I just read a lovely article about Arrau from Andante.com I'd like to share with the pianophiles here:
Rodolfo A. Windhausen
An Argentine journalist remembers two meetings, 30 years apart, with the piano legend.
I first met Claudio Arrau in 1954 when I was 10 years old. I would not see him again for almost three decades, but during that time I became a devoted listener to his recordings.
Growing up in Mendoza, a then-sleepy town at the foothills of the Argentine Andes, meant being 600 miles west of the country's musical center, Buenos Aires, which was a powerful magnet for most of the great performers at that time.
But Arrau, who loved to travel by train, came several times to perform in Mendoza, which is close to the border with his home country Chile, and resembles his native land in its landscape, culture and social mores.
Fighting stubbornly against my closing eyelids, I attended his concert at the small Teatro Independencia, encouraged by my German-born father, who had heard and always admired Arrau during his student days in Weimar Berlin.
After the concert, Arrau was invited to the home of our next-door neighbor, Yolanda Carenzo, a former concert pianist who had converted her house into an informal salon for the great artists who visited Mendoza and was a relentless booster of good music of all kinds.
As a reward for having attended the performance, my music-loving father allowed me to stay up until almost 2:00 a.m. In those days, children in Argentina were supposed to be in bed by 9:30. So I witnessed a marvelous impromptu session of classical music-making.
Arrau — who sported a moustache and was much shorter than I had imagined from my orchestra seat — was accompanied to the soirée by Flora Nudelman, an Argentine-Jewish pianist of some international renown.
The evening was filled with wine, music and a very lively conversation between Carenzo, Nudelman and Arrau. At some point, the Chilean maestro asked: "What is this chiquillo [kid] doing here, up so late?" When Yolanda Carenzo told him about my enthusiasm for music, Arrau grinned and said: "Well, then we'll have to play something for him." And he immediately sat at his hostess' piano to play a piece for me.
I can't recall what he played, but it was likely the same Mozart piece he had performed in that evening's concert. I was elated by his decision to perform for me, and my surprise at being so honored soon turned into a pride that endured for decades. That wonderful evening only ended when I was ordered to go home. Years later, my father commented that I had been enjoying myself so much that it seemed I would need surgery to detach me from my seat.
My last memory was of Arrau stamping a dedication to Mrs. Carenzo in the visitor's book — now preserved by her descendants in Argentina — which contained the signatures of, among others, Walter Gieseking, Detlef Kraus, Wilhelm Kempf, Pablo Neruda and Jascha Heifetz.
Thirty years and a journalistic career later, I was assigned to interview the pianist in New York, on the occasion of his now-famous 80th-birthday celebration concert at Avery Fisher Hall with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Riccardo Muti.
The interview took place at his agent's midtown Manhattan home, where the maestro greeted me with the reserve and composure he showed most journalists. I decided that before turning on the tape recorder, I would tell him how I had met him — just to break the ice. When I mentioned the evening at Yolanda Carenzo's home, his stern features suddenly sweetened. With a broad smile, he leaned toward me and said invitingly: "What a great, great lady she was. Ask me whatever you want."
I concentrated on his formative years in Germany, his subsequent international career and the reasons why he had refused to play in Chile, which was then under the iron-fist dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. Arrau insisted that his only commitment was to music, adding that he carried Chile in his heart. A year after my interview, fearing that he would not see his home country again, Arrau yielded to pressures and went back to Chile, but he made a point of not shaking hands with the dictator, who attended the pianist's last performance.
Arrau also told me that his two major pianistic influences had been the legendary virtuoso Ferruccio Busoni and the Venezuelan-born master Teresa Carreño. He attributed the depth of his sound to Busoni, whose interpretations of Bach and Mozart, he said, were "unequaled."
With almost no warning, he turned the conversation to the subject of audiences, recalling that in 1946 he had played in Buenos Aires for a record-breaking audience of 25,000. "Argentine music lovers are among the most demanding in the world, you know?" he averred, as if trying to stir my national pride. He spoke at length about Argentina's musical life and stated, as Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and so many others have over the years, that "there is no concert hall in the world with the acoustics of the Teatro Colón."
Arrau spoke extensively about the Berlin Philharmonic in the days of Wilhelm Furtwängler, including his admiration for the conductor's ability as a pianist — a facet of Furtwängler's musicianship that is often forgotten these days.
With unexpected frankness, he also told me that he owed his career to psychoanalysis, which had helped him overcome "a chronic state of depression that made me think I was a failure." He underwent psychiatric treatment with Dr. Hubert Abrahamsohn, an analyst from Duesseldorf who became a close friend, for some 30 years.
Half-way through the interview, Arrau asked someone to bring a bottle of Chilean wine, despite the fact that he was under strict orders not to drink. Among his ailments, the musician suffered from progressive arthritis, but he dismissed medical advice and his agent's protestations to share a glass of wine with me.
Almost an hour and a half had gone by, and I thought it was time to leave. "Before you go, please let me make sure my agent has a ticket for you to attend my birthday concert," Arrau said, adding with a smile: "One never knows. It may well be my last one."
It wasn't. Claudio Arrau would not die for almost another 10 years. I never saw him or heard him again but I can still remember his farewell: "Give my regards to Señora Carenzo." I had to inform him that, sadly, she had died quite a few years before. With a somber voice, he told me: "People like her, who love music so much, should never die."
In a way, I think now, she never did — and neither did Arrau.