Alicia De Larrocha
Alicia De Larrocha was born in Spain and surrounded by music by her pianist mother and aunt who had been students of Enrique Granados. Her first toy was her aunt's piano, which she preferred to dolls. When she was two, her aunt tutored her, introducing her to music a little at a time. Larrocha picked up much by listening to her aunt's students, so she played music by ear. When she began improvising the melodies, the Marshall Academy where her aunt taught brought her on as a private student. Later, during the Spanish Revolution all the teachers left Spain and Larrocha played for herself and wrote some music, but gave no thought to becoming a professional pianist.
When the revolution ended she began lessons again. She appeared in occasional recitals when asked to perform. But in 1954 she was invited to play a concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra by their conductor, Alfred Wallenstein. It was the beginning of her career and after that, everything fell into place.
Said Larrocha, "For me it was simply the force of love for music, something that I had to do because music was such an integral part of my life. I never planned a future."
Of music, Larrocha preferred to study the music score carefully first to form an idea of of what it was all about. She believed that fingering was very important. She would decide on using a certain finger to produce a particular tone, but if it didn't work, would change the fingering accordingly. Sometimes, she said, she had to play a piece very slowly to solidify the memorization of the part. Slowness also helped to check note accuracy and phrasing. Thus one is able to see chords more clearly, the form, the design, the harmonic groupings, and so on. Laroccha stated that it helps to know the phrases, the retardandos, an accent here or there, an ending phrase, a starting phrase.
Memorization of rhythmical accents in every phrase is a very important memory aid, she claimed, but not quite as reliable as the memorizing of the phrases, cadences, and form. Mere visual or auditory memory left her feeling insecure.
Larrocha kept her fingers close the keyboard when playing. She obtained the results she wanted with this technique. However, the new pianos had a different action as well as a different tone. If this meant more curvature of the fingers to obtain the particular tone she wanted, she used more curve. If less curvature were needed, she used less. The same was true for pedaling. If there was too much sound or too much reverbration, she would use less pedal. If the sound seemed dry and the acoustics were dry, she used more pedal because she wanted the singing sound. Laroccha continues to do stretching exercises for her smallish hands because she would otherwise have difficulty spanning large stretches of music.
Larroche has said that we can't compare the artists of today with men like Liszt and Anton Rubinstein. The piano is different, the tastes of the audience are different, and the possibilities aren't the same. Every period of music history has shown different tastes, manners, and techniques.
We hear that the Romantic period, she reported, was the period of virtuosity, of emphasis on technique. But we don't know what they meant by technique. If we mean sheer mechanics, then we must judge solely on the basis of the instrument of that time. The pianos of Liszt and Chopin were so light to the touch that just blowing on the keys would almost produce the sound. Then again, the sound was smaller because the concert hall accommodated only several hundred people and many recitals were given in private homes or salons In general, technique in the mechanical sense will do nothing for you. You must see what technique you must apply at this moment in this particular piece you are playing. Whatever the artist does with the music must ultimately come from his musical conception.
After all, stated Larrocha, I play music not because I want to be compared, but because I love it.