was integrated into his musical performance. Sugano (1992: 74) wrote:

The only exception among the performances that followed [his declaration of refusing to perform until a democratic regime was established in Spain] was the Bach concert in Veracruz (Mexico) in 1956 to thank Mexico for providing asylum for exiles during the Spanish Civil War. Therefore, the performance, praying for peace, at the United Nations (24 October 1958) was also of Bach …. On 10 October 1966, at the concert celebrating his eightieth birthday at the University of Sorbonne, Paris, Casals conducted a cello orchestra of a hundred cellists to perform his own work. After the performance, the great master was impressed by the endless applause. To express his gratitude, [Casals] borrowed a cello from a member [of the orchestra] and performed the ‘Sarabande’ from the Bach ‘Suite’ No. 5.1

By way of conclusion, Sugano (1992: 75) drew a close relationship between the morality of Bach’s work and Casals’ performance

[which] cannot be simplified as the beauty of music existing apart from the perspective of humanitarianism. Casals’ political attitude is the indispensable and underlying principle of his performance of Bach. What a precious, tremendous and eternal performance of Bach by Casals! The greatness of its essence cannot be explained even by the praise ‘a great performance beyond the great performances’.

Here, Casals’ humanitarian contribution became the foundation of appreciating his musical performance.

Following Sugano’s remark, Casals’ image as a musical humanitarian became a compelling narrative which distinguished his recording of the Bach cello suites from other cellists’ interpretations. In another cd review article, Inoue appreciated Casals’ recording of the Bach cello suites from a political perspective. Entitled ‘The Connection between His Lifelong Politics and His Bach Performance (the Ultimate in Music): Music and Beyond’, Inoue’s review covered interpretations of the Bach cello suites from Casals and 11 other cellists. In addition to stating again the historical value of Casals’ recording, Inoue (1994: 217) emphasised his political stance in the concluding remarks of his article:

Casals considered Bach the ultimate in music beyond everything else as he said that Bach’s music deeply touched upon humanity. Bearing this in mind, I think we can see the connection between his political stance, which he asserted throughout his life, and his performance of Bach. It is music and beyond music. It is the essence of Casals’ complete cycle of the Bach cello suites, and the source of the endless vitality of this recording.

Although the Japanese critics adopted Casals’ humanitarian image as the basis for appreciating his musical performance, his political stance was not clearly recapitulated in these articles. In these texts, Casals’ boycott of fascist Germany and Italy and the close relationship between these two countries and the Franco regime in Spain was neglected. In the second half of the twentieth century, both Japan and (West) Germany underwent a similar process of reconstructing the national identity through the narrative of the modern history from the mid-nineteenth century onwards (Conrad, 2010). Yet, the reception of Casals suggests that the Japanese critics still avoided reminding the readership of the memory of Japan’s alliance with Germany during the Second World War in the post-Cold War era. Nevertheless, the connection between Casals’ humanitarian image and his musical performance was firmly established in these Japanese materials.

From the perspective of consumer capitalism discussed above, the reception of Casals in Japan is a vivid example to illustrate that the claim that the consumption of music is a way of displaying one’s social identity is also tenable on a national level. By appreciating Casals in the way in which he was appreciated in the English literature, the consumption of Western art music was a way for Japan to confirm its partnership with the US as the Cold War ideology of humanitarianism was further affirmed in Japan in the post-Cold War era.

4 The Taiwanese Reception of Casals in the Post-Cold War Era

Following the establishment of the National Theatre and Concert Hall in 1987, the number of concerts of Western art music grew rapidly in Taiwan in the 1990s, though the original intention of constructing these two buildings was to promote Chinese culture. Meanwhile, as the economy grew, consuming Western art music became a way to display one’s taste in Taiwan as cd s were widely available on the island in the 1990s (Lee, 2003). The way of politicising Western art music in Taiwan in the 1990s was, therefore, slightly different from that in the 1970s and 1980s. In addition to regarding it as a political agent for the nationalist government to legitimise its governance in Taiwan, Western art music was also considered a commodity (Lee, 2003). Against this background, Casals’ image was romanticised and exaggerated in order to promote his cd sales.

Although Taiwanese critics attempted to establish their perspective in evaluating Casals, his image as constructed in the English-language literature had already preoccupied their minds. A consistent structure and perspective can be found in most of the biographical accounts of Casals written by Taiwanese critics. Casals’ life was stated from a Casals-centred perspective, presupposing that all of his behaviour had been guided by a spirit of social justice. Sheng-Jin Peng’s (1995) article was the most comprehensive and original published in Taiwan in the 1990s, which exemplifies how the Taiwanese reception of Casals was restricted by the English materials. In his 20-page article, Peng covered Casals’ whole life and his aesthetic of cello performance. Peng (1995: 110–114) relied on the English version of Joys and Sorrows and its Chinese translation published in Taiwan in 1973 to introduce Casals’ childhood and his early career. He then (1995: 115–120) introduced Casals’ career through his discography to help readers understand Casals through the music he played rather than from reading the biographical text alone. The discography included not only Casals’ performances of the cello solo works but also his chamber music performance with Jacques Thibaud and Alfred Cortot, the recording of Beethoven’s symphony nos. 1 and 4 performed by the Orquestra Pau Casals under his direction, and the recordings from the Prades Festival. Peng (1995: 117) also interpreted Casals’ political stance as ‘anti-communist and anti-dictatorship’ through introducing the recording of the White House concert in 1961. The last part of Peng’s article (1995: 121–126) focused on Casals’ aesthetics of cello performance. Evidently, Peng’s text derived from the 1973 translation (Corredor & Jin, 1973) of chapter nine, ‘On Interpretation’, in the Conversation with Casals. Stemming from the existing materials of Casals, Peng (1995: 125) further added his own opinion by reviewing Casals’ discography and concluded:

Casals’ greatness is neither due to the new technique he established for the cello nor the revival of the Bach cello suites but due to the connection between these concrete techniques and his wider ideal. His musical ideals, just like the human rights and freedom he promoted, helped every performer who contacted him to unleash their own potential …. ‘What is a grandmaster? A grandmaster must have one’s own originality, philosophy, and the ability to express the philosophy!’ Casals is absolutely a grandmaster in the history of musical performance!

Yet, although Peng’s article covered both Casals’ musical and extra-musical aspects, the connection was not established between these two spheres. In contrast with the Japanese perspective, which appreciated Casals’ performance from a political perspective, Taiwanese critics promoted Casals by emphasising his personality.

More examples focusing on his marriage can be raised from the other written works to validate how Casals’ personality was justified by Taiwanese critics. Zhi-Ning Tseng (2003: 26) wrote:

Casals had two marriages, both of which ended in divorce, in 1906 and 1914. At the second Prades Festival [1951], he met Marta, a Puerto Rican cellist, who became his wife later on. Although the age gap was huge [Casals was 75 while Marta was 15], they had a commonality of spirits.

However, Tseng ignored the fact that the divorce between Casals and Metcalfe happened in 1956–57 (Kirk, 1974: 498), after he had met Marta Montanez. Similar factual errors about Casals’ marriage could also be found in other texts (e.g. Wang, 2001: 61). Nevertheless, these texts exemplify that materials found in Taiwan tried to advance Casals’ positive image by claiming his marital fidelity.

These discourses laid the foundation stone for the promotion of Casals’ cd sales, especially his complete cycle of the Bach cello suites. In order to introduce this recording to the audience, articles usually begin by recounting how Casals found the score of this work when he was a 13-year-old boy. Derived from an account circulated by Casals himself, Taiwanese critics further romanticised his excavation of the Bach cello suites by adding passages according to their imagination. In Joys and Sorrows, Casals (Casals & Kahn, 1970: 46) recalled how he discovered the works:

We stopped at an old music shop near the harbour. I began browsing through a bundle of musical scores. Suddenly I came upon a sheaf of pages, crumbled and discoloured with age. They were unaccompanied suites by Johann Sebastian Bach-for the cello only! I looked at them with wonder: Six Suites for Violoncello Solo. What magic and mystery, I thought, were hidden in those words? I had never heard of the existence of the suites; nobody—not even my teachers—had ever mentioned them to me.

Influenced by Casals’ remarks, Wang (2001: 56) wrote:

That day was an unforgettable one in Casals’ life. He was wandering along the Promenade with his father. Guided by the goddess of destiny, they entered a second-hand store. Inadvertently, Casals saw a volume of Beethoven cello sonatas. Then, surprisingly, [he saw] a score titled ‘Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites—Bach’ laid on a rack covered by dust. Casals rubbed his eyes. His heart beat passionately and almost jumped into his throat. ‘I did not even know the existence of these works, and no one had ever told me about them.’

emphasis added

Obviously, Wang fell into the myth curated by Casals himself without consulting other primary sources. It is incorrect to suggest that the Bach cello suites were unknown in the nineteenth century. The first print edition of the cello suites was published by Janet et Cotelle in Paris around 1824. Subsequently, various cellists had published their own editions in the nineteenth century. What Casals found in the second-hand music shop was Grützmacher’s edition (Kirk, 1974: 60). Yet, through reading these texts, the image of Casals, guided by the ‘goddess of destiny’ to enlighten the history of cello performance by discovering the lost Bach cello suites, was perpetuated in the Taiwanese literature and became the basis for promoting his cd s.

Although Taiwanese critics attempted to promote Casals’ cd sales by recounting his biographies through a biased lens, his cello performance was not highly regarded in the Taiwanese cd reviews. Casals’ recording of the Bach cello suites was recommended due to its historical significance and its established reputation in the English-language reviews. De-Ren Huang (1998: 70) reviewed Casals’ recording of the Bach cello suites in the following words:

Although Casals’ performance was not extraordinary; it was the prototype of most outstanding contemporary performances and the paradigm for the musicians of the next generation. Meanwhile, he was the first interpreter who explored deeply and led the performance of these works to an inward world. Even though the quality of recording was not perfect, this recording was selected by the British magazine Gramophone as the Top 100 Greatest Classical Recording … due to its exceptional historical significance. To the music lovers who adore this work, this recording is a requisite one.

Although Huang acknowledged the importance of Casals’ recording historically, he did not appreciate Casals’ performance aesthetically. Hence, for Huang, the reason why Casals’ recording can be selected among the Top 100 Greatest Classical Recordings was simply because of its historical value. A similar attitude can be found in Yu-Pu Jiao’s (2008: 84) article:

To the Bach cello suites, Casals, the authority of the cello, did not only ‘discover’ this great work but also made a polished recording (emi), the classic of classics, half-a-century later. Every generation cultivates its own masters, who also make great interpretations [of the Bach cello suites]. Casals’ technique is no longer unsurpassable. However, the unique historical significance of his version and the songful harmony between Casals and the music make his performance of the Bach cello suites an exceptional paradigm—which is the origin of contemporary performances and the interpretation studied by all cellists. One can dislike it, even disagree with it, but one must listen at least once to Casals’ Bach.

Jiao neither liked Casals’ recording nor agreed with it, but he still recommended it because of its historical importance.

In contrast with the Japanese reception, which drew a close relationship between Casals’ humanitarian contribution and his musical performance, Taiwanese critics recommended his interpretation of the Bach cello suites only due to its historical significance. Meanwhile, in order to promote Casals’ cd sales, Taiwanese critics relied on existing materials to recount his career. Domestically, and as mentioned at the beginning of this section, from the establishment of the National Theatre and Concert Hall in 1987 onwards, the number of concerts of Western art music grew rapidly in the 1990s. Newspapers, music magazines, radio stations, and other forms of mass media actively participated in the promulgation of Western art music (Hu, 2002). Given the context that Casals’ image received during the Cold War complied with the ideologies asserted by the nationalist government, replicating the existing discourses of Casals was a relatively effortless way for Taiwanese writers to earn professional interest. Consequently, Casals’ Cold War image as well as a political label as an anti-communist were consolidated rather than contested in Taiwan in the post-Cold War era.

5 The Chinese Reception of Casals in the Post-Cold War Era

From the 1990s onwards, cities across China began to promulgate Western art music as a symbol of progressiveness (Melvin & Cai, 2004: 301). Within this context, the reception of Casals in the post-Cold War era saw a transition from socialism to the adaptation of capitalism in China.

Similar to the Taiwanese manner of introducing Casals, examples of overstating details of Casals’ life can be found in the materials published in China. Qiang Lan (1995: 11–12), for example, depicted Casals’ encounter with the Bach cello suites in a highly lyrical way:

One summer evening in Barcelona, in 1899, Pablo Casals was gazing upon a thick pile of yellowing and page-missing music scores in dimming light. Many people have experienced such a great moment like this. Casals felt he was being held tightly by a great, invisible hand. He could not calm himself down, nor could he resist or free himself. He could only obey it with bliss and tremble. … It was Bach’s six cello suites. At that time, no one yet knew the importance of the work––only a few people were aware of its existence. Casals was deeply attracted to it. Ever since that remote afternoon, Casals’ astonishing long life was changed completely up until he died in 1974 [sic 1973].

emphasis added

Although the way Casals was presented in China gradually became similar to that in Taiwan, fundamental differences could still be identified as censorship on publications and political labels could be extensively found in the Chinese materials. In Peng’s article, which was published in China in 2003, the sentence stating that Casals’ White House concert symbolised Casals’ admiration for Kennedy’s anti-communist and anti-dictatorship attitude was deleted (Peng, 2003: 15). In the translated book, Song of the Birds: Sayings, Stories, and Impressions of Pablo Casals, the chapter on communism was completely omitted (Casals & Lloyd Webber, 1985; 2001). Meanwhile, politicised explanations of Casals could also be found in China. Bingquan Yu (1996) titled his introductory article ‘Casals: People’s Musician of Spain’. The same approach was adopted in the preface of King of the Bow and String: Casals,2 written by the translator Yijie Jyu. Here Casals is likened to Lu Xun, the iconic leftist novelist. Jyu (2001: 3–4) writes that ‘[h]e [Casals] never bows his head before a strong and brutal devil such as Hitler. In this sense, he is similar to our Lu Xun.’

These materials show that in the first decade of the post-Cold War era, Cold War ideology still extensively existed in Chinese publications within the context of adapting capitalism into Chinese society. Although the way of politicising Casals was different from that in the capitalistic countries, his positive image nevertheless gained a deeper foothold in China.

In contrast to the political labels found in the biographical account of Casals, Chinese critics avoided interpreting his musical performance from a political perspective, though Casals’ career was covered in review articles. Jia Di (1996: 34) laid the foundation stone for appreciating Casals’ recording apolitically:

Then, I acquired the reputable edition of Casals, which I adored for a long time. After my listening, it is indeed better than the previous two cellists [Yo Yo Ma and Paul Tortelier]. The tempo of the Bourrée from the third suite was moderate with a noble deportment. The sixth Prelude was slightly too slow with a few intonation slips in the high pitch passages. But it was passionate. The best example of the embellished Bach … was the Bourrée from the fourth suite, played with marvellous vitality. The other movements were also satisfying.

The other cd reviews published in China also followed this manner of describing Casals’ recording. Lu Shao’s writing is the most vivid example of how Casals’ musical performance was appreciated apolitically. In his work, Shao (2013: 206) provided a detailed timetable for Casals’ recordings of the C major and D minor suites in November 1936, London; the G major and D major suites in June 1938, Paris; and the E-flat major and C minor suites in June 1939, Paris. This manner of contextualising Casals’ Bach cycle within the Spanish Civil War is derived from Siblin’s The Cello Suites (2010: 108–114), in which Siblin drew a closer relationship between Casals’ Bach performance and his anti-Franco stance. Siblin (2010: 115) evaluated Casals’ Bach recording as follows:

Casals’ recordings of the Cello Suites were the first-ever complete studio accounts of the music, and destined to be the most famous and far and away the most influential. … The recording experience itself, forged in the crucible of the Spanish Civil War, took its toll on Casals. … However painful the process, the results were spectacular.

Yet, in contrast with Siblin’s interpretation, Shao did not discuss Casals’ performance from a political or historical perspective. Instead, Shao (2013: 206) just described Casals’ musicality demonstrated in the recording:

After a forty-year honing, these touching notes reached high perfection through Casals’ performance without a trace of precocity. If one can listen to this master performance thoroughly, it makes one forget the unsatisfying quality of the recording.

Although Shao (2013: 204) may have been aware that the Spanish Civil War and Casals’ recording of the Bach cello suites happened at the same time, he nevertheless decided to approach Casals’ performance apolitically. In other words, the connection between Casals’ musical and extra-musical legacies was not established in China.

As China opened to the market economy after the implementation of Reforming and Opening policy, its economy has grown rapidly to the present day. Alongside the trend of economic growth, the consumption of Western art music increased significantly in China in the 1990s, which was described as a ‘piano fever’ by scholars (Melvin & Cai, 2004: 308). Lang Lang and Yundi Li’s achievements further convinced Chinese parents that learning Western art music can be an opportunity to promote the social status of their children. Within this context, a more comprehensive introduction of Casals and his work was found in China. Yet, in contrast with his reception in Japan and Taiwan, the musical appreciation of Casals in China was disconnected from his political stance or personality. The consumption of Casals in China was more attributable to the association between Western art music and European high culture. Nonetheless, Casals’ positive image may still contribute to the musical appreciation of his recording of the Bach cello suites. The reception of Casals in Hong Kong offers an alternative perspective to discuss how his musical performance would be evaluated if he was evaluated solely on the basis of his playing.

6 The Hong Kong Reception of Casals in the Post-Cold War Era

In contrast with the reception of Casals in Japan, Taiwan, and China, which covered his image as a humanitarian as well as a cellist, Casals was simply understood as a cellist in Hong Kong. David Clive Wilson, the former Governor of Hong Kong (1987–1991), stated that cultural activities should not rely on government funding but the participation of citizens (Liu, 2014: 5). This remark confirmed that the government did not directly intervene in the cultural industry in Hong Kong in the 1990s. Yet, the introduction of Casals in Hong Kong before the 1990s was quite superficial since Hong Kong was the buffer zone between rival hegemonic systems of government and political ideology. Most mass media in Hong Kong avoided presenting their political inclinations in the uncertainty of the pre-handover period (Lai, 2007). The interpretation of cultural affairs in Hong Kong was therefore restricted by its complicated political context. This phenomenon has been described as ‘reverse hallucination’, which means the neglect of the existence of something, by Ackbar Abbas (1997: 6). Against this background, Casals’ biographical accounts as well as his political stance were not introduced into Hong Kong. Without further details about his career, Casals’ performance was appreciated simply from a musical perspective in Hong Kong in the 1990s.

Kin-Wai Chua’s article was the longest written material found in this period. Chua (2001) introduced a series of Casals’ solo recordings issued by the Japanese branch of emi. In the article, Chua reviewed the series disc by disc without providing biographical details or forming a narrative of Casals’ life or career. Since the emi series did not include Casals’ recordings at the Prades Festival, Chua did not even mention the festival and its political context in his writing. Reading Chua’s article, one can only grasp some fragmented ideas about Casals rather than forming a comprehensive picture of the musician. In other words, the image of Casals was understood solely as a cellist who made some valuable recordings in the early twentieth century.

A similar tendency of appreciating Casals without any wider political context can be found in the cd review by Yat-Sang Tam (1999). Tam’s article was the summary of a discussion between four music critics in Hong Kong: Ji-Gong Lau, Eric Li, Wing Wu, and Tam himself. They compared ten editions of Bach cello suites recorded by Casals, Gaspar Cassado, Pierre Fournier, Janos Starker, Maurice Gendron, Lynn Harrell, Mstislav Rostropovich, Yo Yo Ma, Anner Bylsma, and Pieter Wispelway. They praised Casals’ recording as follows:

His performance was powerful with a flexible tempo. He followed his own inclinations while playing every note affirmatively; he played carelessly but confidently. His performance sounds free and at ease since he did not have a norm established by his seniors to obey. He had a wide range of emotional expression, abstract conceptions, and passages with a romantic atmosphere.

tam, 1999: 32

At the end of the article, each of them picked three of their favourite interpretations out of the ten editions. Yet, Casals received only two votes while Starker won all four possible votes due to his perfect technique.

The reasons for ranking Starker’s recording of the Bach cello suites slightly higher than Casals’ can be read in Wai-O Sha’s review. Sha complimented Casals on the elegance and liveliness in the recording while admiring Starker’s technical perfection. Yet, Starker’s version was regarded as being better than that of Casals in the article as Sha (1992: 332) wrote:

Modern cellists are, more or less, directly or indirectly, influenced by Casals. Interestingly, some of them, including Starker, love and hate Casals at the same time. Casals was Starker’s idol when he was young. But Starker once said affirmatively that ‘the technique and interpretation of cello performance improve continuously. Casals has been transcended. In a certain period, I played Bach like Casals. But I learnt to be better afterwards. Nowadays, cello learners must learn modern techniques and methods of cello performance’. From the perspective of technique, everyone would agree that Starker is better than Casals.

Compared with the Taiwanese and Chinese critics, who based their opinions on both Casals’ musical performance and his image as a humanitarian, Hong Kong critics paid more attention to the virtuosity displayed by the cellists. Therefore, the evaluation of Casals in Hong Kong was not as high as his reputation in Japan, Taiwan, and China. After gaining a picture of Casals’ reception in Hong Kong, further discussion about the reception of Casals in Japan and the Sinophone world in the post-Cold War era is made in the conclusion.

7 Conclusion

Although the Cold War ended in 1991, its ideologies can still be identified in the reception of Casals during the post-Cold War era. Instead of being criticised, Cold War ideologies were re-enforced by capitalism, as the priority during this period was the promotion of cd sales. Although Casals’ recording of the Bach cello suites was highly regarded in Japan, Taiwan, and China, the way in which this recording was appreciated was quite different in these three countries.

While reviewing and comparing versions of the Bach cello suites, Casals’ career as well as his political stance was recounted by Japanese critics, which serves as the underlying reason for distinguishing Casals’ interpretation from that of other cellists; while Taiwanese critics recommended his recording due to its historical significance. In China, Casals’ recording was appreciated from a musical perspective without connecting his Bach performance to his political stance, though Casals’ life was frequently covered in these reviews. Although Casals was appreciated in slightly different ways in Japan, Taiwan, and China, the positive image constructed during the Cold War was not only replicated but strengthened and consolidated by capitalism in all three countries.

Compared with his reception in Taiwan and China, biographical accounts of Casals were hardly found in Hong Kong. In other words, Casals’ humanitarian image did not gain a foothold in the territory. Against this background, Hong Kong critics focused only on musical aspects to evaluate Casals’ performance. Yet, although Casals’ interpretation of the Bach cello suites was regarded fairly highly, it was not considered the best performance of that work: Hong Kong critics tended to rank Starker’s performance ahead of Casals due to Starker’s virtuosity. It suggests that without his image as a humanitarian, Casals’ musical performance may not be valued as highly as the current reputation he enjoys. The reception of Casals in Hong Kong is counterevidence that Casals’ Cold War image played a crucial in the promotion of his cd sales in the post-Cold War era.

By way of conclusion, in the post-Cold War era, due to the rules of the market economy, Casals’ Cold War image was further consolidated in order to promote his cd sales. In addition, instead of being criticised, the entanglement between the Cold War ideologies and capitalism became embedded in Japan and the Sinophone world over the past three decades as suggested by Casals’ reception. Through revisiting and comparing Casals’ reception in Japan, Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong, this article reveals how and why the Cold War ideologies were still circulated in the post-Cold War era. Meanwhile, by contextualising Taiwan in the post-Cold War cultural sphere of East Asia, more discussions about the geopolitical history of this region are to be triggered and debated by scholars of Taiwan studies.

Acknowledgements

This article is a Merit Award Winner of the 2021 ijts Research Article Competition.

Notes on Contributor

Min-Erh Wang has a DPhil in music at the University of Oxford. His research focuses on how East Asian countries responded to the importation of Western art music from the late nineteenth century onwards. Stemming from this point, his doctoral thesis examined the reception history of Western art music in Japan and the Sinophone world, including Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong, through the lens of colonialism, Cold War ideologies, and capitalism with a case study of the reception of the Spanish cellist and humanitarian, Pablo Casals.

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1

Translations from Chinese and Japanese materials are by the author.

2

King of the Bow and String is translated from Conversations with Casals (Casals & Corredor, 1957).

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