Pianist Alicia de Larrocha (born 1923) has been much admired in the music world practically since her birth. She is known for her interpretations of Spanish music, and "for the elegance of her playing, for the fine details and for the distinctive colors that emerge particularly in the repertoire of her native country," according to the Seattle Times .
De Larrocha has an exuberant style while playing the piano and yet has a masterful technique that is polished and mature enough to play the most difficult of pieces by a variety of classical composers. The Rocky Mountain News said of the pianist, "For seven decades, Alicia de Larrocha has stood tall as the voice of Spanish keyboard music. Don't let her diminutive size fool you. At 4-foot-6, the pianist is a giant in the concert world."
De Larrocha was born Alicia de Larrocha y de la Calle on May 23, 1923, in Barcelona, Spain. She came to the piano young and was so accomplished that she was soon studying with such famous teachers as Frank Marshall and theorist Ricardo Lamote de Grignon. As a young child de Larrocha worked especially with Marshall, a pianist who had been a student of the famous Spanish pianist and composer Enrique Granados, who would later prove to be one of de Larrocha's favorite composers to play. But it was Joaquin Turina who, when the young pianist was a mere five years old, discovered the young talent and helped her make her performing debut at a young age.
She met the famous child soprano Victoria de los Angeles when they were both still quite young, and the two remained friends for the rest of their lives. For a number of years the two performed duo recitals in Spanish around Barcelona, and eventually played across the country. They were both instant successes, and de Larrocha was invited to play at the Palau de la Musica in Barcelona when she was only six. When she was 11 years old she was already a soloist with the Orquesta Sinfonica in Madrid.
De Larrocha continued to practice and improve her talents as she grew older. Unlike some child stars, de Larrocha proved to have a style and skill that transcended her age and continued to improve. In 1940, when she was 17 years old and therefore through with her school studies, she began to focus even more seriously on her career as a concert pianist, and she was invited to play for sold out audiences all over Spain. It was a cosmopolitan life that thrilled the young girl. In 1947 she started making major tours throughout Europe, playing all of the major musical arenas that the continent had to offer.
In 1955 de Larrocha made her first trip to the United States to perform. It was this trip that helped her gain worldwide acclaim, and from this trip onward she was a sought-after pianist at venues all over the world. She performed regularly for the interpreters series at Lincoln Center in New York and was often seen as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival, for which she played over 80 times during her lifetime.
Like many musicians, de Larrocha was too busy playing and practicing to plan her own travels around the globe. She hired Herbert Breslin to be her manager, and he arranged for her hectic and expansive touring career. Breslin was also the agent of Luciano Pavarotti. With his help de Larrocha toured around the world, becoming more and more famous to musical audiences everywhere. In 1959 de Larrocha was invited to take on the position of director of the Marshall Academy of Barcelona, which she accepted.
Over the years de Larrocha made her views on being recorded on video very clear. It was something she disliked greatly as she felt that music should be listened to, not watched. Despite that, however, many videos of her performances were much admired by critics and audiences alike. Notes magazine found the video Nights in the Gardens of Spain to be"… outstanding. Not only do we hear a terrific performance by the wonderful Alicia de Larrocha, but the camera moves smoothly between the concert hall and absolutely gorgeous footage filmed in the Spanish gardens themselves."
Throughout her touring and recording careers, de Larrocha played the works of an enormous number of composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and others. She was especially well known, however, for her interpretations of the Spanish composers Granados and Albeniz, and has been credited for introducing them to many who had not heard their works before. She also introduced lesser-known Spanish composers to the world, such as Joaquin Turina, Carlos Surinach, Oscar Espla, Antonio Soler, and Xavier Montsalvatge. Most pianists at the time did not play these composers, and it gave de Larrocha's an exotic flavor that others could not offer.
De Larrocha participated in collaborations with a number of other famous performers during her career, including her friend Victoria de los Angeles, Montserrat Caballe, and the Guarneri and Tokyo Quartets. The Newark, New Jersey, Star Ledger commented on her playing with the latter group: "The four men in front of her seemed to be playing too, but it was the Spaniard who dominated the performance with her magnetic attachment to the music of Mozart. Her grace notes were immediately recognizable-decorative flourishes as light as lace. She played the familiar melodies as both seasoned performer and old friend." She also performed the Concerto for two pianos by Francis Poulenc with the composer himself, playing the second piano part in the duet. De Larrocha was also an intimate friend of the composer Federico Mompou, who composed several works for her.
She recorded copiously, and was given many awards for her popular records. These awards included the French Grand Prix du Disque of the Académie Charles Cros in Paris, the Dutch Edison Prize in Amsterdam, and a number of Grammy Awards in 1974, 1975, and 1978 for Isaac Albeniz's Iberia and Granados's Goyescas , as well as two piano concertos by Maurice Ravel. Other awards that Larrocha garnered over her long and prosperous career were the German critics' Schallplatten Preis in 1976, the Cervantes Prize of the Jacinto and Inocencio Guerrero Foundation in 1991, the Franz Liszt Prize of Budapest, and the Principe d'Astoria Prize in 1994. She was also Musician of the Year for Musical America. She was popular around the world, but she was always a special favorite in her own country. Because of this the Spanish King Juan Carlos gave her a gold medal for fine arts.
De Larrocha was involved in many organizations over her lifetime. Among others, she became a member of the Spanish Academia de Bellas Artes. She was given the rank of Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in Paris, France. She received the Paderewski Memorial Medal and the Principe de Asturias prize.
In 2003, at the age of 80, de Larrocha decided it was time to retire. At the time of her retirement she had been playing for over 75 years. To celebrate her retirement, de Larrocha made a tour of her usual haunts, performing farewell concerts all around the world. She played one last time for the Mostly Mozart Festival, and later played again with the New York Philharmonic. The Financial Times commented on her farewell performance in Britain: "De Larrocha never was a dazzling technician and certainly cannot be one now. It hardly matters. Her dynamic forte remains piano. She always specialized in understatement, and her powers of persuasion have increased over the decades. There was nothing fussy, nothing mannered about her playing here. Scoring her points gently, she kept the scale intimate, the expressive impulses propulsive. It worked beautifully on her terms." As always de Larrocha played it her way, and her way drew audiences in.
At another stop on her farewell tour, the National Review said that de Larrocha "is, as always, stately and dignified as she makes her way-a little slowly now- to the piano … Her playing? It remains de Larrochian, only more so: that is, her mannerisms have become more pronounced, as tends to happen to every musician. De Larrocha has a big, robust, 'fat' sound. Her playing is generally detached-not legato or limpid- and it can be percussive, even harsh; but it is always in balance (as one note relates to another), and it always makes musical sense. In Spanish music, rhythm (along with color) is everything, and de Larrocha-in whatever she plays, Spanish or no-has fabulously good rhythm." Musical audiences lost a truly unique performer when de Larrocha retired, but luckily her recordings and videos are still available for listening.
Almanac of Famous People , 8th edition, Gale Group, 2003.
Arizona Daily Star , October 27, 2000.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), July 22, 2006.
Financial Times , August 19, 2003.
Grand Rapids Press (Michigan), October 17, 2004.
Mail on Sunday (London, England), June 29, 2003.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel , October 8, 1999.
National Review , December 17, 2001.
New York Times , November 23, 1995; November 27, 2002.
Notes , March 1994.
Rocky Mountain News , October 26, 2001.
San Francisco Chronicle , November 4, 2002; November 8, 2002.
Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), August 19, 1998.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer , April 10, 1996.
Seattle Times , April 9, 1996; October 20, 2000.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), November 23, 2002.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), July 20, 1996; March 29, 1997.
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