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A Tribute to Claudio Arrau

Claudio Arrau (February 6, 1903 – June 9, 1991) is a very important figure in my musical upbringing. As an undergraduate piano student in London during the late 70’s – and a postgraduate one in New York in the early 80’s – I heard Arrau many times in the core solo and concerto repertoire in the major concert halls of both cities. It seemed he was ever-present not just in these musical centres, but all over the world.

Arrau’s biography

Arrau was a revered authority, someone whose benchmark performances I grew up with. There were many occasions when I heard a major work for the first time in his hands. I have strong and treasured memories of leaving the hall in awe of the music, and the sheer stature of this artist. Arrau was a pianist’s pianist – there were no frills, no gimmicks, and no theatrics at all. What you got was the music itself, consummately and unaffectedly presented, with the greatest honesty and integrity – the result of a probing intellect and total devotion to his art.

Claudio Arrau 1 Allan Warren

The last time I heard Arrau was in New York’s Carnegie Hall on Thursday, 16th February, 1984. I will never forget that occasion, because he was visibly sick and should probably have cancelled. In the Brahms op. 5 Sonata, he was hunched over the keyboard coughing throughout his performance. Yet you would not know from listening to the playing itself that anything was wrong. I found the programme thanks to a wonderful tribute website, arrauhouse.org – a mine of information.

Here is what he played:

Beethoven: Sonata No.7 in D major, Op.10 No. 3
Schubert: Klavierstück No.1 in E-flat minor D.946
Chopin: Ballade No.3 in A-flat major, Op.47
Liszt: Sonnetto del Petrarca No. 104
Debussy: L’isle joyeuse
Intermission
Brahms Sonata No.3 in F minor, Op.5

To see the chronology of Arrau’s concert schedule throughout his life, click here

There are many recordings of Arrau on YouTube. Here is a sterling performance of the Emperor given when the artist was clearly an old man, conducted by Sir Colin Davis (and not Erich Leinsdorf as it says in the description).

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For a complete discography, click here

Rather than post more of Arrau’s performances in this short tribute (they are very easy to find on YouTube), here he is in discussion with some interviewers of note. All of these contain clips of his playing anyway.

Art of Piano

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Desert Island Discs

Claudio Arrau interviewed by Roy Plomley (1914-1985) in the BBC series Desert Island Discs. Unfortunately, Arrau’s musical choices could not be included due to copyright reasons, but it is very interesting to discover the music he treasured.

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David Dubal’s Conversations with Arrau

Here is a series of six radio programmes hosted by David Dubal on WNCN-FM Radio, New York.

1. Beethoven.

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2. Schumann

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3. Chopin

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4. Liszt

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5. Brahms

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6. Albéniz, Debussy, and Schubert

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Other Resources

Piano Lessons with Claudio Arrau: A Guide to His Philosophy and Techniques by Victoria A. von Arx (click here)

Victoria A. von Arx’s book is a fascinating read for pianofiles. There are transcriptions of taped lessons Arrau gave, with detailed technical and musical instruction.

Conversations With Arrau by Joseph Horowitz (click here)

This has been on my bookshelf for many years, and it is heavily underlined and dog eared.

Claudio Arrau’s obituary (click here)