Alicia de Larrocha, Shy Virtuoso
By Stuart Isacoff
When Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha passed away on Sept. 25 at the age of 86, it signaled the closing of an era. Ms. de Larrocha can be counted among the last representatives of a golden age of pianism, when poetry reigned and force of personality meant something other than showy display. She was incontestably one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century – with a glowing, intense tone, an infallible sense of rhythm, and an ability to bring out the individual character of any work with utter naturalness – and also one of the least demonstrative.
This was partly a matter of shyness. She dreaded public attention. "Her talent was discovered early on – her first recital was at the age of 5 – and she never went to school with other children," explains her close friend Mònica Pagès in a phone call from Barcelona, "so she had difficulty making social contact. Her late husband, pianist Juan Torra, was the only person who could help her deal with the outside world." He died in 1982, after which Ms. de Larrocha, in the traditional Spanish manner, spent a very long period in mourning.
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