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Isaac Albéniz

Born: 1860

Died: 1909

Nationality: Spanish

Publisher: UME

Albéniz wasone of the most outstanding personalities in the history of Spanish music,positioned within the Nationalist trend but also introducing Spanish music inthe first movements of the vanguard of the twentieth century.

From an early age Albéniz was considered a child prodigy,performing his first concert at the age of four.  This period ended with his first trip to Paris in 1867, in preparationfor his entry into the Conservatory where he studied for nine months withAntoine François Marmontel - Debussy’s teacher. In 1868 he was recognised as acomposer when he published his first work at the age of eight.

From 1869 he performed concerts in the most importantSpanish cities and in 1872 he set out for South America.  He performed in Puerto Rico, The Havana and Santiago de Cuba, travelling to Mexicoand then on to New York and San Francisco where his talent as a pianistwas acclaimed. He returned to Europe, and after a series of concerts in England, he moved to Leipzig. In 1879 he obtained first prize withdistinction from the Conservatory of Brussels, with Francis Planté, Hans vonBülow and Antón Rubinstein presiding the jury.

In 1880 Albéniz left Brusselsand travelled to Prague, Viennaand Budapest,where he met Liszt.  This new contact wasa crucial point which consolidated his vocation.  After a lengthy stay in Granada his music had become infused with newcharacter, an oriental flavour and Andalusian colour and rhythm which wouldinfluence not only other Spanish composers but also French musicians such asDebussy and Ravel.  In 1883 he moved to Barcelona, his successand fame consolidated.  Known as theSpanish Rubinstein at this point in his career, he published Recuerdos de viaje, op. 71, and theConcerto in A Minor, op. 78.  At thistime he liked to play his Spanish Rhapsody, a piece which would laterrepresent Hispanic music in Europe.  Twelve Characteristic Pieces, op.92,1888, are from this period.

In 1889 Albéniz met Dukas, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel andChausson. He had great success in London, Austria and Germany, receiving unanimousapplause from the public and praise from the critics.  In Paris hepublished his Spanish Suite nº 2 for piano, and Cataloniawas performed by the Cologne Orchestra. He lived in London from 1890 to 1893, recommended by theQueen of Spain to the Queen of England. He published Mallorca,Zambra, España y Hojas de álbum(1891), all works for piano, the instrument he would never abandon despite hislyrical projects.

In 1893, Albéniz published The Magic Opal, based on a text by Arthur Law. He also published Cantos de España and, in 1894, San Antonio de la Florida. He composedthe opera Henry Clifford, with librettoby Money-Coutts, and La sortija, theSpanish version of The Magic Opal,which was performed in Madridon 23rd of November.  Henry Clifford was successfullyperformed in the Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona and in 1896 Albéniz began hisNationalist lyrical pieces with the performance in the Teatro del Liceo inBarcelona of Pepita Jiménez, a lyrical comedy in two acts,adaptation of Juan Valera’s novel by Money-Coutts (this would later beperformed in 1923 in Paris in the Opéra Comique). Albéniz, like other Spanishcomposers, dreamed of creating a Spanish National Opera.  After this he composed Merlin and performed PepitaJiménez in Prague.

On May 9th 1906 the first Iberia notebook was performed in Paris, the firstperformance in the Salle Pleyel. The critics greeted this work as a“classical-modern work similar to Ravel’s Sonatine”. On January 2nd1908, Blanche Selva performed the third Iberia notebook and Debussycommented the following on El Albaicín:“Never before has music given us such diverse and colourful impressions.  It’s as if your eyes close because you areseeing too many images”. The two composers held each other in great esteem andaffection.

On 9th of February1909, Blanche Selva performed the fourth Iberiapiece in the Societé Nationale in Paris.At the beginning of May Albéniz received a visit from Granados, who informedhim that he was to be awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour by theFrench Government, recommended by Debussy, Fauré, Chausson, D’Indy, Dukas andLalo. He died on May 18th, 1909 after a long illness.

UME/SGAE (Diccionario de la música española e hispanoamericana)

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