Biography of Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)

Isaac Albéniz.

Composer and Spanish pianist, born in Camprodon (Girona) on May 29, 1860 and died in Cambo-les-Bains (France) on 18 may of 1909, which is considered one of the greatest figures of Spanish nationalist music and the initiator of the Spanish piano school.


Isaac Albéniz was the last of four brothers. In 1861, he/she moved to Barcelona with his family and there began to study piano with Narciso Oliveras. At four years of age he/she made his debut at the Romea theatre of the Condal city and in 1867 he/she travelled to Paris, in whose Conservatory not could enter for his young age, although he/she impressed Marmontel, who had been Professor of Debussy. In 1868 he/she published his first work, a military March dedicated to general Prim, and the following year he/she moved to Madrid where he/she studied with professors Mendizábal and Ajero. In 1870 he/she left the family home to begin his career as a concert pianist to the length and breadth of Spain and, from 1872, also for all South America. In 1875 he/she travelled to New York and San Francisco, but soon decided to return to Europe. He/She settled in the German city of Leipzig where he/she studied with the composers Jadasshon and Reinecke, and later resided in Brussels to study with Gevaert and Brassin.

He got the first prize of the Belgian Conservatory before a jury composed among others by Anton Rubinstein and toured Europe from the East and the Americas. His friendship with guitarist "Lucena", which met in 1881, was decisive for his later work. The following year he/she settled in Granada, city of which fell in love and who inspired diverse compositions. At that time he/she came into contact with Felipe Pedrell, who did not accept him as a student to find him overly endowed.

1884 was the year of their wedding with his student Rosina Jordana. With her he/she settled in Barcelona, although he/she continued with his tours as a pianist playing works of authorship such as Granada, Catalonia or the Spanish Rhapsody. Albéniz played at the Expo that was held in Paris in 1889, and later in various London audiences with great success. He/She also founded the Iberia trio with the violinist Fernández Arbós and the cellist Rubio. It was in the British capital where he/she came into contact with the banker Francis Money-Coutts, whose dramatic texts put music. Between 1890 and 1893 he/she lived in London and premiered there his work The Magic Opal, with a libretto by Arthur Law, which was translated into Spanish with the title of the ring. Since its establishment in Paris in 1893, its production became intense. In the gala capital he/she made friendship with Fauré and Paul Dukas, and thanks to this last got a position as Professor of Orchestration at the Paris Conservatory.

In 1896 he/she premiered at the theater of the Liceo de Barcelona his lyrical comedy Pepita Jiménez, an adaptation of the novel by Juan Valera Money-Coutts and which represents one of its most successful forays into the scenic field. Pepita Jiménez is represented the following year in Prague with a resounding success and the score was published by the prestigious publishing house Breitkopf.

In the last decade of the 19th century continued making trips to Barcelona where he/she frequented Els Quatre Gats Tavern, where met with Pau Casals and Santiago Rusiñol among others. Once entered the 20th century, in 1903, he/she decided to settle near nice, where he/she tirelessly worked on his most important work, the suite Iberia (1906-1909), divided into four books. It's a collection of pieces of extraordinary pianistic complexity and great harmonic originality. In 1906 he/she achieved brand new in the room Pleyel of Paris the first booklet of the aforementioned suite, which received warm praise from the French critics. Later the pianist Blanche Selva also released the other three. In March 1909, Albéniz traveled to Cambo-les Bains, town in the French Pyrenees where it would remain until his death in May of that same year. There he/she kept working in Navarra and tiles, leaving them incomplete. The first parts was finished by Déodat de Séverac and the second by Enrique Granados. Before his death, the French Government awarded him the Grand Cross of the Legion of honour thanks to the intervention of his friends composers Debussy, D´Indy, Dukas and Lalo.


Albéniz covers various genres, from the stage music to music for voice and piano, but it was certainly on the piano he/she devoted most of his creation. In his music for this instrument we can distinguish three times: the first covers from his compositions of youth until approximately 1880. During this period Albéniz composed works of romantic and intimate character, clearly influenced by salon music. The main parts of this stage include his seven piano sonatas and three Suites anciennes, in addition to the six small waltzes. His Spanish nationalist stage opens with five parts comprising the songs of Spain (prelude, Oriental, under the Palm tree, Seguidillas). The majority of the compositions of this second stage are inscribed in the stream of Andalusian dyes called "alhambrismo", characterized by the abundance of rhythms of folk dances and elements of the cante jondo (see also flamenco), as well as by the use of scales modal as Phrygia and ornamentation characteristic of writing for guitar; However, in some parts of this period also folk traits of other Spanish provinces are heard. Other works included within this section are the twelve characteristic pieces, the Suite Española and the fantastic concert in a minor. The third creative stage of Albeniz has Impressionist resonances, in part result of his trips to Paris and friendship that joined you composers like Debussy, head of the French musical impressionism. Its main work of this last period is Iberia, a synthesis of different musical styles that owes much to the writing virtuosic piano of Liszt, with certain guitar echoes. The twelve pieces that make up the four notebooks of Iberia have a complex architecture. Most of them employ characteristic rhythms dance alternating with a chorus of lyric's vocal character or song. The first notebook includes last of eminently descriptive evocation, port and Corpus Christi in Seville, this parts. Rondeña, Almería and Triana, works which again make mention of Andalusian corners are in the second set. Starts the third notebook piece entitled El Albaicín in honor of the Granada district of the same name, followed by the Polo and Lavapiés, single piece of Iberia in a place not Andalusian-inspired. And finally Málaga, Jerez and Eritana, which are the three parts that make up the fourth notebook.

Isaac Albéniz. Seville (fragment).

Albéniz does not possess a very large orchestral production, but all his symphonic works are equipped with a colorful and some harmonies of great wealth, as well as outstanding instrumental innovations. Sometimes even integrated wind of the Catalan cobla instruments in the Orchestra. Regarding his scenic music, we must quote Pepita Jiménez, that has been represented in Europe and was always the favorite work of the composer. In this opera Albéniz moves away from the Wagnerian tradition to develop a language native, expressive and lyrical. On the other hand, in his operas Henry Clifford and Merlin, Girona composer makes clear his admiration for Wagner.

Links on the internet ; page about the life and work of Albéniz. It contains links to other pages. In English. ; website of the Museum Isaac Albéniz in Camprodon. In catalan. ; page from the Albéniz Foundation. In Castilian.

Selected discography

Songs of Spain, Zaragoza, Malaga, tiles. Performers: Alicia de Larrocha (piano). EMI 764523-2. Iberia, Spanish Suite. Performers: Alicia de Larrocha (piano). EMI 764504-2.merlin (complete opera). Main performers: Carlos Álvarez, Placido Domingo, Jane Henschel, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, choir of the community of Madrid. Director: Jonathan Alder, José de Eusebio. DECCA 467096. Sonatas for piano No. 3 and 5. Cast: Albert Guinovart (piano). HARMONIA MUNDI FRANCE 1987007. Iberia (orchestral version). Performers: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Director: Jesús López Cobos. TELARC 80470.


Albeniz, i. prints and travelogues. Madrid, Fundación Isaac Albéniz, 1990.

CLARK, W. A. Isaac Albéniz: portrait of a romantic. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.

CLARK, W. A. Isaac Albéniz: a guide to research. New York, London: Garland, 1998.

FRANCO, e. images of Isaac Albéniz. Madrid, Fundación Isaac Albéniz, 1988.

TORRES, j. Isaac Albéniz stage production. Madrid, Spanish society of musicology, 1992.