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Biography

Claudio Arrau Leon was born in Chillán, Chile, on February 7, 1903. He was the third child of Dr Don Carlos Arrau (1856-1904), an oculist, and Doña Lucrecia León (1859-1959), a piano teacher. He gave his first recital in his birth place at the age of five. Two years later, he and his family left for Berlin on a government grant. From 1913 to 1918 he studied with Martin Krause, one of the great teachers of his time, at Stern's Conservatory of Music. It was through Krause that Arrau was first linked to the music of Beethoven in what would prove to be a profound lifelong musical and spiritual connection. Arrau's life was related to the composer's through a direct line of four teachers: Beethoven taught Czerny, who taught Liszt, who taught Krause. For Arrau, Krause became the father he never had and to Krause, Arrau was the pupil he had been searching for. "This boy shall be my masterwork!", said Krause.

The eleven-year-old Arrau caused a sensation at his Berlin debut, and was only twelve when he played Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.1 with Arthur Nikisch. At 16 and 17, he won the Liszt Prize twice in a row, remarkable act considering that this prize have not been awarded in 45 years. In 1920, Arrau had made debuts both in London and in Berlin with the Berlin Philharmonic under Karl Muck.

In 1927 he won First Prize at the International Geneva Competition, judged by a jury that included Rubinstein and Cortot. In 1935 he was the first pianist ever to play the complete keyboard works of J.S. Bach in 12 recitals, and in next seasons all of the Beethoven sonatas and Mozart sonatas, as well as the works of Schubert and Weber.

In 1937 he married German Jewish mezzo-soprano Ruth Schneider, giving birth to three children: Carmen (1938 -2006), Mario (1940-1988) and Christopher (1959). Arrau became american citizen in 1979.

During the following years Arrau performs recitals/concerts in all major cities of the world. From 1956 to 1962 Arrau recorded for EMI/Columbia in England. It was in 1962 that Arrau began his long and fruitful association with Philips Records. Originally, the recordings issued fifty-eight LPs and later on forty-four CDs which covered Arrau’s mature repertoire: the complete sonatas and concertos of Beethoven, sonatas by Mozart, major works of Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Schubert, and music by Debussy and Bach.

An inexhaustible performer, Arrau undertook countless tours, sometimes playing over 100 concerts a year. While his vast repertoire ranged from Bach to contemporary composers, it clearly centered around the composers of the Romantic era. He was acclaimed, above all others, for his performances of Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt and Debussy.

Arrau was hailed as one of the last representatives of the pianistic tradition of creative liberty that had been passed on directly from Liszt. Yet in spite of his outstanding technique, he preferred to appear as an "anti-virtuous", whose rigor and accuracy never diminished. Arrau’s method was that each work had to be studied from every point of view, and with his wide knowledge of art and literature he was able to read in seven languages, and his total relaxation at the keyboard, he remains one of the most intense performers. “Arrau is the complete pianist” explains Sir Neville Cardus from The Guardian, one of the senior London music critics.

In 1980, Arrau was awarded with the Hans von Bulow Medal by the Berlin Philarmonic Orchestra celebrating the 60th anniversary of his debut with such a wonderful orchestra. Critics said “When Arrau approaches the keyboard, it is as if music is flowing out of his entire body. There is not a nuance of feeling or sound that he has not mastered. His pianissimo is more eloquent, more mysterious than others, and his fortissimo has more depth in dimension and it is unlimited."

Claudio Arrau was professor of Karlrobert Kreiten, Edith Fischer, David Lively, Ena Bronstein, Alfonso Montecino, Ruth Nye, Garrick Ohlsson, David Rubinstein, Antonio Guedes Barbosa, Fedora Aberastury, John Bell Young, Güher and Süher Pekinel, and others also received lessons from Master Arrau.

In Mürzzuschlag, Austria on June 9, 1991 Arrau passed away after having amused audiences world-wide with his subtle understanding of music and his unmeasurable virtuosity. Arrau was an aristocratic player who used his phenomenal technique to get to the emotional heart of the music he loved. Claudio Arrau, "one of the greatest and most delightful pianists of our time" stated Sir Colin Davis in "The Times".

Arrau was in Austria for what was to have been his first performance in two years, a private recital to open a museum in Murzzuschlag. He had stopped performing in June 1989 after the death of his wife. In addition to his scheduled concert in Austria, he was to have performed a recital at the Schumann Festival in Dusseldorf, Germany, at which the baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was to have given him the Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society of London.

In a career that spanned eight decades, Arrau was prized for an aristocratic approach to the great works of the 19th century. His specialties included the works of Liszt, to which he brought a rare combination of physical power and philosophical insight, and Beethoven, whose sonatas and concertos he played with an Apollonian breadth that many found both poetic and authoritative. His Chopin, Schumann and Debussy, too, were considered models of clarity throughout his long career.