Ricardo Viñes

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Born: February 5, 1875; Lérida, Spain   Died: April 29, 1943; Barcelona, Spain  
Pianist Ricardo Viñes will long remain familiar to fans of early twentieth-century music -- not for the way he played or the younger pianists he influenced, but for the composers he befriended and championed. However, his exceptional technique is too easily forgotten; his repertory included such knuckle-busters as Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, Balakirev's Islamey, and Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit, all of which he premiered in France (in Read more the case of the Ravel, it was the world premiere). His playing was especially noted for a virtuosity that stopped short of grandstanding (useful in the Russian music he played), an acute sense of rhythm (useful in his Spanish repertory), and multicolored pedal effects (useful in his French Impressionist repertory).

Viñes first studied piano with Juan Pujol in Barcelona, but at age 12 enrolled in the Paris Conservatory and remained based in Paris for much of the rest of his life. He made his professional debut at Paris' Salle Pleyel in 1895 and launched his international career with a tour of Russia in 1900; from then on he, would spend much time on the road, and not just in Europe. South American tours in the 1920s inspired him to settle in Argentina in 1930, but in 1936 he returned to Paris, where he played for his remaining seven years.

Early in the twentieth century, Paris was the locus for the men who would become the period's leading non-Germanic composers and Viñes seems to have befriended them all: not only the Frenchmen Debussy, Ravel, Sévérac, and Satie, but the expatriate Spaniards de Falla and Granados, among others. As a result, Viñes was entrusted with the first performances of Ravel's Miroirs and Jeux d'eau, and Debussy's Pour le piano; de Falla dedicated Nights in the Gardens of Spain to him. He was not merely content to give first performances of such music; he took it with him everywhere on tour, assuring his friends of prolonged international exposure long before they could count on commercial recordings.

Viñes himself made a few recordings, including Spanish pieces and Debussy's Soirée dans Grenade and Poissons d'or. He wrote several articles on Spanish music for French and Spanish magazines and was a minor composer of songs and piano pieces. A more important secondary line of work was teaching: among his more notable students were Francis Poulenc (whose music Viñes played regularly), Marcelle Meyer, and Joaquín Nin-Culmell. He seems also to have exerted at least a spiritual influence on Arthur Rubinstein, who shared many of his repertory interests. Read less

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