Pilar Defillo House Museum: A Jewel to be Found


An architectonic jewel sits on Mendez Vigo street. A small inconspicuous museum in the form of a yellow house with green windows where the mother of one of the world’s greatest musician roamed these halls was later made famous by a concert from her son. Built in the 19th century, this house made museum holds inside the story of the relationship between Pablo Casals and Puerto Rico. Museo Casa Pilar Defilló is a small enclosure which helps you travel back in time and reflect upon the importance of a mother’s role in the life of her son and the role of the son in our culture. 

Pilar Úrsula Defilló Amiguet was born in Mayagüez on October 26th 1853 and was daughter of catalunyan immigrants José Defilló Tusquellas and Raimunda Amiguet y Ferrer established in Mayagüez in 1849 from Cataluña fleeing political persecution. Raised in an accommodated family she worked in her father’s shop “El cronometro” keeping the books until his death in 1871. When she was 18 years old her family packed up and went to El Vendrell where she studied music and started a family. After marrying her teacher Don Carlos Casals y Ribes, the pianist and organist from the parroquial church El Vendrell, she began a family, one of which would birth the world class violoncellist Pablo Casals Defilló. 

Pilar Defilló Amiguet was a devoted mother, one that worked tirelessly for her sons. As a student of music she found herself helping Pablo master his instruments and accords after his father taught him to play piano, violin, flute and organ. As if by intuition, Pilar sees her limitations as a musician and decides that for Pablo to achieve greatness he must receive better mentorship. In 1888 Pilar took Pau to Barcelona and after getting him a scholarship she enrolled him in the Escuela Municipal de Música where he studied cello, theory and piano graduating 5 years with honors. Described by Pablo as an exceptional mother he always remembered her with a sense of reverence. “ She knew about everything; about music, about medicine, architecture about agriculture not only because she knew but because she understood. Maybe her most admirable quality was her high moral ground. She was much more advanced for her time, she was so noble, so beautiful.“- he remembers. Pilar Úrsula Defilló y Amiguet died at 78 years old in Vendrell, Catalunya.

Once you pass the main doors and enter the museum you get immersed in the history of this  house. Carefully crafted by Marissa Ramos Santana, the museum's director, the Defillós house became what it is now, a statement in music and culture. In the first room, the historic relevance of the museum, the visit of Pablo Casals. Amidst political turmoils in Catalunya, Pablo Casals, arrives in Puerto Rico in december of 1955. Shortly after his arrival, on December 17 he decides to visit Mayagüez, specially his mother’s house where she lived her infancy. Accompanied by his young student Marta Montañéz y Martinez, who later becomes his wife in 1957, and his cello he gave a concert that would transcend in history. Pablo played songs that his mother used to sing to him, later accompanied by pianist Narciso Figueroa he played “The song of birds” considered as the hymn of excited Catalunyans. 

In the second room contains a brief glimpse of the role of Pablo Casals’s life as a world class musician and humanitarian. He came to Puerto Rico from Prades, France while on exile from Spain which was ruled by General Francisco Franco, a fascist. After making Puerto Rico his home, Pablo, played in the  Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico and in the White House for the Kennedy’s among other places. Here he organized with Luis Muñoz Marín Festival Casals in 1956 which is celebrated yearly and recently celebrated it’s 60th anniversary. Later he funded the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra in 1958 and the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico in 1959 But his greatest achievement must be his concert in the General Assembly of the United Nations the 24th of October of 1971 in which he received the Medal of Peace and played for the first time the now hymn of the United Nations “ Song of Peace” composed by him. A bronze statue of him and his cello done by the Puerto  Rican sculptor Salvador Rivera Cardona sits in the middle of the room.

An antique Hamilton Piano adorns the first part of the hallway as well as a photograph of him playing his beloved cello taken by American photographer Harry Fridman. Further on, a picture of Pablo looking at the bronze plate made by Spanish sculptor Francisco Vázquez Díaz “Compostela” when he visited the Defilló’s house back in 1955 hangs next to a small sketch of a young Pablo tuning his musical instrument. News articles about is decision to come to Puerto Rico to live and a cast of his hands made after his death culminate the final additions to this room, all a nostalgic  representation of how his legacy was exposed and explored.

In the last room sits the Defilló Amiguet’s family tree. From parents to sons they are pictured in this space, telling the timeline of Pilar’s life.

There is a small adjacent room that houses a replica of a 19th century living room. Not only a museum but a historic spot that catapulted Puerto Rico in the classical music world. Antonio Prieto, student of Colegio, intern and Historical Researcher who works in the museum shared emotive details about the concert Pablo held in the house,  “In this house one of the World’s greatest musicians of all time sat in its balcony and gave a concert to reunite with his mom.”  

"After the Pablo’s concert of December 17th, this house transformed from a simple housing enclosure to a special place, a space where not only music is expressed but artistry can too be expressed"says the museum's director Marissa Ramos. A museum that has a commitment with not only education but with art and music. A space where these disciplines intertwine, cohabit and flourish effortlessly. Music as the universal language of peace holds the key to unite humanity, Museo Casa Pilar Defilló is an unique space where culture is cultivated through music and art, an area where the humanitarian vision of Pablo Casals gets completely fulfilled. 


Photo credits: Mayagüez sabe a mangó, José Zapata