Poet of the Piano and his Muse

GranadosBorn July 27, 139 years ago, Spanish composer Enrique Granados, who is widely known as the ‘Poet of the Piano’, is someone I cannot think about without remembering the late Barcelona-born pianist Alicia de Larrocha. In my mind those two world famous musicians are intertwined: Enrique because of the Chopinesque passion and virtuosity which inform his piano works;  Alicia because of her sensitive, almost Mozartean interpretation of his major compositions.

delarrocha2Alicia was the diminutive Spanish pianist esteemed for her elegant Mozart performances and regarded as an incomparable interpreter of Granados and other Spanish composers. Her small stature — she was only 4-foot-9 — was deceptive: early in her career she played all the big Romantic concertos, including those of Liszt and Rachmaninoff, and she could produce a surprisingly large, beautifully sculptured sound.

She was closely associated with the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, where she first performed in 1971. Her appearances remained among the festival’s hottest tickets until her final performance there in 2003. Indeed, it was there in the mid-1970’s before heading for Miami that I myself heard her and was overjoyed when she signed up a couple of years later to be a soloist there during my tenure as the General Manager of the then Florida Philharmonic.

Alicia’s most enduring contribution, however, was her championship of Spanish composers, especially Granados. She made enduring recordings of his “Goyescas,” and helped ease those works into the standard piano canon. Here is her rendering on YouTube of one of his piano vignettes, Baile Espanol #7.

I myself was drawn to that work in my early teens via its beautiful Quejas o la Maja y el Ruiesenor (The Lover and the Nightingale) and it was a favorite of mine in many a piano recital I gave in India and abroad. In addition, my audiences were wowed every time I responded to their ovation with an encore  from his Danzas Espanoles (Spanish Dances) – either “Playera” or “Minueto”.

Enrique met an untimely death on March 24, 1916, in the English Channel. He was drowned following the torpedoing of the ferry Sussex between Folkestone and Dieppe by a German submarine during World War 1. He managed to get into a life raft but dived into the sea to save his wife. Both drowned and their bodies were never recovered.

Alicia Quotes:
“I would say, though, that Granados was one of the great Spanish composers, and that, in my opinion, he was the only one that captured the real Romantic flavor.”
“Spanish music is very, very, very hard. . . . .Young people come to me and think they can play it right away. But Spanish music must have the right rhythm, just as Bach and Mozart must have the right rhythm.”

My Miami Diary, Granados Piano Scores, New York Times Obituary of Alicia de Larrocha (September 25, 2009)

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