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Isaac Albeniz (1860 - 1909)

Albeniz was born in Camprodon near Gerona in Catalonia and by all accounts he was a remarkable and remarkably gifted child. He was taught how to play piano while only 1 year old by his elder sister, and then made his first public appearance as a child prodigy playing and improvising at the piano in Barcelona's Teatro Romea at the tender age of only 4 years! When he was just 7 years old, he gave an impressive audition in order to enter the Paris Conservatory to study music, but although his talents were recognised he was too young to enter and therefore went to the Conservatory at Madrid instead.

The student life must have been too much for the young Isaac, because at 9 years old he ran away from home, stowing away abord a ship en route to the Americas. For a few years years he then managed somehow to fend for himself entertaining for a living in Buenos Aires, Uruguay, Brazil, Porto Rico, Cuba, San Fransisco and New York. One of his party tricks was to play the piano with his back to it, playing with the backs of his fingers! He crossed back over the Atlantic playing in Liverpool and London, and then must have decided to settle down a little and went to study in Leipzig. His studies continued in a variety of locations, with recitals and far-flung tours in between and he met a number of famous musicians and composers who were impressed by his abilities.

In terms of compositional style he was influenced by a number of well-known composers of the day including Liszt, d'Indy and Dukas for example. It was later on that he met Felipe Pedrell, who was to exert a pivotal influence on the still young Albeniz in the direction of music from his home country. He therefore began to incorporate elements of traditional Spanish folk music into his compositions. Spain has a wide variety of folk dances from various parts of the country, typically very rhythmic and exuberant, if you imagine in particular the typical music from Andalusia or flamenco dances from the south of the country, but also from other corners of the Iberian peninsula such as Asturia in the North.

As a composer, Albeniz did venture into other forms including "Zarzuelas", a form of Spanish light opera but it is with Spanish folk music that he found his idiom and he produced a number of piano suites evoking music from different parts of the country. During the last 3 years of his relatively short life he worked on his masterpiece called "Iberia". Again this was a series of works evoking the moods of Spain, but in this case he was heavily influenced by Claude Debussy and his impressionist style, and this work, consisting of 12 different movements turned out to be both Spanish and Impressionistic in colour.

"Iberia" has always been considered difficult to play, but slightly more approachable is the work known as Leyenda (download: Sheet Music, MIDI file or MP3 file). Originally Albeniz had included this within a suite called "Cantos de Espana (Op. 232) " but after his death in the French Pyrenees in 1909, a publisher included some of these movements into the "Suite Espanola" extending its number of movements, so you might find this work cropping up in more than one place.

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