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Claudio Arrau León (February 6, 1903June 9, 1991) was a Chilean pianist of world fame for his deep interpretations of a vast repertoire spanning from the baroque to 20th-century composers. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.


Arrau was born in Chillán, the son of eye doctor Carlos Arrau and Lucrecia Ponce de León, a piano teacher. He belonged to an old, prominent family of Southern Chile. His ancestor Lorenzo de Arrau 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 very prominent Scottish noble family. He was a distant relative of Francesca von Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon, daughter-in-law of Otto von Habsburg. They both descended from Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, father of the first Earl of Breadalbane.[citation needed]

Arrau was a child prodigy, giving his first concert at age five. At age seven he was sent on a Chilean government grant to study in Germany, at the Stern conservatory of Berlin where he was a pupil of Martin Krause, who had studied under Franz Liszt. At the age of 11 he could play Liszt's Transcendental Etudes, considered to be one of the most difficult sets of works ever written for the piano, and also Brahms's Paganini Variations. Arrau also made live-recording player piano music rolls for the Aeolian Duo-Art system all of which survive today and can be heard.

In 1937, Arrau married German Jewish mezzo-soprano Ruth Schneider, and they had three children: Carmen (1938-2006), Mario (1940-1988) and Christopher (1959). He had a happy family life with his wife and children. The Arraus were a very close family and used to pass summers in Chester (Vermont), where the pianist had a summer residence.


Arrau was the teacher of Karlrobert Kreiten, Paul Kiss, Edith Fischer, David Lively, Ena Bronstein, Philip Lorenz, Roberto Eyzaguirre, Alfonso Montecino, Olga Barabini, Ruth Nye, among others. Garrick Ohlsson, Arnulf von Arnim, David Rubinstein, Stephen Drury, Bennett Lerner, Dickran Atamian, Goodwin Sammel, Roberto Szidon, Rosalina Sackstein, John Cobb, Clive Britton, Reidrun Rodewald, Antonio Guedes Barbosa, Germán Diez, Fedora Aberastury, Mario Miranda, John Bell Young, Joseph Villa, Güher Pekinel and Süher Pekinel and others also received lessons from Arrau.

Arrau recorded the complete piano music of Robert Schumann, and edited his works for publication, as well as all Beethoven piano sonatas in Urtext edition. He is also famous for his recordings of Bach, Mozart, Brahms, Liszt, Chopin, Schubert and Debussy, among others. He played with style and passion, with a prodigious technique. Many claimed that his rich, weighty tone lent his interpretations a distinctive voice, some 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 Schonberg, Arrau always put "a decidedly romantic piano tone in his interpretations."[1] Although he often played with slower and more deliberate tempi from his middle age, Arrau had a reputation for being a fabulous virtuoso early in his career. According to Joseph Horowitz in his book Conversations With Arrau (1982), many critics feel his overall approach became less spontaneous and more reserved and introspective after the death of his mother, to whom he was extremely close.

At the time of his death at 88 in Mürzzuschlag, Austria, Arrau was working on a compact disc recording of the complete works of Bach for keyboard, and had Haydn, Mendelssohn, Reger, Busoni and Boulez's 3rd Sonata in preparation. His remains were interred in his native city of Chillán, Chile.

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

Grand Prix du Disque:

  • Schumann: Piano Concerto, Carnaval; Beethoven: Sonata No.32. EMI Classics DVD (Classic Archives series)

Grand Prix du Disque:

  • Chopin: Études Op.10 & Op.25. EMI Classics CD (Références series) (1990)

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

  • Chopin: Études Op.10 & Op.25. EMI Classics CD (Références series) (1990)

FFFF de Télérama:

  • Chopin: Études Op.10 & Op.25. EMI Classics CD (Références series)

Diapason d'Or:

  • Chopin: Études Op.10 & Op.25. EMI Classics CD (Références series)

Quotes Edit

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. Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists from Mozart to the Present, Simon & Schuster, Second Edition (1987)

External links Edit