SHE ANSWERED THROUGH AN ENCORE
Her husband, Juan Torra, found it quite hard to decide to ask her to marry him. When he was finally brave enough, Alicia, who had been waiting for some time and was wishing him to ask the question, told him, to make him suffer a little, that she would answer him according to what she played in the next recital. If she played a piece by Mendelssohn as an encore, then the answer would be yes. If otherwise, then the answer would be no. Effectively, one of the encores that she played was a piece by Mendelssohn.
THE 2 DOVES THAT DISAPPEAR…
As a child, Alicia gave a few public performances. The organizers would give her gifts such as a doll, a box of chocolates, or a book… On one occasion they gave her 2 white doves that she named “Titín” and “Titina”. She became very fond of the doves and they were always by her side. The Spanish Civil War began and one day her parents told her that the doves had escaped. Alicia was so upset! When she was older, they told her that during the war there was nothing to eat, so they had to make the decision to kill the doves to feed her and her brother and sisters, mixed with rice, as if it were chicken.
FIRST MEETING WITH ARTHUR RUBINSTEIN
Alicia met the pianist Arthur Rubinstein when she was only 6 years old. Rubinstein had been invited to the Marshall Academy by her teacher, Frank Marshall. He was acquainted with Rubinstein and other great musicians of the time, because of his connections with the Musical Culture Association of Barcelona (“La Cultural”), of which he was the president for a few years.
Rubinstein was fascinated by the talent of young Alicia. He gave her a bracelet with a little pig shaped charm for good luck. He also gave her two photos of himself: one with a serious face; the other with a smile on his face, and he said – “This is my face when I am playing the piano”, referring to the first one, -”and, this other one, is my face when I am listening to you, little Alicia”.
Unfortunately Alicia lost the bracelet… She had never worn it, precisely so as to not lose it. On one occasion in a concert that Rubinstein gave in the Palau de la Música in Barcelona, she wore it, so that after the recital when she would go to greet him, he would see it being worn. However, Alicia applauded so much and so loudly that the fastening on the bracelet opened. When she became aware of it, it could not be found and she became very upset. Through the years, a great friendship developed between them.
PROBLEMS WITH THE LANGUAGE IN HER FIRST TRIP TO THE U.S.
The first time De Larrocha went to America was in 1954. She spoke very little English, just enough to be understood, or that was what she thought… During a reception, she wanted to say that she was thirsty. On her first try, she said: -”I am thirty”. On her second try, she said: -”I am dirty”. It must be said that over the years, Alicia came to speak American-English fluently with a remarkable pronunciation. She also became able to speak French very well. In both cases, her career made it necessary to be able to understand and to be understood.
RECORDING WITH A MIDWIFE IN THE STUDIO
During the month of February of 1959, Alicia, who was eight months pregnant was going to record a series of masterpieces by Albeniz for the record company, HISPAVOX. Because her pregnancy was well advanced, the decision was made to have a midwife in the studio, just in case she went into labor. The album was recorded and the intervention of the midwife was not necessary. Her daughter was not born until early April.
CAN SOMEBODY COME AND SAVE ME?
During one of her tours in South Africa, while studying in a room with a piano in a concert hall or in a studio (the exact location is unknown), De Larrocha lost track of time, when suddenly the lights were switched off. It was closing time and nobody had realized that she was still in the building. Nobody heard her… Luckily there was a telephone in the room. In the darkness feeling her way around, she found the telephone and was able to call the promoter of the concert pleading – “Can you please come and save me?”
AFRICA: A LITTLE ADVENTURE…
In another tour in the South and West of the African continent, De Larrocha missed the airplane that was to take her from Johannesburg to Bulawayo (Zimbabwe). As she was to perform in a concert the next day and would not arrive on time if she were to wait for the next plane, the solution was to rent a light aircraft. The pilot took the initiative to fly low to be able to see the animals. They touched down in a small landing strip in the middle of nowhere. There was only a small cabin with a telephone. Even though the promoters had been notified to pick her up, the pilot had informed her to go inside the cabin and to not get out until they arrived to pick her up, as it was late and it was the time of the day when the animals would be hunting. They took 20 minutes to arrive. For her, it was an eternity…
PLEASE PLAY THE PIANO LOUDER!
In a hotel in France, she was staying in a suite with a piano so she could study. With the intention of not disturbing anybody while practicing, De Larrocha would usually play with the damper so that the sound would be as low as possible. One day a bunch of flowers arrived with a card that said: “Please play louder. I want to hear you!”
IT IS NOT PERMITTED TO MAKE NOISE!
One Sunday, while practicing in Zürich, a policeman came to warn that on Sundays, it was not allowed to “make noise” or work with machinery in the garden.
A PIECE OF ADVICE: TYPE OR PLAY THE PIANO
During a tour in Australia, De Larrocha had an onset of arthritis and went to the doctor. He prescribed a painkiller and recommended finger exercises. For example: typewriting or playing the piano. Realizing that the doctor did not recognize her and what she did for a living, she answered: -”Thank you Doctor. I will try to play the piano. It’s never too late to begin!”
THE TREACHEROUS ZIPPER
In 1979, during a concert tour in Israel, she was playing the 2nd movement (“Adagio assai”) of the Concerto in G Mayor by Ravel with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel, when suddenly, she realized that the zipper of her dress (situated in the front part) was beginning to rip and unzip little by little… Squeezing her elbows as much as she could, she finished the 2nd movement and before commencing the 3rd movement (“Presto”) signaled the conductor and said: -”Problems!, Problems!”. To the astonished look and buzz of the audience, and the puzzlement of the members of the orchestra who did not know what was going on, Alicia got up and went to the dressing room. Luckily, as in the following days she would do some more concerts in the same hall, she had a few more dresses. She got changed as quickly as possible and returned to the stage to continue the concert. Afterwards, whilst signing programs, some elderly ladies appeared and said that it was the first time they had seen an artist change dresses in accordance to the moment of the concert. They loved the idea. They though it had been done on purpose!
PIANO WITH A SURPRISE
During the 40’s (Spanish post-civil war years), in a Spanish town, De Larrocha went to the hall in which a recital was to take place, to test the piano. Upon arrival, she realized there was no piano on the stage. The person in charge said: -”Now we’ll bring it right up. It’s still in the basement”. She waited for quite a while, and then finally saw a piano being pushed through. It was battered due to the effects of the war. Among other problems the piano presented, some of the notes got stuck and didn't get back up. In the recital, she played as well as she possible could, while loosening up the keys. She managed that situation with grace, skill and good humor. Every time she explained this anecdote, she staged it in a very comical manner.
IT APPEARS AND DISAPPEARS; IT APPEARS AND DISAPPEARS…
During the postwar period, whilst giving a recital in a small room in a Spanish city, De Larrocha suddenly heard a buzz from the audience, and afterwards total silence. This happened a few times. She continued to play undeterred. Once the recital was over, she asked what had happened. They explained that during the performance, a rat would appear and disappear from the stage. Luckily, she had not realized...
DO YOU HAVE CREEEEEEAM?
The son of Joaquin Achúcarro, Ramón, remembers a day when Alicia was visiting for lunch at his parents’ house: -”I remember eating at home one day, and her passion for pasta soup (and the story of how, when she was young, it was a prize for having studied well). But that was nothing compared to the moment of serving the coffee when my mother said – “Have you taken off the cream from the milk?” (Cream in also a commonly used term for curdle in Spanish). Alicia’s eyes became like stars and excitedly asked: -”DO YOU HAVE CREAM?”
-”Well yes, the milk was brought to us by the milkman from the village..."
Very rarely have I seen anyone enjoy bread and curdle like that day The Queen did (that is how the Achúcarro family called Alicia). We took all the curdle from the milk that we could get and she ate it all. “Queen, you won’t feel well” (my father said). “Oh... yum… you don’t know… yum… this is…. de… yum…licious…! and she said she had not eaten curdle from boiling milk since she was a little girl. We still cannot understand how she could play Mozart that afternoon…
IT IS DELICIOUS!
In a city in America, some friends had a piano, and they offered her their house so she could practice. They told her to make herself at home and that if she were hungry, to get what she wanted from the fridge. She was alone in the house when she became hungry and wanted to eat something. She opened the fridge and saw an opened can of pâté. She found some toast, spread the pâté and ate with relish. When her friends arrived and she told them she had tried the pâté in the fridge, they turned pale and answered: -”Don’t tell us you ate the cat food!” In fact, that was what she had done. She answered: -”Well, anyway, it was delicious.”
THE WRONG SUITCASE
After a long American tour, Alicia travelled from New York to London. She had bought banal things such as sealable rubbish bags, special adhesive tape, dishwashing liquid, nonstick saucepans, etc. As all these objects took up a lot of space, she decided to put them into a suitcase and get them transported straight to Barcelona, notifying her son to pick them up at the airport. When she reached the hotel in London and opened the luggage, she found rubbish bags, soap and saucepans. The wrong suitcase had been sent to Barcelona with the concert gowns, clothes and shoes. She called him right away to inform of the error and to have the correct suitcase sent to London straight away. What she didn’t realise was that, also, everything she had bought in New York could be bought in Barcelona…
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER
Alicia had to give an outdoor concert one night, in the main square of a coastal village of Catalunya. Upon arrival on stage, she found the lid of the piano closed. As she tried to open it, she realized that it was locked. As it took a while to find the person that had the key, Alicia told the public with wit and humor: -”If you wish, I’ll sing”.
In that square was the bell tower of the village. Before commencing the concert, they had told her not to worry, that the bells would not ring during the concert. Well… When the concert began, and with plenty of delay due to the key incident, and at 12 PM it still hadn’t ended, the bells began to ring. Between the key and the bells, it was a night to remember.
PRESIDENT NIXON’S RESIGNATION
On one very special occasion, De Larrocha gave a concert in New York in 1974. It was on the same day that President Nixon was to resign. In the entrance hall, a big screen was set up so that, during the intermmission, the audience could follow the President’s formal speech. The pianist could also follow the speech from her dressing room where they had installed a television. Afterwards, the concert continued.
De Larrocha had to perform a concert in a city in the state of Texas. As it was time to start, and nobody was telling her to begin the concert, she inquired as to why there was a delay. It was because in the entrance of the hall, a lady had shot her husband when she caught him entering the concert hall with his lover.
WHERE IS FREDERIC MOMPOU?
It had been a relatively short time since her dear friend and composer, Frederic Mompou, had passed away. During one of her short stops in Barcelona, she went out shopping in her neighborhood. A young man approached and asked: -”Do you know where Frederic Mompou is?” She was thunderstruck. Thinking that it were a paranormal situation… “In heaven”, she answered. The young man’s face was between one of skepticism and astonishment. He did not understand this lady’s answer. – “I’m looking for Frederic Mompou Street, which I’ve been told is somewhere around here”, said the young man. Alicia then realized her blunder, and that the young man must have thought that she was not quite right in her head. Anyhow, she always thought that the fact that the young man had precisely addressed her, was a divine act, and not a coincidence.
ARE YOU AN AMATEUR MUSICIAN?
After finishing a recital in Los Angeles, her friends took her out to an informal dinner that had been organized in her honor, by Henry Mancini (musical composer of films such as “The Pink Panther”). Alicia observed that in the main lounge there was a grand piano, and she asked him if he was a music lover and if he played the piano. He laughed and answered, following the lead thinking that it was a joke, that he was simply an “amateur” musician. When his friends took her back to the hotel, they realized that she did not know who Henry Mancini really was so they told her that he is the famous musical composer of The Pink Panther. It was then that she made the connection of who her host was… -”Oh My God, what a mistake!” she said. – “I asked him if music was his hobby!”
PHOTO PRESENTATION BY FAX
The day that her only granddaughter was born, Alicia found herself in Puerto Rico. The family told her the news through fax, sending her a close-up photo of the newly born baby girl, and a note that said: “Here is your granddaughter, Claudia”.
Alicia de Larrocha was one of the most important pianists of the 20th century. Her musical vocation manifested itself early when she was a child and thanks to her teacher, Frank Marshall, continuator of the school of Enrique Granados, Alicia was able to develop all her talent arriving to realize a titanic artistic career. For over seventy years, she played nearly four thousand concerts all over the world, in the most important halls and with the most prestigious orchestras and conductors.
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