Alicia de Larrocha, pianist; updated
Long ago, in my fast-receding youth, I studied piano for several years. Well, let me rephrase that: I took piano lessons. Alicia de Larrocha, the exquisite Spanish pianist who has died at the age of 86, studied piano.
I've always been short, though not as short as Ms. de Larrocha's 4-feet-9, and when I was 8, 9 and 10, I had to sit close to the keyboard, sometimes on top of a catalogue. Maybe that's why I've always enjoyed Ms. de Larrocha so much: As you can see in this video of her playing the final movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25, or this clip of the third movement of Ravel's Concerto in G, she resembles a preternaturally talented kid propped up on the piano bench so she can reach the keys. She looks a little like a classically trained Dr. Ruth. (For more of the Dr. Ruth effect, by the way, check out this charming video of Ms. de Larrocha with Michael Tilson Thomas and, of all people, Dudley Moore -- who began his career as a pianist.)
Ms. de Larrocha had small, pudgy hands with short fingers (sort of like mine, come to think of it) and could stretch her hand to a "10th" -- two notes past an octave -- when many other pianists can reach 11 or 12 notes. In later years, as Ms. de Larrocha shrank to about 4-feet-5 or 6, her hand could cover only nine notes. She compensated with absolutely perfect technique. She never grimaced, groaned, threw her hands up in the air or leaned down to drape her hair over the keyboard. If you want to know how a pianist should approach the keyboard, just watch this incendiary performance from the 1960s of Manuel de Falla's "Fire Dance."
Ms. de Larrocha began studying music when she was 3 and had few peers at interpreting another child genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Here she is performing a movement from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27:
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