Music Notes

So, you thought classical musicians were pussies

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How often do we relax to the melodies of Spain’s Isaac Albéniz (1860 – 1909). His Rapsodia Espanola, Sevilla and Granada, based on Catalan folk songs, are perhaps the better known of his many compositions. These exquisite mind-bending heart-wrenching melodies evoke the Spanish dream more than could any Goya painting; but what of the man behind the music?

Born in Camprodón in Catalonia this virtuoso prodigy first performed on the piano at the age of just four years old. Such talent and at such an early age? Could a possible explanation be his being influenced by reincarnation or a greater spirit who perceived in him a talent begging to be used?

Isaac Albéniz

By the tender age of seven, Albéniz had passed the entrance examination of the Paris Conservatoire. Alas, he was refused admission because the selectors considered him too young. By the age of thirteen the precocious Isaac had attempted to run away from home several times; only to be brought back with no doubt a clip across his ear.

In 1872 as a 12-years old, he did succeed in stowing away on a ship bound for Buenos Aires. From there he made his way to Cuba, then to the United States where he gave concerts in both New York and San Francisco. All this at an age at which most would have difficulty organising a white-socks disco or arranging an online donation to a just cause.

An outstanding success, this adolescent prodigy made his way to Liverpool, to London, and then to Leipzig. By 1875 when he was still just fifteen years of age he had already given concerts worldwide and was by now internationally recognized.

There wasn’t a great deal that Leipzig Conservatory could do to advance Isaac’s enormous talent as a composer. Packing his carpet bag, he set out for Brussels to do a little extra studying. Just four years later the tireless teenager was on his way to Budapest to study with Franz Liszt, only to find the German-Hungarian composer had by this time taken up residence in Weimar, Germany.

This is where we avid listeners meet up with the aspiring lad on the world stage. It was in 1883 that he met the teacher/composer Felipe Pedrell, who inspired him to compose Spanish music such as Suite Española, Op. 47.

For many of us the most special of the suite is Asturias (Leyenda); an essential component of any classical guitar repertoire. Most of these soulful melodies were written for the piano but the composer Francisco Tárrega, best known for his haunting melody Recuerdos de la Alhambra, transcribed many of Albeniz’s compositions to the elegance of the guitar. The affable Isaac conceded that he often preferred Tárrega’s way of doing things.

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During the 1890s Albéniz divided his time between London and Paris from where he penned mainly theatrical works; much of them commissioned by the impresarios of the period. By 1890 the composer was suffering from Bright’s Disease. Returning to piano compositions he finally rounded off with Iberia, a suite of 12 piano impressions. Do try to listen to them. If nothing else you will be impressed. 

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