Claudio Arrau in 1974, by Allan Warren

Claudio Arrau León (Spanish: [ˈklawðjo aˈraw]; February 6, 1903 – June 9, 1991) was a Chilean pianist known for his interpretations of a vast repertoire spanning the baroque to 20th-century composers, especially Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Liszt and Brahms. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century.[1]


Arrau was born in Chillán, Chile to Carlos Arrau, an ophthalmologist who died when Claudio was only a year old, and Lucrecia León Bravo de Villalba, a piano teacher. He belonged to an old, prominent family of Southern Chile. His ancestor Lorenzo de Arrau, a Spanish engineer, 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 Scottish noble family.[2] Arrau was raised as a Catholic, but gave it up in his late teens.[3]

Claudio Arrau, November 1929

Arrau was a child prodigy and he could read music before he could read words, but unlike many virtuosos, there had never been a professional musician in his family. His mother was an amateur pianist and introduced him to the instrument. At the age of 4 he was reading Beethoven sonatas, and he gave his first concert a year later.[4] When Arrau was 6 he auditioned in front of several congressmen and President Pedro Montt, who was so impressed that he began arrangements for Arrau's future education. At age 8, Arrau was sent on a ten-year-long grant from the Chilean government to study in Germany, travelling with his mother and sister Lucrecia. He was admitted to the Stern Conservatory of Berlin where he eventually became a pupil of Martin Krause, who had studied under Franz Liszt. At the age of 11 Arrau could play Liszt's Transcendental Etudes, one of the most difficult works for piano, as well as Brahms's Paganini Variations. Arrau's first recordings were made on Aeolian Duo-Art player piano music rolls. Krause died in his fifth year of teaching Arrau, leaving the 15-year-old student devastated by the loss of his mentor; Arrau did not continue formal study after that point.[4]

In 1935, Arrau gave a celebrated rendition of the entire keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach over 12 recitals. In 1936, Arrau gave a complete Mozart keyboard works over 5 recitals, and followed with the complete Schubert and Weber cycles. In 1938, for the first time, Arrau gave the complete Beethoven piano sonatas and concertos in Mexico City. Arrau repeated this several times in his lifetime, including in New York and London. He became one of the leading authorities on Beethoven in the 20th century.[1][4]

In 1937, Arrau married mezzo-soprano Ruth Schneider (1908–1989), a German national. They had three children: Carmen (1938–2006), Mario (1940–1988) -- who fathered three sons: Shawn (1968), Paycer (1969), and Kip (1970) -- and Christopher (1959). In 1941 the Arrau family emigrated from Germany to the United States, eventually settling in Douglaston, Queens, New York, where Arrau spent his remaining years. He became a dual U.S.-Chilean citizen in 1979.[5] On August 17, 1982, the first CD of classical music in history was released by the PolyGram record company;[6] its content consisted of waltzes by Chopin performed by Claudio Arrau.[7]

Arrau died on June 9, 1991, one year before his first great granddaughter Kori was born to grandson Kip.[8] His remains were interred in his native city of Chillán, Chile.

Tone and approach to music

Arrau was an intellectual and a deeply reflective interpreter. He read widely while travelling, and he learned English, Italian, German, and French in addition to his native Spanish. He became familiar with Jung's psychology in his twenties.[9]

Arrau's attitude toward music was very serious. He preached fidelity to the score, but also the use of imagination. Although he often played with slower and more deliberate tempi from his middle age onward, he had a reputation as a fabulous virtuoso earlier in his career, a reputation supported by recordings he made at this time, such as Balakirev's Islamey and Liszt's Paganini études. However, even late in his career, he often tended to play with less restraint in live concerts than in studio recordings.

Arrau was a man of remarkable fortitude; even towards the end of his life he invariably programmed very large, demanding concerts, including works such as Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1.[1]


Arrau was a frequent recital performer: from age 40 to 60 he averaged 120 concerts a season, with a very large repertoire. At one time or another, he performed the complete keyboard works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin; but also programmed such off-the-beaten-path composers as Alkan and Busoni and illuminated obscure corners of the Liszt repertoire. It has been estimated that Arrau's total repertoire would carry him through 76 recital evenings, not counting the 60-odd works with orchestra which he also knew.[4]

Arrau recorded a considerable part of the piano music of Schumann, Chopin and Liszt. He edited the complete Beethoven piano sonatas for the Peters Urtext edition and recorded all of them on the Philips label in 1962–1966. He recorded almost all of them once again in 1984-1990 along with Mozart's complete piano sonatas. He is also famous for his recordings of Schubert, Brahms and Debussy. At the time of his death at age 88 in the midst of a European concert tour, Arrau was working on a recording of the complete works of Bach for keyboard, and was also preparing some pieces of Haydn, Mendelssohn, Reger and Busoni, and Boulez's third piano sonata.

Numerous pianists studied with Arrau, including Karlrobert Kreiten, Garrick Ohlsson, Roberto Szidon, Stephen Drury, Roberto Eyzaguirre, Arturo Nicolayevsky, among others.

On March 26, 2021, Pristine Classical released what it called "a sonic overhaul" of Arrau's "stunningly brilliant" 1942 RCA studio recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations, remastered from an issue in 1988, which had "sat in the vaults [of RCA] for 46 years."[10]



Bust of Arrau in the Chilean commune of Quinta Normal, located in Santiago de Chile
Arrau commemorative plaque in the German district of Tempelhof-Schöneberg, in Berlin.
Bust of Arrau in his hometown Chillán

List of awards, recognitions and medals awarded to Claudio Arrau.[16]

  • Gustav Holländer Medal
  • Sachsen-Gothaische Medal

Partial discography


Year Title Role
1935 Sueño de amor Franz Liszt
1935 Thy Son
1957 Claudio Arrau Concert
1976 Memories of Berlin: The Twilight of Weimar Culture
1978 Claudio Arrau: A Life in Music
1987 Claudio Arrau: The Emperor
1993 The Golden Age of the Piano
1999 The Art of Piano: Great Pianists of the 20th Century



  1. ^ a b c d "Claudio Arrau, Pianist, Is Dead at 88". The New York Times. June 10, 1991.
  2. ^ Claudio Arrau (Piano) full ancestry to Campbells as well as Hapsburgs given here. Accessed via Internet November 22, 2016
  3. ^ Joseph Horowitz, Arrau on Music and Performance Page 182 "Arrau was raised as a Catholic, but gave it up around the age of fifteen. 'I confessed only once, and thought it was absolutely ridiculous...(I) am not religious in any confessional sense. I think I have some mystical sensations. But I have no image of God as a person.'"
  4. ^ a b c d e Thomas F. Johnson (1963). "ARRAU AT 60". Musical America.
  5. ^ "Douglas Manor:Notable residents – Claudio Arrau, Pianist" Archived 2017-03-08 at the Wayback Machine, The Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society, 2016, accessed June 5, 2017
  6. ^ "El mundo conmemora los 25 años de la aparición del CD". (in Spanish). Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  7. ^ Mendoza, Alvaro (4 October 2017). "La historia del cd, música clásica a los oídos del éxito » Alvaro Mendoza". MercadeoGlobal (in Spanish). Retrieved 16 September 2021.
  8. ^ Joseph Horowitz, "Afterword"
  9. ^ Horowitz, J. (1999), Arrau on music and performance. Courier Dover Publications.
  10. ^ ""ARRAU Bach: Goldberg Variations", Pristine Classical - The Greatest Music, The Finest Sound". Pristine Classical. Retrieved 2021-03-28.
  11. ^ a b Roma Randles (2013). A Life in Music: Ruth Nye and the Arrau Heritage. Grosvenor House Publishing. p. 1937. ISBN 978-1-78148-200-1. Retrieved January 21, 2015.
  12. ^ Harold C. Schonberg, The Great Pianists from Mozart to the Present, Simon & Schuster, Second Edition (1987)
  13. ^ "Claudio Arrau. The gift of constant self-renewal".
  14. ^ Conversations With Arrau. 1982. pp. 256–257.
  15. ^ John von Rhein (June 10, 1991). "World-renowned Pianist Claudio Arrau". Chicago Tribune.
  16. ^ a b "Arrau Prizes and Decorations ArrauHouse". Archived from the original on 25 February 2021. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  17. ^ "Claudio Arrau". Retrieved 12 September 2021.
  18. ^ Sachs, H., & Manildi, D.: Rubinstein: a life, page 379. Grove Press, 1995.
  19. ^ "Robert Schumann Gesellschaft e.V." Schumann-Portal (in German). Retrieved 10 January 2021.
  20. ^ "Claudio Arrau (pianist)". Gramophone. Retrieved 11 April 2012.