APRIL 2023 | The Duty to Preserve and Spread the Legacy and Memory of Alicia de LarrochaAPRIL 2023 | The Duty to Preserve and Spread the Legacy and Memory of Alicia de Larrocha
by ALICIA TORRA
Studying, travelling or giving a concert. This was my mother's life, a life fully dedicated to music, by her own choice and true vocation.
Although she had already demonstrated extraordinary musical ability before she was three years old, she never liked being said that she was a 'prodigy' girl. It was a word she hated. She was fortunate to be guided by her teacher, Frank Marshall King (disciple of Granados and continuator of his piano school) who knew how to turn, without haste, a girl with an unusual musical talent, into a great pianist. She was a tireless and very responsible person. When she was at home, I always remember her in front of the piano studying and, during her travels, as soon as she arrived in a city, the first thing she asked was where could she find a piano to study…
I am not going to review her biography because one can find all the information on the website www.aliciadelarrocha.com, but I would like to comment on some things that I think are more unknown...
As a preamble, I must say that, during childhood, both my brother and I could not spend much time with our mother, because her stays in Barcelona were few. Even so, and although it was difficult at first to accept her absences, we always felt her love, even if it was through letters, postcards and, later, by phone calls that were continuous. The joy was immense every time she returned from a trip and a drama when she had to leave. Over the years, we naturally understood and accepted that our mother was not at home, at the same time that we became aware of her art and our admiration for her grew. Of course, Christmas Day was sacred. Even if she had to leave the next day, that day, we were always together.
The role of our father was fundamental, both in the family nucleus, and in the artistic life of our mother. The saying: "behind a great man there is always a great woman", in this case, is "Along (not behind) a great woman, there was always a great man"; my father, Joan Torra, also a pianist, who, being his wife's no. 1 admirer, gave up his budding concert career to dedicate himself to making things easier for her, keeping in touch with managers, advising her on the choice of works for concert and recital programming, taking care of us, his children, and cheering her on when she wavered. While his health allowed him, he taught piano at the Marshall Academy and, with a great vision of the future, he compiled and kept all kinds of documentation related to his wife, giving rise to what is now the Alicia de Larrocha Archive.
My father's untimely death (in 1982, when he was 61 years old) was a very hard blow for everyone, but especially for my mother. Even so, lacking her greatest support, she moved forward encouraged by all her surroundings. It was from this moment on, when my brother and I were old enough (23 and 25 years old), she fully turned to music and, this period that began without the presence of her husband, became the most prolific as far as the number of concerts was concerned.
I could say that I began to know my mother after my father's absence. Before, we had not spent enough time together to do it... At that moment, it was clear to me that I should encourage my mother to continue (my father asked me to do it) and to accompany her in the hard beginnings of this new stage. I went with her to the USA, during a 3-month tour. There, for the first time, I discovered her fears and insecurities... Her mood was not the best, but, surrounded by the affection of her friends and family, she took flight again, taking refuge in what most filled her: music.
After an intense concert life, from 1999, she reduced the number of performances and was able to teach again (she had already done it in a first stage, during the 1940s and 1950s), but it was after 2003, the year of her definitive retirement from the stage when, having time again, she accepted the requests to teach, something that for so many years she had to reject due to the impossibility of her schedule.
In 2001, the centennial year of the Granados Academy (which since 1920 was renamed the Marshall Academy), Boileau Publishing published the first complete works edition for piano by Enrique Granados, directed and reviewed by Alicia de Larrocha (artistic heir of the composer and broadcaster of his music throughout the world), and prepared and documented by Douglas Riva. This is an URTEXT edition that has a comparative analysis of all available sources. This laborious work needed to be done because all previous editions contained quite a few errors. In this way, Alicia de Larrocha has left testimony of everything that her Master, Frank Marshall, transmitted to her from the teachings he received from Granados himself. (http://granadosapp.com/la-integral/)
During 2004, she continued to travel, but this time to teach in the United States, France, Italy and Spain. In the last days of September and early October 2004, she was teaching a course on Iberia by Isaac Albéniz at the Marshall Academy in Barcelona. It was scheduled to last a week, but, unfortunately, on the 1st October, two days before the course was due to end, she fell at home, fracturing her femur, and had to undergo an emergency operation. From that fateful day, her life changed completely. She went from being a totally independent woman, to depending on others to move, because she never fully recovered. Still, for 4 years, she was able to supervise Marshall Academy students at home, until health problems prevented her. Since her death on the 25th September 2009, her children have felt it their duty to do everything possible to preserve and spread her legacy and memory.
She was an independent, discreet woman, extremely perfectionist and therefore always dissatisfied. She fled from popularity, marketing and everything that surrounds the life of an artist. Due to her discretion and, above all, her media phobia that was increasing over the years, in her private life, she was a completely anonymous person who went out on the street and travelled alone around the world, without anyone recognizing her. She did not attract attention. She was less than 1.50m in height, and this physical characteristic that caused her so many complexes also helped her to go about completely unnoticed. Even so, on some occasions she had to give in (reluctantly), at the insistence of her managers or her own husband, as was the case with recording, which she detested: first, because she knew it was an artificial thing, edited and therefore unnatural. Also, because she was never completely satisfied, and the recording sessions could become a nightmare, both for her and for the technicians. And also because she understood that her vision of a work at a particular moment remained for posterity and, as usually happens, that vision would vary over time, as the artist matures. Even so, she made a large number of recordings.
Every time she was asked to publish a book or to film a documentary about her, her answer was emphatic: NO. One day I asked her why she refused, and her response was: “As long as I live I don't want to see myself either in books or in anything that talks about me. The day I am gone, do whatever you want." Well, understanding that she gave us her permission, now it is our turn.
What have we done so far?
Official WEBSITE: www.aliciadelarrocha.com
We have created a website which contains the most complete information that can be found on the internet about her. One of the most interesting sections is 'Performed Concerts' where one can consult in an interactive way, searching by city, country or year, all the recitals and concerts she performed. From the first to the last one. But, the most important section is the 'Alicia de Larrocha Archive', which can be accessed from the website itself or through a direct link.
FACEBOOK site: Alicia de Larrocha (official) www.facebook.com/AliciadeLarrochaOficial
The social network Facebook is another window through which to spread and reach all parts of the world. That is why I created this site where I publish audios and videos of her performances, some of them unpublished, as well as news produced about her. One of my main objectives is to publicise her extensive repertoire that covers much more than works by Spanish composers. That is why, on this site, one can find Alicia de Larrocha playing Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Brahms, Chopin, Ravel, Rachmaninov, and a long etc. of composers that many people do not know were also part of her repertoire.
TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Alitorra (Alicia de Larrocha - In memoriam -)
This is a network that I do not focus on much and, therefore, I limit myself to copy the same videos and audios I publish on Facebook.
PECADOS DE JUVENTUD – Sins of youth - (sheet music) 4 Vol. (2014)
I always heard my mother say that the small works she composed during her childhood and youth, were not intended to transcend beyond the mere pleasure of writing them. She referred to them as sins of youth, and as such they were only an anecdote to a stage in her life, to which she gave no importance. Although in 1930, when she was 7 years old, she had already composed a piece, it was from 1937 to 1939 when she began to feel inspired. During these years and because of the war, her teacher had to leave Spain and, feeling somehow orphaned, she dedicated her time to make her first steps in composition. But the period in which she felt most inspired was when she was 17-18 years old, in full swing of youth and romanticism. Many of the works were dedicated to the man who would later become her husband, Joan Torra. Having all this material and seeing that, although they were not novel works, everything was very well written, so we decided to make them known.
Apart from the 4 volumes of scores published by Boileau Publishing House, a double CD was also recorded containing all the works of the compilation Pecados de juventud.
- The works for piano only, are performed by the pianist Marta Zabaleta, one of my mother's students, and current artistic director of the Marshall Academy.
- Works for voice and piano: Marta Matheu (voice) and Albert Guinovart (piano).
- The little Romanza for Cello and piano: Peter Schmidt (cello) and Marta Zabaleta (piano).
- The Sonata for Violin and Piano: Ala Voronkova (violin) and Marta Zabaleta (piano).
* At the end of 2019, Boileau published Festívola, as the 5th volume of Pecados de Juventud. It turns out that, in the Alicia de Larrocha Archive, we find a non-commercial live recording of Alicia herself playing her work at a benefit concert that took place in 1970 in New York. We had not found the manuscript, so we decided to ask someone to transcribe the audio into score. The commission was made to the pianist and composer, Carles Marigó.
Alicia de Larrocha. Notas para un genio (+ 1 CD) - biographical book – Alba Editorial (2016)
The fact that a book on the figure of Alicia de Larrocha had never been written, made me decide to entrust this task to the journalist Mònica Pagès (specialized in classical music, who met my mother and who, among other books, she had already written one about the Granados/ Marshall Academy). This book, apart from reflecting the intense musical career of Alicia de Larrocha, leaves us important brushstrokes about her life through numerous photos, letters and documents preserved in her archive. Also, inside the book, there is a CD containing unpublished live recordings, performed by Alicia herself. The foreword to the book was written by André Previn. So far it has been published only in Spanish. We have been trying to get it published in English for a long time, but, for now, there has been no success…
DOCUMENTARY: Alicia’s hands (2017)
One day, the members of a budding film production company, Doble Banda, approached me about making a documentary about my mother. Such was the interest and enthusiasm that they showed me, that I gave my consent, offering them the collaboration of the family and the archive to provide them with all the necessary information. This is how the documentary Las manos de Alicia (Alicia’s Hands) emerged with the co-production of TVE (Spanish television) and TV3 (Catalan television), premiering in Barcelona, Madrid and New York. Directors: Yolanda Olmos and Verónica Font. Apart from the family, among others, the documentary includes comments from:
• Itzhak Perlman (violinist)
• André Previn (director, composer and classical and jazz pianist)
• Joao Pires (pianist)
• Gerard Schwarz (director)
• Martha Argerich (pianist)
• Marta Zabaleta (pianist
• Joaquín Achúcarro (pianist)
• Mònica Pagès (Music journalist, author of the book on AdL)
As several languages are spoken in the documentary, 3 versions have been made: Spanish subtitles, Catalan subtitles and English subtitles.
BOX WITH HER DECCA RECORDINGS (2018)
The Decca record label, currently, from the Universal Music Group, published, in 2018, a box containing 41 CDs with the reissue of all the LPs she recorded with this label between 1970 and 1987, including, also, the first recordings she made with American DECCA (between 1954 and 1955) and the Páginas célebres para piano which she recorded with the Hispavox label in the early 1960s. Each CD maintains the same cover as the original LP. Both the Alicia de Larrocha’s Archive and myself collaborate in the content of the extensive attached booklet.
ALICIA DE LARROCHA ARCHIVE: http://fondo.aliciadelarrocha.com
The Alicia de Larrocha Archive constitutes the highest personal and professional representation of the interpreter, gathering an extraordinarily rich and varied documentary collection that accumulates more than 75 years of intense musical activity. Alicia de Larrocha's life and artistic career was a constant coming and going of concerts and recitals all over the world. This nomadic ingredient, which, in principle, would not facilitate the unity and concentration of documents, was offset by the presence and filing discipline of close people. During her childhood, the task fell to her immediate family. Subsequently, Joan Torra, a colleague and husband, with a vision of the future, acted as a tireless and zealous archivist, often against the will of the interpreter herself. Thus, the professional itinerancy of Alicia de Larrocha was balanced, from an archival point of view, by the stability of Joan Torra, who managed and kept grouped documentary production and contributed to the preservation of an authentic musical heritage. Also thanks to him, the archive holds some 500 non-commercial recordings of recitals and live concerts. Faced with the impossibility of travelling with his wife to stay and look after the children, he asked friends to record the concerts on a cassette, then send them to him so that he could listen to them. Now, these recordings, although possessing poor sound because they were made by members of the public, are one of the jewels of the archive.
The preservation, conservation and dissemination of the intellectual and artistic activity of Alicia de Larrocha are the main objectives of the Archive. To this end, her children have commissioned the study and analysis, as well as the cataloging of, the documentary collection to the ArtxiDoc team, formed by the specialists in musical documentation, Elena Elía and María Ferré, emphasizing the unique and irreplaceable value of the collection, to promote the actions and investigations that the figure of the pianist demands. That is why we are faced with a valuable set of primary documentation, essential for musicological research. The file can be consulted online and, if required, and after making an appointment, visit it. The final objective is to offer, through the network, an open access digital catalog with the appropriate navigation tools for each user, indispensable both for the music fan and for the entire research community, especially in the field of musicology and performance.
La pianista de manos mágicas (The Pianist with Magic Hands) - Illustrated children's book. (2020)
Text: Alicia Torra / Illustrations: María Padilla / Vegueta Ediciones
For a long time, I had had in mind to publish a book about my mother aimed especially at children. It happened that Vegueta Ediciones approached me to write the text of this book and I immediately accepted. The book, which contains precious illustrations by María Padilla, is part of the 'Nuestros ilustres' (Our illustrious) collection and has been published in Spanish and Catalan.
My mother's hands deserve a separate chapter because much has been said about them. My mother was a short woman, she was less than five feet tall and the size of her hands was proportional to her height. Yes, she had small hands, but with great elasticity and through stretching exercises that she performed (not only on the piano, but anywhere and on any occasion), she reached a tenth. She always said that her biggest handicap was not the size of her hands but the length of her arms, which were short. One of the characteristics of her fingers was that her little fingers were as long as her ring fingers and this was very helpful.
In 1968, an event occurred that could have put an end to her artistic life. When she was opening the door of a taxi in Montreal, Canada, she felt a sharp pain in her thumb of her right hand. It turns out that, unknowingly, a cyst attached to her phalanx had been deteriorating her bone, and by pressing the button on the door handle, the bone was crushed. Thanks to the eminent Dr. Josep Trueta, who performed a complicated but successful reconstruction surgery, she was able to return to the stage. During the recovery period, she took the opportunity to study some works written for the left hand that she included in her already wide repertoire.
We still have to continue working on the cataloging and digitization of documents of the Archive. At the time of writing we have a started to plan for the Centenary of the birth of Alicia de Larrocha, which will be in 2023. From now on, the organization of this important event is what will occupy most of my time and I hope that, everything done so far, plus the Centenary, will serve so that specially the new generations know who Alicia de Larrocha was.
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