Isaac Albeniz (1860 - 1909)

Albeniz & Granados: selected works played by John Williams (guitar) - CD cover 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.

Albeniz: Iberia & Granados: Goyescas played by Alicia DeLarrocha (piano) - CD cover The student life must have been too much for the young Isaac, because it is said that at 9 years old he ran away from home, stowing away aboard a ship en route to the Americas. For a few years years he apparently managed to fend for himself entertaining for a living in Buenos Aires, Uruguay, Brazil, Porto Rico, Cuba, San Fransisco and New York. This story is a very romantic one but may be something of an exaggeration. Certainly as a boy he was known to have run away from home on occasion, and scholars are certain that he visited South and North America. It is more likely that he was accompanied and promoted on such a tour by his father. There may be more truth in reports about his piano playing stunts. One of his party tricks was to play the piano with his back to it, playing with the backs of his fingers! When he crossed back over the Atlantic he played 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 and included other instruments such as the cello, with piano recitals and far-flung tours in between and he met a number of famous musicians and composers who were impressed by his abilities.

Isaac Albeniz photo 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, and he also became friends with the French composer Gabriel Faure. 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 well as the traditional music of Spain, Albeniz also took inspiration from its mountains and landscape. Like the artist Escher, Albeniz was also inspired by the Alhambra, as was his friend and fellow composer Francisco Tárrega who transcribed certain piano works of Albeniz for the guitar.

Isaac Albeniz with his daughter Laura - photo 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. The music of "Iberia" has now been turned into a dance project by Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura (who has also created "Carmen", "Blood Wedding", "El Amor Brujo", "Flamenco" and "Tango").

Isaac Albeniz - Free Music on mfiles:

Albeniz: Iberia & Piano Concerto, orchestral works with Aldo Ciccolini (piano) - CD cover "Iberia" has always been considered difficult to play, but slightly more approachable is the work known as Asturias or Leyenda (download: Sheet Music (PDF), MIDI file or MP3 file). Originally Albeniz had included this within a suite called "Cantos de España (Op. 232)" but after his death in the French Pyrenees in 1909, a publisher included some of these movements into the "Suite Española" extending its number of movements, so you might find this work cropping up in more than one place. Another Suite by Albeniz is called España (Op.165) and the 6 pieces it comprises are easier to play. On mfiles we have one of the pieces - the Tango (No.2) and the downloads are: PDF Sheet Music, MIDI file or MP3 file.

Isaac Albeniz - CD & MP3 Recommendations

When looking for recordings of Albeniz' music, you will find a number of CDs dedicated to his piano music, but there are also many arrangements of his music for guitar and sometimes for orchestra. Here is a small selection of his music for piano, guitar or orchestra:

    Albeniz: Iberia & Suite Espana, played by Daniel Barenboim (piano) - CD cover
  • Albeniz: Iberia Books 1 & 2 and Suite Espana, played by Daniel Banerboim (piano) - at and
  • Albeniz: Iberia Books 1-4 and Granados: Goyescas, played by Alicia DeLarrocha (piano) 2 CDs - at and
  • Albeniz: Iberia Suite and Piano Concerto "Concierto Fantastico", orchestral works with by Aldo Ciccolini (piano) - at and
  • Albeniz: Iberia Suites books 1-4, Recuerdos de viaje, Espana, Suite Espanola and other works, played by Esteban Sancheq (piano) 3 CDs - at and
  • Albeniz & Granados: selected works arranged for Guitar, played by John Williams (guitar) - at and
  • Albeniz, Granados & Rodrigo: "Spanish Guitar Recital" selected works for Guitar, played by Julian Bream (guitar) - at and

There is a more in depth biography of Isaac Albeniz accessible here including a list of further reference links.