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Isaac Albéniz

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Isaac Albeniz


Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz y Pascual (29 May 1860, Camprodon, Gerona, Spain – 18 May 1909, Cambo-les-Bains, France) was a Spanish pianist and composer best known for his piano works based on folk music idioms.

Born to Ángel Albéniz (a customs official) and his wife, Dolors Pascual, Albéniz was a child prodigy who first performed at the age of four. At age seven, after apparently taking lessons from Antoine François Marmonte, he passed the entrance examination for piano at the Paris Conservatoire, but he was refused admission because he was believed to be too young. By the time he had reached 12, he had made many attempts to run away from home.

His concert career began at the age of nine when his father toured both Isaac and his sister, Clementina, throughout northern Spain. A popular myth is that at the age of 12 Albéniz stowed away in a ship bound for Buenos Aires. He then made his way via Cuba to the United States, giving concerts in New York and San Francisco and then traveled to Liverpool, London and Leipzig. By age 15, he had already given concerts worldwide. This over-dramatized story is not entirely false. Albéniz did travel the world as a performer; however, he was accompanied by his father who, as a customs agent, was required to travel frequently. This can be attested by comparing Isaac's concert dates with his father's travel itinerary.

In 1876, after a short stay at the Leipzig Conservatory, he went to study at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, after King Alfonso's personal secretary, Guillermo Morphy, obtained him a royal grant. Count Morphy thought highly of Albéniz, who would later dedicate to Morphy's wife.

In 1883 he met the teacher and composer Felip Pedrell, who inspired him to write Spanish music such as the Chant d'Espagne. The first movement (Prelude) of that suite, later retitled after the composer's death as Asturias (Leyenda), is probably most famous today as part of the classical guitar repertoire, even though it was originally composed for piano. (Many of Albéniz's other compositions were also transcribed for guitar, notably by Francisco Tárega.)

The apex of Albéniz's concert career is considered to be 1889 to 1892 when he had concert tours throughout Europe. During the 1890s Albéniz lived in London and Paris. For London he wrote some musical comedies which brought him to the attention of the wealthy Francis Money-Coutts, 5th Baron Latymer. Money-Coutts commissioned and provided him with librettos for the opera Henry Clifford and for a projected trilogy of Arthurian operas. The first of these, Merli, (1898–1902), was thought to have been lost but has recently been reconstructed and performed.

In 1900 he started to suffer from Bright's Disease and returned to writing piano music. Between 1905 and 1908 he composed his final masterpiece, Iberia (1908), a suite of twelve piano "impressions".

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