Celebrating the 111th birthday of the great Chilean-born pianist (and later a longtime resident of Douglaston, NY) Claudio Arrau by revisiting one of our “Great Chopinists” episodes from Radio Chopin. Listen to the episode here or read below:
“An interpreter must give his blood to the work interpreted.” The words of one of the great “Chopinists,” Claudio Arrau.
Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau’s late-career recordings of Chopin, particularly his Nocturnes and Ballades have been called “the peak of his art.” Perhaps there was a kinship. Like Chopin, Arrau showed preciocious promise – he could read music before words, thanks to his piano-playing mother. And most like Chopin, Arrau left his native land at an early age to pursue his artistic career.
Claudio Arrau left the Southern Hemisphere in 1911. He was eight years old, bound for Berlin to study with Martin Krause, former pupil of Chopin’s friend (and sometime rival) Franz Liszt. Krause became the father Arrau never had…and instilled in him a rock-sold discipline and quest for perfection that became the hallmarks of his eight-decade career, during which he performed an estimated 5,000 concerts.
But not before emerging from a melancholic despair Chopin would have recognized. It happened after his teacher Martin Krause died when the pianist was just 15. It took years of therapy to pull him out of a deep depression. And a dash of self-reliance: Arrau was famous for practicing in front of a mirror to streamline his technique – squeezing the maximum effect from every note, movement, and gesture.
Claudio Arrau once said “It is pointless to play a work until you are sure of the meaning of every single bar. Any musician…who is not also an interpreter of a divinatory order … is somehow one-sided, somehow without spiritual grandeur.” Claudio Arrau: A great Chopinist. – Frank Dominguez