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Isaac Albinez and “Iberia”

Isaac Manuel Francisco Albéniz y Pascual (May 29, 1860–May 18, 1909) was a Spanish pianist and composer best known for his piano works based on folk music idioms. Using Spanish naming customs, the first or paternal family name is Albéniz and the second or maternal family name is Pascual. Born in Camprodon, province of Girona, to Ángel Albéniz, a customs official, and his wife Dolors Pascual, Albéniz was a child prodigy who first performed at the age of four. At age seven, after apparently taking lessons from Antoine François Marmontel, he passed the entrance examination for piano at the Paris Conservatoire, but he was refused admission because he was believed to be too young.

Albinez’s concert career began at the young age of nine when his father toured both Isaac and his sister, Clementina, throughout northern Spain. By the time Isaac had reached twelve, he had made many attempts to run away from home. Albéniz travelled the world as a performer, accompanied by his father who, as a customs agent was required to travel frequently. By age fifteen, Isaac had already given concerts worldwide. Albéniz’s early works were mostly “salon style” music. His first published composition, Marcha Militar, appeared in 1868. A number of works written before this are now lost. After a short stay at the Leipzig Conservatory, in 1876 he went to study at the Royal Conservatory in Brussels after King Alonso’s personal secretary, Count Guillermo Morphy obtained him a royal grant. In 1880, Albinez went to Budapest to study with Franz Liszt, only to find out that Liszt was in Weimar, Germany. He continued composing in traditional styles ranging from Rameau, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt until the mid-1880s. He also wrote at least five zarzuelas, of which all but two are now lost.

In 1883, Albinez married his student Rosina Jordana. That same year the composer met the teacher and composer Felip Pedrell, who inspired him to write Spanish music such as the Chants d’Espagne. The first movement (Prelude) of that suite, later retitled after the composer’s death as Asturias (Leyenda), is probably most famous today as part of the classical guitar repertoire, even though it was originally composed for piano and only later transcribed. The apex of his concert career is considered to be 1889 to 1892 when he had concert tours throughout Europe. During the 1890s Albéniz lived in London and Paris. For London he wrote some musical comedies which brought him to the attention of the wealthy Francis Money-Coutts, 5th Baron Latymer. Money-Coutts commissioned and provided him with librettos for the opera Henry Clifford and for a projected trilogy of Arthurian operas. The first of these, Merlin (1898–1902) was thought to have been lost, but has recently been reconstructed and performed. Albéniz never completed Lancelot; only the first act is finished, as a vocal and piano score. He never began Guinevere, the final part.

Following this Albéniz settled in Madrid and produced a quantity of music in a relatively short period. His orchestral works of this period include Spanish Rhapsody (1887) and Catalonia (1899). In 1900 Albinez started to suffer from a kidney disorder, Bright’s disease, and returned to writing piano music. Between 1905 and 1908 he composed his final masterpiece, Iberia (1908), a suite of twelve piano “impressions.” Symphonic versions of Iberia have been arranged by Enrique Fernández Arbós, Carlos Surinach, and Peter Breiner. Albéniz died on May 18, 1909 at age 48 in Cambo-les-Bains of Bright’s disease. Only a few weeks before his death, the government of France awarded him its highest honor, the Grand-Croix de la Légion d’honneur. He is buried at the Montjuïc Cemetery, Barcelona.

My collection includes the following work by Albinez:
Iberia: 12 New Impressions in Four Books (compl. 1908; orchestrated by Peter Breiner).


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