Robert Casadesus was born in Paris, April 7, 1899. As the
oldest in the second generation of a prestigious musical family, he inherited
the tradition and the potential for an outstanding performance career. He did
not follow the family tradition of playing stringed instruments but chose,
instead, the piano. His Aunt Rose Casadesus, herself a pianist, instructed him
until he entered the Paris Conservatory at the age of ten. At the Conservatory
he studied solfege and piano with Louis Diémer, a pupil of Liszt, and with
Antonin Emile Marmontel. He achieved the first prize in piano in 1913. From 1913
to 1917, he studied harmony with Xavier Leroux. During this period, he earned a
livelihood by playing the celesta and extra percussion effects at the Opera
Comique. In 1917, he made his debut as a concert pianist in Paris, with a
recital at the Salle des Agriculteurs.
He was drafted into the army in 1918. After starting in the Artillery, he was
transferred to the Engineers Corps band where he was a drummer. In 1919, he was
awarded the first prize for harmony at the Paris Conservatory, having finished
his study with Leroux. He received the Prix Diémer from the Conservatory the
Two important events occurred for Casadesus in 1921: He married Gabrielle
L'Hôte (Gaby Casadesus), and he became assistant to Isidor Philipp at the
American Conservatory at Fontainebleau. The Fontainebleau School had been
founded after World War I by Walter Damrosch and Francis Casadesus (Robert's
uncle) as a summer school for American students in instrumental music and
composition. At the end of the summer, he started his international career as a
concert pianist by playing in major cities throughout Europe.
In 1922, Robert met Ravel and, as a result of this meeting, a strong working
friendship developed between the two. Robert traveled and studied with Ravel and
became a leading interpreter of his music.
In 1926 and 1927, he continued his tours to the capital cities of Europe,
each year increasing the number of commitments for recitals and playing with the
major orchestras. His first son, Jean, was born in 1927. The following year
Robert was chosen to play the inaugural concert for the opening of the new Salle
Pleyel. He also began playing recitals with Gaby, performing two-hand and
four-hand pieces, some of which were his own transcriptions. In 1928, Robert
made his first recording for Columbia in Paris, among which was Ravel's "Jeux
d'eau." For the 1929 season, fifteen concerts in Moscow were added to his
During the '30s, the scope of Casadesus's activities increased. The European
concert tours were augmented in 1931 to include South America and, in 1933,
Africa and the Middle East. In 1935, he made his first concert tour to the
United States. While here, he was engaged by Arturo Toscanini to play the Brahms
Second Piano Concerto with the New York Philharmonic the following season. In
1932 his second son, Guy, was born.
During 1930, Robert had made other recordings with Columbia, establishing a
relationship that was to continue for the rest of his professional life. That
same year his String Quartet, Op.13, was premiered in Paris. In 1934, in Warsaw,
he and Gaby played the first performance of his Concerto for Two Pianos, Op.17.
Durand, publisher of the music of Debussy and Ravel, issued Robert's Sonata for
Flute and Piano, Op.18, in 1935. Also in 1935 he succeeded Isidor Philipp as
head of the piano department of the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau. In
1939, Casadesus received the French Legion of Honor and the Belgian Order of
War breaks out! After the fall of France, he and Gaby established the
Fontainebleau School at Newport, Rhode Island. In 1942 the Fontainebleau School
was moved to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. The Casadesus'
made their home with their sons in Princeton, New Jersey, which was convenient
to Manhattan and Philadelphia and had an active European community. Here they
lived during the was years, 1940 to 1946.
Throughout this period, Robert continued a varied and busy concert career,
playing his first recital at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1941, and appearing
with all the major American orchestras on a regular basis. In 1941, he began
working with producer Goddard Lieberson at Columbia Records; they did many
recordings over the years, including all of the piano music of Ravel and much of
Debussy's. In 1942, Robert and Gaby's daughter Thérèse was born ("La naissance
In the 1940s, his lifelong friendship and collaboration with Zino
Francescatti, the great violinist, was begun. Robert continued to take time to
compose, dedicating his Second Sonata for Piano and Violin, Op. 34, to
After the war, in 1946, Robert, now Director of the American Conservatory
oversaw its return to Fontainebleau. He resumed his tours of the major European
cities. From that time on, the Casadesus family established a pattern of
spending summers in France and at least part of the winters in the U.S., making
their home in Princeton. Casadesus's North American tour itinerary covered the
U.S. and Canada from coast to coast with recitals in San Francisco, Vancouver,
Houston, San Antonio, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New
York, just to mention the larger cities.
Beginning in 1948, a number of his works were premiered by the New York
Philharmonic. These included the Second Piano Concerto, Op.37, conducted by
Leopold Stokowski (composer at the piano), the Suite for Orchestra, Op.47,
conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, and the Three Dances, Op.54, commemorating the
25th anniversary of Casadesus's American debut. The Concerto for Three Pianos
and String Orchestra, Op.65, was given its first performance by the Philharmonic
under the baton of Lukas Foss. In 1969, he played his 100th concert with the New
Through these years, Robert received many honors from Europe and the United
States. In 1949, he was asked by the Polish Government to give an all-Chopin
recital in the Albert Hall, London, commemorating the centenary of the
composer's death. In 1950, he was promoted to the rank of Officer in the French
Legion of Honor in recognition of his outstanding musical career. Then in 1964
he became a Commander in the Legion of Honor. In 1968 he was awarded the Brahms
medal in Hamburg as well as the gold medal of the city of Paris. He was asked to
play the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto at the Bonn Festival during the
Beethoven bicentenary in 1970.
During these busy years of concert tours and composing, Robert also continued
to record extensively for Columbia. In 1946, be began making records with
Francescatti: the ten sonatas for piano and violin of Beethoven, as well as
works of Bach, Chausson, Debussy, Fauré, Franck, Mozart, and Casadesus's own
Sonata No.2, Op.34. Casadesus was awarded the Grand Prix de l'Academie Charles
Cros and the Grand Prix de l'Academie du Disque for the complete recording, on
LP, of Ravel's piano music. With George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra he
recorded a number of Mozart piano concertos. In 1965 he was awarded the
Netherlands' Edison award for his recordings.
In America, Casadesus was honored in the 1947 annual recorded music awards
for his recording of the Debussy Preludes Book II (Columbia ML4019), and, in
1962, he and Gaby were nominated by the National Academy of Recording Arts and
Sciences for best classical performance for "French Piano Music-Four Hands."
The Bell Telephone Hour produced a one hour television film, in 1967, on
Robert, Gaby and Jean Casadesus, titled "The First Family of the Piano." Almost
from the beginning of Casadesus's concert career, Gaby had joined him in many
recitals for piano, four-hands, and two pianos. Beginning in 1950, Jean, their
son, played many concerts with his parents. Both Gaby and Jean had successful
careers of their own -- Jean until his death in a car accident in 1972. Gaby
continued to teach master classes at Fontainebleau.
Robert Casadesus died in Paris, September 19, 1972, after a short illness.
His Seventh Symphony, Op.68, with the chorus "Israel," was premiered at Alice
Tully Hall at New York's Lincoln Center a few weeks later.