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'I am a Catalan': 50 years since Pau Casals' United Nations speech

Famed cellist and peace activist remembered across Catalonia


24 October 2021 04:44 PM



Sunday marked the 50th anniversary of one the most memorable speeches ever made by a Catalan: Pau Casals’ impassioned address to the United Nations, where the great cellist famously proclaimed "I am a Catalan."

In 1971, Casals appeared before the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York to receive the UN Peace Medal in recognition for his work towards peace, justice, and freedom.

Following his speech, in which he praised Catalonia’s contributions to peace and democracy, he broke his vow to not play the cello in public as long as Spain was ruled by dictator Francisco Franco and performed El Cant dels Ocells, a traditional Catalan folk song he himself popularized.

50 years later

This beloved Catalan figure has not been forgotten 50 years later: not only did a commemorative concert take place in the Catalan capital's Palau de la Música on Sunday evening, but social media was filled with references to the musical legend. 

The life of Pau Casals

Born in 1876 in El Vendrell, in southern Catalonia, Casals learned music from his father and would go on to become one of the greatest cellists ever, widely praised for the recordings of the Bach Cello Suites, and playing for the likes of Queen Victoria and U.S. presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.

A supporter of the democratic Second Republic government of the 1930s, Casals fled Spain to escape the Franco regime and died in 1973 in Puerto Rico, his mother's home country where he had resided for several decades, at the age of 96.


  • Cellist Pau Casals at Carnegie Hall (United States Library of Congress)

  • Cellist Pau Casals at Carnegie Hall (United States Library of Congress)