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A native of San Sebastián, Usandizaga began his musical studies in his hometown before moving to the Schola Cantorum in Paris. There, he was a composition pupil of Vincent d'Indy, and he took piano lessons from Gabriel Grovlez. From 1906 he was back in Spain, where he won success with his works for the stage and a number of other pieces. Usandizaga succumbed to tuberculosis in 1915.
Most of Usandizaga's music is based on Basque themes; among his works are several chamber pieces, some rhapsodies, and the operasMendi Mendiyan ("High in the Mountains", a folk opera) and Las golondrinas ("The Swallows", initially a zarzuela which was arranged as an opera after the composer's death by his brother). A third opera, the lyric dramaLa llama ("The Flame"), was left incomplete after his death; this, too was completed by his brother.