“The Steinway piano is always my great friend and my companion in my music and my work.”
Alicia de Larrocha
Few female pianists were more lauded in their time than Alicia de Larrocha, who was considered peerless in the repertoire of her native Spain. Her recordings of Soler, Granados, Albéniz, Turina, Falla and Mompou were best-sellers, and she won four Grammy Awards — twice for records of Albéniz’s Iberia (1974 and 1988) and once for Granados’ Goyescas (1991), as well as for a disc of concertante works by Ravel and Fauré (1975). In a 1978 interview, Larrocha differentiated among the core Spanish composers: “In my opinion, Granados was the only one that captured the real Romantic flavor. His style was aristocratic, elegant and poetic — completely different from Falla and Albéniz. To me, each of them is a different world. Falla was the one who really captured the spirit of the Gypsy music. And Albéniz, I think was more international than the others. Even though his music is Spanish in flavor, his style is completely Impressionistic.” Born in Barcelona in 1923 and raised into a family of pianists, she began studying the instrument at age 3 with noted Catalanonian pedagogue Frank Marshall. She made her first recordings, of Chopin, at age 9, her feet not yet able to reach the pedals. Despite having small hands even as an adult (being only 4-feet-9-inches tall), Larrocha could eventually stretch her hands to master not only the difficult spans of Iberia but even Rachmaninoff’s central concertos.
In a career that lasted some 75 years, Larrocha’s repertoire also ranged from Scarlatti, Mozart and Beethoven to Schumann, Liszt and Khachaturian, among others. Along with being a popular soloist – not only in Spain but worldwide, particularly in America (performing at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival from 1971 to 2003) — the pianist partnered with star Spanish vocalists Victoria de los Angeles and Montserrat Caballé, as well as with the cellist Gaspar Cassadó and the Tokyo String Quartet. Larrocha’s first tour of the U.S., in 1955, saw her playing Mozart and Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, an atmospheric specialty, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Reviewing her New York debut recital that same year at Town Hall, New York Times critic Harold Schonberg said about her way with Spanish music: “She had a way of idiomatically shaping a musical phrase that cannot be taught — a sudden dynamic shift, a note instinctively accented, a touch of the pedal, an application of rubato. Her rhythm was extraordinarily flexible. Obviously, this music is in the pianist’s blood. She invested it with a degree of life and imagination that not many pianists before the public today could begin to duplicate.” Later, in his book The Great Pianists, Schonberg said: “It’s hard to imagine the piano being played better than it is in her Epic recording of Goyescas.” Larrocha, who died in 2009, won many European honors and was the first Spanish artist to be awarded the Unesco Prize, in 1995. —Bradley Bambarger