Isaac Albéniz, who became one of Spain’s most talented pianists and composers, was a strong-willed child prodigy who travelled more before he was 13 years old than many people do in a lifetime. When he was four, his first concert was held in Barcelona. Two years later, his mother took him to Paris so he could seriously begin to study the piano.
Shortly after he returned from Paris, when he was still only eight years old, Isaac’s father scheduled his first concert tour in Catalonia. The precocious prodigy ran away from home for the first time when he was barely ten and supported himself by giving concerts in northern Spain. Albéniz did return home briefly, but because of his untamable wanderlust, he quickly ran away again. This time his travels took him to southern Spain where he performed prior to stowing away on a ship bound for South America.
Albéniz, who was only about 13, had a tough life in Buenos Aires until he received help arranging concert performances. After a successful South American tour, the talented young pianist relocated to New York where he supported himself by playing in bars. One of his tricks to raise tips was to play the piano with the backs of his fingers with his back was turned to the instrument.
In 1877 Albéniz returned to Europe where Franz Liszt, a major figure in 19th century music, accepted him as a student. This relationship led him to pursue a serious career as a concert pianist which lasted about ten years. After 1890 Albéniz gave up the concert stage to become a dedicated composer, using a rich variety of Spanish folk music as the basis for his work.
Even though Isaac Albéniz wrote several different kinds of orchestral music, his most celebrated composition is a piano suite called “Ibéria”. It was published near the end of his life as four books between 1906 and 1909. Based on folk music from Andalusia, Albéniz paints a masterful musical portrait of Spain with “Ibéria”. It musically captures the sights, sounds and rhythms of the entire country—and its technical difficulty challenges even the most gifted pianists.
During the last years of his life, plagued by mental illness and depression, Isaac Albéniz died in 1909 in the French Pyrenees. After his death the French government recognized his talent by awarding him the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.