Claudio Arrau

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Claudio Arrau in 1974, by Allan Warren

Claudio Arrau León (February 6, 1903 – June 9, 1991)[1] was a Chilean pianist known for his interpretations of a vast repertoire spanning from the baroque to 20th-century composers, especially Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Brahms. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century.


Arrau was born in Chillán, Chile, the son of Carlos Arrau, an ophthalmologist who died when Claudio was only a year old, and Lucrecia León Bravo de Villalba, a piano teacher. He belonged to an old, prominent family of Southern Chile. His ancestor Lorenzo de Arrau, a Spanish engineer, was sent to Chile by King Carlos III of Spain. Through his great-grandmother, María del Carmen Daroch del Solar, Arrau was a descendant of the Campbells of Glenorchy, a Scottish noble family.[citation needed] Arrau was raised as a Catholic, but gave it up in his late teens. [2]

Claudio Arrau, 1929

Arrau was a child prodigy, giving his first concert at age five. When he was 6 he auditioned in front of several congressmen and President Pedro Montt, who became so impressed as to start arrangements for his future education. At age 8 he was sent on a 10-year long grant from the Chilean government to study in Germany, travelling in the company of his mother and sister Lucrecia. He was admitted at the Stern Conservatory of Berlin where he eventually became a pupil of Martin Krause, who had studied under Franz Liszt. At the age of 11 he could play Liszt's Transcendental Etudes, considered[by whom?] to be one of the most difficult sets of works ever written for the piano, and also Brahms's Paganini Variations. Arrau's first recordings were made on Aeolian Duo-Art player piano music rolls. Krause died after five years of teaching Arrau, who at fifteen was devastated at the loss of his mentor.[citation needed]

In 1935, Arrau gave a celebrated rendition of the entire keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach in 12 recitals. In 1936, Arrau gave a complete Mozart keyboard works over 5 recitals, and followed with the complete Schubert and Weber cycles. In 1938, for the first time, Arrau gave the complete Beethoven piano sonatas and concertos in Mexico City. Arrau repeated this several times in his lifetime, including in New York and London. He became one of the leading authorities on Beethoven in the 20th century.[citation needed]

In 1937, Arrau married the mezzo-soprano Ruth Schneider, a German national, and they had three children: Carmen (1938–2006), Mario (1940–1988) and Christopher (1959). In 1941 the Arrau family left Germany and migrated to the United States, where they spent their remaining years. He settled in New York City and adopted dual U.S./Chilean citizenship in 1979.[citation needed]

Claudio Arrau died in 1991, at the age of 88, in Mürzzuschlag, Austria, from complications of emergency surgery to correct an intestinal blockage. His remains were interred in his native city of Chillán, Chile.

Tone and approach to music[edit]

Claudio Arrau

Many[who?] claim that his rich, weighty tone lent his interpretations an authoritative, distinctive voice, some[who?] saying it sounded thick and muddy and others praising its rounded tone, saying it sounded as though Arrau were almost playing the organ or "plowing" his "paws" into the "flexible" keyboard. According to American critic Harold C. Schonberg, Arrau always put "a decidedly romantic piano tone in his interpretations".[3]

Arrau was an intellectual and a deeply reflective interpreter. He read widely while travelling, and despite the lack of any formal education[citation needed] outside of his musical training, he learned English, Italian, German, and French in addition to his native Spanish. He became familiar with Jung's psychology in his twenties.[4]

Arrau's attitude toward music was very serious. He preached fidelity to the score, but also the use of imagination.[5] Although he often played with slower and more deliberate tempi from his middle age, Arrau had a reputation as a fabulous virtuoso earlier in his career.

According to Joseph Horowitz in his book Conversations With Arrau (1982), many critics felt that his overall approach became less spontaneous and more reserved and introspective after the death of his mother, to whom he was extremely close. Arrau had isolated himself for two weeks after his mother's death, refusing to perform or to receive comfort from friends.


Numerous pianists studied with Arrau, including Karlrobert Kreiten, Garrick Ohlsson and Roberto Eyzaguirre among others.

Arrau recorded a considerable part of the piano music of Schumann. He edited Beethoven complete piano sonatas for the Peters Urtext edition and recorded all of them on the Philips label in 1962-1966. He recorded almost all of them once again after 1984 along with Mozart complete piano sonatas. He is also famous for his recordings of Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and Debussy, among others.

Notable recordings:

At the time of his death at age 88, in the midst of a European concert tour, Arrau was working on a recording of the complete works of Bach for keyboard, and had some pieces from Haydn, Mendelssohn, Reger, Busoni along with Boulez's 3rd piano sonata in preparation.

The Robert Schumann Society established the Arrau Medal in 1991. It has been awarded to András Schiff, Martha Argerich and Murray Perahia.

Awards and recognitions[edit]

Voted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame[6]

Gold Medal of The Royal Philharmonic Society

La Medalla Teresa Carreño of Venezuela

Honorary Member of The Royal Philharmonic Society

The Highest Distinction Award from the Inter-American Music Council and the Organization of American States

Doctor Honoris Causa of Universidad de Concepción

Professor Honoris Causa of Universidad de Bío-Bío

The International UNESCO Music Prize

National de la Légion d'honneur of France

National Prize of Art of Chile

First Honorary Member of The Robert Schumann Society

Doctor Honoris Causa of University of Oxford

Commandatore da Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia

Knighthood from the Order of Malta

Beethoven Medal of New York

Philadelphia Bowl of Philadelphia

La Orden del Águila Azteca of Mexico

Hans von Bülow Medal of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz of the Federal Republic of Germany

Homage from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Kurt Westphal, on behalf of the orchestra, called him "heir to the throne of Gieseking and Busoni".

Chevalier of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France

Presented with 'The Mask of Chopin' & Chopin's manuscripts

Santiago's Honorary Citizen

Concepción's Honorary Citizen and City Gold Medal

Hijo Benemérito de Chillán

Chillán's hitherto Lumaco Street was named after Claudio Arrau

The Medal of The Royal Philharmonic Society

Hijo Predilecto de México

Doctor Honoris Causa of University of Chile

Hijo Ilustre de Chillán

Winner of the Grand Prix of the Concours International des Pianistes Geneva. The jury was composed by Arthur Rubinstein, Joseph Pembauer, Ernest Schelling, Alfred Cortot and José Vianna da Motta.[7] Cortot exclaimed: "Cela c'est un pianiste. C'est merveilleux"

Honour Prize of the Stern Conservatory, becoming Professor

Liszt Prize (after 45 years without a first place winner)

Schulhoff Prize

End of studies at the Stern Conservatory, receiving an "Exceptional Diploma"

Sachsen-Gothaische Medaille

Grant of the Stern Conservatory

First Prize in the Rudolph Ibach Competition (he was the only participating boy)

Gustav Holländer Medal for young artists

Grant of the Chilean Congress for musical studies in Berlin

Album prizes[edit]

Brahms 2 Piano Concertos with Carlo Maria Giulini and Philharmonia Orchestra [EMI Recorded in 1960 & 1962]

Beethoven 5 Piano Concertos with Bernard Haitink and Concertgebouw Orchestra [Philips Recorded in 1964]

Schumann Sonate Op.11, Fantasiestücke Op.111 [Philips Recorded in 1967 & 1968]

Brahms 2 Piano Concertos with Bernard Haitink and Concertgebouw Orchestra [Philips Recorded in 1969]

Liszt Complete Concert Paraphrases on Operas by Verdi [Philips Recorded in 1971]

Liszt 12 Etudes d'exécution Transcendente [Philips Recorded in 1974 & 1976]

Liszt 2 Piano Concertos with Sir Colin Davis and London Symphony Orchestra [Philips Recorded in 1979]

Chopin Complete Nocturnes [Philips Recorded in 1977 & 1978]

Chopin Complete Etudes [EMI Recorded in 1956, Remastered in 1987]

Chopin Complete Etudes [EMI Recorded in 1956, Remastered in 1987]

Schumann Piano Concerto, Carnaval & Beethoven Sonata Op.111 [EMI Filmed in 1963, 1961 & 1970]

Liszt Solo Piano Works: Ballade No.2, Jeux d'eaux à la villa d'Este, Vallée d'Obermann…… [Philips Recorded in 1969]

Schumann Comprehensive Solo Piano Works [Philips Recorded from 1966 to 1976]

Beethoven 5 Piano Concertos with Sir Colin Davis and Staatskapelle Dresden [Philips Recorded in 1984 & 1987]

Chopin Complete Etudes [EMI Recorded in 1956, Remastered in 1987]

Chopin Complete Etudes [EMI Recorded in 1956, Remastered in 1987]


An interpreter must give his blood to the work interpreted. — Claudio Arrau
Since in music we deal with notes, not words, with chords, with transitions, with color and expression, the musical meaning always based on those notes as written and nothing else - has to be divined. Therefore any musician, no matter how great an instrumentalist, who is not also an interpreter of a divinatory order, the way Furtwängler was, or Fischer-Dieskau is, is somehow one-sided, somehow without spiritual grandeur. — Claudio Arrau


  1. ^
  2. ^ Joseph Horowitz, Arrau on Music and Performance Page 182 "Arrau was raised as a Catholic, but gave it up around the age of fifteen. 'I confessed only once, and thought it was absolutely ridiculous...(I) am not religious in any confessional sense. I think I hvve some mystical sensations. But I have no image of God as a person.'"
  3. ^ Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists from Mozart to the Present, Simon & Schuster, Second Edition (1987)
  4. ^ Horowitz, J. (1999), Arrau on music and performance. Courier Dover Publications.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Claudio Arrau (pianist)". Gramophone. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  7. ^ Sachs, H., & Manildi, D.: Rubinstein: a life, page 379. Grove Press, 1995.

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