Composer and pianist. One of the most outstanding personalities in the history of Spanish music, positioned within the Nationalist trend but also introducing Spanish music in the first movements of the vanguard of the twentieth Century.
From an early age Albéniz was considered a child prodigy, performing his first concert at the age of four. This period ended with his first trip to Paris in 1867, in preparation for his entry into the Conservatory where he studied for nine months with Antoine François Marmontel - Debussy’s teacher. In 1868 Albéniz was recognised as a composer when he published his first work at the age of eight.
From 1869 he performed concerts in the most important Spanish cities and in 1872 he set out for South America. He performed in Puerto Rico, The Havana and Santiago de Cuba, travelling to Mexico and then on to New York and San Francisco where his talent as a pianist was acclaimed. He returned to Europe, and after a series of concerts in England, he moved to Leipzig. In 1879 he obtained first prize with distinction from the Conservatory of Brussels, with Francis Planté, Hans von Bülow and Antón Rubistein presiding the jury.
In 1880 Albéniz left Brussels and travelled to Prague, Vienna and Budapest, where he met Liszt. This new contact was a crucial point which consolidated his vocation. After a lengthy stay in Granada his music had become infused with new character, an oriental flavour and Andalusian colour and rhythm which would influence not only other Spanish composers but also French musicians such as Debussy and Ravel. In 1883 he moved to Barcelona, his success and fame consolidated. Known as the Spanish Rubistein at this point in his career, he published Recuerdos de viaje, op. 71, and the Concerto in A Minor, op. 78. At this time he liked to play his Spanish Rhapsody, a piece which would later represent Hispanic music in Europe. Twelve Characteristic Pieces, op.92, 1888, are from this period.
In 1889 Albéniz met Dukas, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel and Chausson. He had great success in London, Austria and Germany, receiving unanimous applause from the public and praise from the critics. In Paris he published his Spanish Suite nº 2 for piano, and Catalonia was performed by the Cologne Orchestra. He lived in London from 1890 to 1893, recommended by the Queen of Spain to the Queen of England. He published Mallorca, Zambra, España y Hojas de álbum (1891), all works for piano, the instrument he would never abandon despite his lyrical projects.
In 1893, Albéniz published The Magic Opal, based on a text by Arthur Law. He also published Cantos de España and, in 1894, San Antonio de la Florida. He composed the opera Henry Clifford, with libretto by Money-Coutts, and La sortija, the Spanish version of The Magic Opal, which was performed in Madrid on 23rd of November. Henry Clifford was successfully performed in the Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona and in 1896 Albéniz began his Nationalist lyrical pieces with the performance in the Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona of Pepita Jiménez, a lyrical comedy in two acts, adaptation of Juan Valera’s novel by Money-Coutts (this would later be performed in 1923 in Paris in the Opéra Comique). Albéniz, like other Spanish composers, dreamed of creating a Spanish National Opera. After this he composed Merlin and performed Pepita Jiménez in Prague.
On May 9th 1906 the first Iberia notebook was performed in Paris, the first performance in the Sala Pleyel. The critics greeted this work as a “classical-modern work similar to Ravel’s Sonatine”. On January 2nd 1908, Blanche Selva performed the third Iberia notebook and Debussy commented the following on El Albaicín: “Never before has music given us such diverse and colourful impressions. It’s as if your eyes close because you are seeing too many images”. The two composers held each other in great esteem and affection.
On 9th of February1909, Blanche Selva performed the fourth Iberia piece in the Societé Nationale in Paris. At the beginning of May Albéniz received a visit from Granados, who informed him that he was to be awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour by the French Government, recommended by Debussy, Fauré, Chausson, D’Indy, Dukas and Lalo. He died on May 18th, 1909 after a long illness.
UME/SGAE (Diccionario de la música española e hispanoamericana)