Claudio Arrau is among the most durable and versatile pianists of the twentieth century. His career extends more than eighty years, and in that time he has distinguished himself in a phenomenal range of music—from Baroque master J. S. Bach to Romantics such as Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt, and from the towering genius Ludwig van Beethoven to key Impressionist Claude Debussy. Throughout much of his career Arrau has also performed at a pace that might prove exhausting to less disciplined musicians: in his most hectic period, stretching from the 1920s into the 1960s, he annually gave more than one hundred performances and still managed to produce a vast catalog of recorded works. Even into the 1970s and ’80s his schedule has remained relatively formidable. Arrau, however, seems undaunted by the demands of his career, and he dismisses the belief that a performer’s abilities must inevitably decline. “I think an artist in his development doesn’t necessarily have an up and down,” he told Joseph Horowitz in the New York Times. “In most cases an artist’s development only goes up.”
Arrau was born in Chile in 1903. A prodigy, Arrau prospered under the tutelage of his mother, a piano instructor. At age five he held his first public performance, playing works by Mozart and Schumann. Within two years he was known among Chilean music afficianados as a remarkable talent, and in 1910 he was given a ten-year scholarship for studying in Germany’s music center, Berlin. Arrau’s greatest teacher there was Martin Krause, a former pupil of Liszt’s. Krause devoted himself extensively to educating young Arrau in nearly all matters, from music—Beethoven’s compositions were especially emphasized—to nutrition, aesthetics, and even etiquette.
In the mid-1910s Arrau performed his first Berlin recital and earned several awards. Soon afterwards he began performing outside Germany and with such conductors as Wilhelm Furtwangler, who became one of Arrau’s favorite musical collaborators. Arrau’s career seemed to be developing impressively, but he faltered when Krause died in 1918. Without his mentor, Arrau suffered a devastating loss of self-confidence, and after a mismanaged tour of the United States he found himself in despair back in Berlin.
Through therapy with psychoanalyst Hubert Abrahamsohn, who had studied under Carl Jung, Arrau gradually recovered from his depression and found greater awareness of himself as an interpretive artist. By the late 1920s Arrau was once again realizing success, winning a prestigious piano competition in Switzerland and commencing another concert tour. Europe, however, was teeming with musicians, and in order to sustain public interest and draw further attention, Arrau undertook a publicity stunt in 1935 by playing J. S. Bach’s
Born February 6, 1903, in Chillan, Chile; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1979; son of Carlos (an oculist) and Lucrecia (a piano teacher; maiden name, Leon) Arrau; married Ruth Schneider, July 8, 1937; children: Carmen, Mario, Christopher.
Concert pianist, 1908—. Performed extensively throughout Europe during 1920s and 1930s, came to United States during World War II, toured U.S. during 1940s, toured Mexico and South America during 1950s, still performs over fifty concert dates per year. Established Claudio Arrau Fund for Young Musicians, 1967.
Awards: Winner of numerous awards and prizes, c. 1910—, including Gustav Hollander Award, c. 1910s; Liszt Prize (two-timer winner) c. 1910s; Gran Prix International des Pianists, Geneva, Switzerland, 1927; gold medal from Chilean government, c. 1950s; Chilean National Arts Prize; Mexico’s Order of the Aztec Eagle; Commander of the French Legion of Honor; and the UNESCO Music Prize, 1983.
Addresses: Home —Douglaston, N.Y. Manager —ICM Artists Ltd., 40 W. 57th St., New York N.Y. 10019.
complete keyboard compositions in a series of twelve recitals. When this series earned Arrau considerable praise, he followed in 1936 with a series devoted to Mozart’s entire keyboard works, and two years later he gave the first of his many series presenting Beethoven’s thirty-two sonatas.
The success of these artistically demanding—and physically exhausting—feats established Arrau in Europe as an artist of phenomenal range and stamina. In America, though, he was unknown, and when he fled there after World War II erupted he found himself once again forced to develop an audience. American critics, however, quickly rallied behind Arrau, who powerfully impressed them with his versatility and unusual stamina. At the end of World War II, by which time Arrau had given more than two hundred concerts and recitals, he was widely acclaimed as an artist of distinguished interpretive powers as well. More than one critic remarked that Arrau produced probing, dramatic interpretations whether playing Bach or Mozart or Schumann.
During the 1950s Arrau broadened his appeal by performing extensively in Mexico and South America. Returning to his native Chile proved particularly triumphant, with audiences providing wildly enthusiastic ovations and the Chilean government granting him a gold medal for his achievements. By the 1960s Arrau was known throughout the Western world for his musical prowess, and though he sustained that awareness through near-continual touring, he also found time to record, with particular emphasis on Beethoven’s sonatas and concertos. Towards the end of the decade, after complete sets of the Beethoven compositions, he undertook similarly extensive recordings of works by Romantic masters Schumann, Chopin, and Liszt. These records earned Arrau still further accolades as an artist of astounding interpretive powers and range.
Acclaim continued to be accorded Arrau as he began realizing pivotal birthdays and anniversaries. In 1978, he celebrated his seventy-fifth year by giving nearly one hundred performances in a total of fourteen countries. Among this tour’s highlights was a New York City recital featuring Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata, Liszt’s B Minor Sonata, and Brahms’s F Minor Sonata. Newsweek reported that Arrau “attacked the pieces in typical Arrau fashion: with fierce aplomb and with scrupulous respect for the notes as written.” Another career highlight occurred in 1984 when he returned again to his native Chile and performed a nationally broadcast recital.
Despite his age, Arrau has maintained a demanding work pace into the 1980s. He still performs at least fifty concerts and recitals each year and continues devoting himself to recording and re-recording the vast piano literature. Among his recording projects in the 1980s are new interpretations of the Beethoven concertos and selected Beethoven sonatas—his Beethoven recordings alone number more than eighty—as well as Mozart sonatas and some Schubert compositions. In 1978, by which time Arrau had already been performing for seventy years, he explained his work pace to Newsweek: “I’m afraid if I stop I won’t have the courage to start again.”
Beethoven, Ludwig van, Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Opus 58, Phillips.
Beethoven, Piano Concerto No. 5 in E Flat, Opus 73, Phillips.
Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 21 in C, Opus 53 (”Waldstein”), Phillips.
Brahms, Johannes, Piano Concerto No. 1 in D, Opus 15, Angel.
Brahms, Johannes, Piano Sonata No. 3 in F, Op. 5, Phillips.
Chopin, Frederic, 24 Preludes, Opus 28, Odyssey.
Chopin, Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise, Opus 22 [and] Kradowiak, Opus 14, Phillips.
Chopin, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E, Opus 11, Phillips.
Debussy, Claude, Preludes, Book One, Phillips.
Liszt, Franz, Twelve Transcendental Etudes for Piano, Phillips.
Liszt, Piano Sonata in B, Phillips.
Liszt, Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat, Columbia.
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, Piano Sonata No. 12 in F, K. 332, Phillips.
Schubert, Franz, Piano Sonata in A, Opus Posthumous, D. 959, Phillips.
Shumann, Robert, Kreisleriana, Opus 16, Columbia.
Schumann, Kinderszenen, Opus 15, Phillips.
Dubal, David, Reflections From the Keyboard: The World of the Concert Pianist, Summit Books, 1984. Horowitz, Joseph, Conversations With Arrau, Knopf, 1982.
Christian Science Monitor, July 28, 1983.
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New York Times, February 5, 1978.
Musical genius, prodigy, and boy wonder are some of the words most often used to describe Claudio Arrau (1903-1991). Regarded by many music critics as a master interpreter and impassioned artist, Arrau enjoyed a stellar, if sometimes unorthodox, career that spanned over 80 years. Arrau was born on February 6, 1903, in Chillan, Chile. His father died less than 12 months after he was born, but his mother, an amateur pianist, recognized and nurtured his musical genius and became his first teacher.
Chilean legend says that Arrau could read music before he could read words. He made his formal performing debut in Chile at the age of five, playing selections composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Frederic Chopin. It became clear long before he reached ten years of age that his talents surpassed those of the available teachers and that his musical education would require the molding of a master mentor. In 1912 Arrau was sent to study with Martin Krause at the Stern Konservatorie in Berlin at the expense of the Chilean government.
It was through Krause that Arrau was first linked to the music of Beethoven in what would prove to be a profound lifelong musical and spiritual connection. Arrau's life was threaded to the composer's through a direct line of four teachers: Beethoven taught Karl Czerney, who taught Franz Liszt, who taught Krause. Once Arrau left Chile, Krause was his only teacher.
Young Arrau's introduction to the European concert scene came early. He performed before royalty and in salons and in 1914, at the age of 11, made his formal recital debut in Berlin, marking the official start of his career as a solo pianist. In 1922 he made his London debut in a recital with Dame Nellie Melba and the violinist Branislaw Hubermann.
Life in Berlin provided Arrau with the opportunity to bathe in the richness of European culture. Arrau considered it the duty of every great artist to become not only proficient in his or her field of expertise, but also to know as much as possible about all art—painting, sculpture, literature, and theater. He collected Etruscan and pre-Columbian art and was knowledgeable about European classic literature. Arrau felt that his appreciation of the wide range of arts and culture helped inform his interpretations of the music he played. Arrau's concert schedule, which over the course of his life took him all around the globe, enabled him to indulge in his interest in the world around him. Whether in Europe, America, Australia, South Africa, Israel, India, or Japan, the young pianist studied the local art and culture and collected artifacts.
Martin Krause died in 1918, when Arrau was in his late teens, an event that deeply shook the young musician. Arrau was further rocked in 1923 and 1924 by a disastrous U.S. reception on his first tour there. Performing with the Boston Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony, Arrau found that U.S. acceptance of his style and work came slowly. Mournful about the loss of his mentor and concerned about maintaining his career, Arrau experienced a period of emotional, artistic, and financial insecurity. He eventually found a psychological and spiritual mentor in Jungian analyst Dr. Hubert Abrahamsohn, with whom he remained close throughout his life.
Arrau adhered to Carl Jung's notion of the "collective unconscious" in which the psychologist posits that the same universal aspects of human experience lie dormant in all people, clothed in symbolism, waiting to be exposed, felt, and lived. Arrau willingly underwent analysis throughout his life because he believed that if he could tap into his unconscious he could set in motion powerful creativity. He remained humble within this context, acknowledging his creativity as something available to all humans, his talent a gift.
Arrau's accomplishments and the honors he received throughout his career were myriad. In 1927 he won the International Prize for Pianists in Geneva, which helped build his early reputation as a Bach pianist. This link to the composer became firmly established in 1935 when Arrau completed the entire cycle of Johann Sebastian Bach's keyboard works. After completing the cycle, though, he decided that the harpsichord was the most appropriate instrument on which to play Bach's works and chose not to play them again. He did, however, find this cyclical approach to composers' works satisfying. For example, he played a cycle of Beethoven's works in Mexico City in 1938 and later did the same with compositions by Mozart and Franz Schubert.
Arrau married soprano Ruth Schneider in 1940 and shortly thereafter left Germany to live in New York City. He and his wife had children after moving to the United States. Although he lived there for years, he did not become a naturalized U.S. citizen until 1979.
Arrau's Mastery Acknowledged
In 1991, New York Times music critic Donal Henahan called Arrau's musical contributions "exemplary," noting in particular his detailed interpretations of Beethoven. "Arrau played a great deal of 19th-century music with great virtuosity and insight, but also with a well-tailored refinement that prompted critics early in his career to characterize his style as 'aristocratic,' a somewhat misleading label that stuck with him."
But Arrau was not merely a traditionalist. In fact, his musical taste and affinities varied greatly. Although primarily considered a Beethoven specialist, he also played the modern music of Arnold Schoenberg, Igor Stravinsky, and Ferruccio Busoni before they achieved fame in their own right. Whatever the composition, music critics found that Arrau's playing was marked by a thoughtfulness and consideration of detail not often evident in others' work.
Arrau was also regarded by many as a man of particularly sensitive and passionate temperament. He found it difficult, and often emotionally painful, to live up to the expectations thrust upon him by the public, the artistic and financial communities, and himself. Because he was so focused on his emotional life, he was considered by some to be temperamental. He would on occasion cancel performances if he felt that his spiritual affinity to a piece was out of balance.
In addition to his musical talents, Arrau was a man of great political passion and conscience. On one occasion he performed a benefit concert that raised $190,000 in contributions for Amnesty International's campaign for the release of political prisoners around the world. In addition, he refused to play in his native Chile for years in protest against the Marxist government of Salvadore Allende and later that of the right-wing military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. He did return to his homeland in 1981, though, arriving to a hero's welcome. The Chilean government declared a day of national mourning when he died. A nephew reported at the time that Arrau had claimed that, while his mind and intellect belonged to Germany, his heart was still with Chile.
Although Arrau was a dedicated teacher for many years, in his later life he became disillusioned with teaching because he saw a trend in the musical world towards placing an emphasis on technique rather than the personal development of the artist. He was committed to the notion that a pianist not only had to know myriad aspects of culture to be a well-rounded artist, but also must know him or herself emotionally. Arrau felt that many of his students were unwilling to take such steps. Still, he found comfort in having chosen and adhered to his own personal path of growth and exploration.
Arrau gave up performing after his wife died in 1989. He had been scheduled to perform a recital, his first in three years, when he died on June 9, 1991, in Murzzuschlag, Austria, at the age of 88 after undergoing intestinal surgery. He is best remembered for his personalized interpretations of the work of some of the greatest piano masters of all time, as well as his willful artistic spirit.
The Annual Obituary, 1991, edited by Deborah Andrews, St. James Press, 1992.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Vol. 1, edited by Stanley Sadie, Macmillan Publishers Limited, 1980.
Newsmakers, Gale Research, 1992.
New York Times, June 16, 1991. □
(b. 6 February 1903 in Chillán, Chile; d. 9 June 1991 in Miirzzuschlag, Austria), concert pianist who enjoyed an eight-decade career and who is widely regarded as one of the great musicians of the twentieth century.
One of three children, Arrau was the son of Carlos Arrau, an eye doctor, and Lucretia Leon. Arrau was one year old when his father died, and his mother began teaching piano in order to support the family. She kept her young son with her during lessons, and he quickly showed prodigious talents on the keyboard. Arrau made his public concert debut at age five in his hometown and a year later was performing in Chile’s capital, Santiago. He so impressed Chilean authorities that, when he was seven, his entire family was sent to Berlin so he could study with the greatest piano teachers. He did not receive formal academic schooling. In 1913 he began studying with Martin Krause, who became a father figure to the young pianist. A pupil of Franz Liszt and a well-known music critic, Krause was greatly impressed by Arrau, proclaiming him his favorite student and declaring he would be his “masterwork.”
In 1918 Krause died in the great flu epidemic, and Arrau was once again left fatherless. However, he continued working at the piano, winning the prestigious Liszt in 1919 and 1920. At age seventeen Arrau made his debut at London’s Royal Albert Hall as well as in Berlin with the Berlin Philharmonic, both great successes. On 20 October 1923, when he was twenty years old, he made his U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall as part of his first tour of America. The tour, however, was a failure; only five of the thirty planned dates actually materialized, and his Carnegie Hall debut was to a nearly empty house. Arrau returned to Berlin somewhat crestfallen and for a time stopped playing, suffering from depression. After several years of therapy, he returned to performing in the late 1920s. His career was greatly boosted in 1927 when he won the prestigious International Geneva Prize; among the judges was the renowned pianist Artur Rubinstein.
No longer a child prodigy, Arrau found it hard to compete with the many other virtuosos touring Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. In order to draw attention to himself, in 1935 he played the complete keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach in a series of twelve concerts in Berlin. The resulting publicity led him to tackle Mozart’s keyboard works the following year, and in 1938 he performed the first of many series in which he played all thirty-two of Beethoven’s piano sonatas. From 1924 to 1940 he was also a teacher at Berlin’s Stern Conservatory of Music. On 8 July 1937 he wed Ruth Schneider, with whom he had three children.
Leaving Berlin on the eve of World War II, Arrau returned to Chile, opening a piano school in its capital. However, he soon left the country because of his disillusionment with the Chilean government. He made his second Carnegie Hall appearance in February 1941, and this time his fame was such that he filled the hall. The concert was favorably reviewed and covered in the popular media. In 1942 Arrau played more than 100 concerts throughout the country. He decided to settle in the United States, although he did not become a naturalized citizen until 1979.
From the 1950s Arrau became an international superstar of the piano, traveling extensively and performing with major orchestras around the world. He was particularly beloved in his native Chile, where he was always warmly received. However, he refused to perform there once the Socialists took control of the government. In 1978, as a protest against the repressive Chilean regime then in power, he renounced his Chilean citizenship. As part of his eightieth birthday celebration, in 1984 he made a sentimental and hugely successful return to his homeland after more than a decade away. His concerts in Santiago, televised and covered widely in the press, became an event of intense national pride.
In his later years Arrau was much celebrated. Each notable birthday, beginning when he was in his seventies, was an occasion for awards, special recitals, new recordings, and gala events. He continued to perform into his eighties, maintaining a rigorous concert schedule. He died of a massive stroke while preparing for a recital that was to be held at the recently established Brahms museum in Austria. He is buried in Municipal Cemetery in Chillán.
Arrau was an influential interpreter of the great classical and Romantic repertoire. His many recordings include landmark renditions of Beethoven’s and Brahms’s piano concertos, Liszt’s twelve Transcendental Etudes, and Chopin’s complete works for piano and orchestra, many of which have continued to be available on CD. He was also a scholar of Beethoven’s works, producing an urtext edition of the piano sonatas that was published in 1978. The music critic Nicolas Slonimsky noted that his playing “combined a Classical purity and precision of style with a rhapsodicéclat.”
Ingo Harden, Claudio Arrau: Ein Interpretenportrait (1983), is a German-language interpretative biography. Two major Spanish-language biographies of Arrau, published in Chile, are Inés María Cardone, Claudio Arrau: Lo que nunca se dijo de su viaje a Chile (1984), and Sergio Dorantes Guzman, Arrau: El gran artista latinoamericano (1991). Joseph Horowitz, Conversations with Arrau (1982), is a book-length interview. The revised version is Arrau on Music and Performance (1999). An extended interview with Arrau is in David Dubai, Reflections from the Keyboard: The World of the Concert Pianist (1984; 2d ed. 1997). An extended critical work by Herbert Kupferberg appeared in Musical America (Mar. 1988). Obituaries are in the New York Times (10 June 1991) and London Times (11 June 1991).
Arrau, Claudio, celebrated Chilean-born American pianist; b. Chillán, Feb. 6, 1903; d. Mürzzuschlag, Austria, June 9, 1991. He received early training from his mother, and made his first public appearance in Chilian when he was only 5; at age 6, he played in Santiago. After instruction from Bindo Paoli, he received a scholarship from the Chilean government in 1910 to pursue studies in Berlin, where he was a pupil of Martin Krause at the Stern Cons. (1913–18). On Dec. 10, 1914, he made his Berlin debut in a recital, and then attracted considerable attention through tours of Germany and Scandinavia. In 1918 he made his first tour of Europe. In 1921 he performed in South America and in 1922 in London. In the 1923–24 season, he played in the U.S. but, failing to elicit much of a response from audiences and critics, he pursued his career in Europe; also taught at the Stern Cons. (1924–40). In 1927 he won the Grand Prix International des Pianistes in Geneva, and from 1935 he consolidated his European reputation by giving a series of acclaimed cycles of the keyboard works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and others. In 1940 he left war-ravaged Europe for Santiago, where he opened a piano school. In 1941 he made a highly successful tour of the U.S., where he settled. In subsequent years, he appeared with all the major U.S. orchs. and gave countless recitals. Following the end of World War II in 1945, he pursued an eminent international career and established himself as one of the premiere masters of the piano. In 1978 he gave up his Chilean citizenship in protest against the military regime in his homeland; in 1979, he became a naturalized American citizen. All the same, he remained a revered figure in Chile and in 1983 was awarded the Chilean National Arts Prize. In 1984 he toured the land of his birth to enormous acclaim after an absence of 17 years. He died in Austria while preparing for a recital at the new Brahms museum in Mürzzuschlag. Arrau was a dedicated master of the keyboard and an authoritative interpreter of Beethoven; he also gave distinguished performances of Mozart, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, and Brahms, among others. In his playing, he combined a Classical purity and precision of style with a rhapsodic éclat.
J. Horowitz, Conversations with A. (N.Y., 1982); I. Harden, C. A: Ein Interpretenportrait (Frankfurt am Main, 1983); S. Dorantes Guzmán, A.: El gran artista latinoamericano (Xalapa, 1991).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire