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 was so impressed that he began arrangements for Arrau's future education. At age 8 Arrau was sent on a 10-year long grant from the Chilean government to study in Germany, travelling with his mother and sister Lucrecia. He was admitted to 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 Arrau could play Liszt's Transcendental Etudes, considered[by whom?] one of the most difficult works for piano, as well as Brahms's Paganini Variations. Arrau's first recordings were made on Aeolian Duo-Art player piano music rolls. Krause died in his fifth year of teaching Arrau, leaving the 15-year-old student 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 ( -1989), a German national. 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, eventually settling in New York City, where Arrau spent his remaining years. He became a dual U.S./Chilean citizen in 1979.[citation needed]

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 Arrau's 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 onward, he had a reputation as a fabulous virtuoso earlier in his career, a reputation supported by recordings he made at this time, such as Balakirev's Islamey and Liszt's Paganini études.[6][7] However, even late in his career, he often tended to play with less restraint in live concerts than in studio recordings.

Arrau was a man of remarkable fortitude; even towards the end of his life he invariably programmed very large, demanding concerts, including works such as Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1.[8]

According to Joseph Horowitz in his book Conversations With Arrau (1982), many critics felt that Arrau's overall approach became less spontaneous and more reserved and introspective after the death of his mother, to whom he was extremely close. Arrau 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 the complete Beethoven 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's complete piano sonatas. He is also famous for his recordings of Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms and Debussy.

Notable recordings:

  • Bach: Goldberg Variations
  • Beethoven: complete piano concertos (he recorded them three times) & piano sonatas
  • Weber: piano sonata in C Major & Konzertstück, Op. 79
  • Schubert: late piano sonatas & Klavierstücke, D. 946
  • Chopin: complete nocturnes & piano concertos
  • Schumann: Carnaval & Fantasia in C Major
  • Liszt: piano sonata in B minor & complete Transcendental Études
  • Brahms: complete piano concertos (he recorded them twice) & Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 5
  • Debussy: complete preludes & images
  • Schoenberg: piano pieces, Op. 11

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 was also preparing some pieces of Haydn, Mendelssohn, Reger and Busoni, and Boulez's 3rd piano sonata.

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]

  • 2012:

Voted into the Gramophone Hall of Fame[9]

  • 1990:

Gold Medal of The Royal Philharmonic Society

  • 1988:

La Medalla Teresa Carreño of Venezuela

Honorary Member of The Royal Philharmonic Society

  • 1984:

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

  • 1983:

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

  • 1982:

La Orden del Águila Azteca of Mexico

  • 1980:

Hans von Bülow Medal of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

  • 1970:

Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz of the Federal Republic of Germany

  • 1968:

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

  • 1965:

Chevalier of Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France

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

  • 1959:

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

  • 1958:

The Medal of The Royal Philharmonic Society

  • 1949:

Hijo Predilecto de México

Doctor Honoris Causa of University of Chile

  • 1941:

Hijo Ilustre de Chillán

  • 1927:

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.[10] Cortot exclaimed: "Cela c'est un pianiste. C'est merveilleux"

  • 1925:

Honour Prize of the Stern Conservatory, becoming Professor

  • 1919 & 1920:

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

  • 1918:

Schulhoff Prize

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

  • 1917:

Sachsen-Gothaische Medaille

  • 1916:

Grant of the Stern Conservatory

  • 1915:

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

  • 1915:

Gustav Holländer Medal for young artists

  • 1911:

Grant of the Chilean Congress for musical studies in Berlin

Album prizes[edit]

  • Deutscher Schallplattenpreis:

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 Record Grand Prix:

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]

  • Diapason d'Or:

Chopin Complete Nocturnes [Philips Recorded in 1977 & 1978]

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

  • Grand Prix du Disque:

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

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

  • Edison Award:

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

  • Belgium Caecilia Award:

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

  • Japan Record Academy Award:

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

  • FFFF de Télérama:

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

  • Warsaw Chopin Society's Grand Prix du Disque Frédéric Chopin:

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. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Claudio Arrau (pianist)". Gramophone. Retrieved 11 April 2012. 
  10. ^ Sachs, H., & Manildi, D.: Rubinstein: a life, page 379. Grove Press, 1995.

External links[edit]