Claudio Arrau was born in 1903 in Chile. Born into a family of the old Catholic and cultured bourgeoisie, the young Claudio was barely one year old when his father died in a horse accident. Forced to support her three young children, his mother wanted to give them piano lessons. This gave Claudio Arrau the opportunity to grow up surrounded by the sounds of the instrument while learning the mysteries of music theory even before he could read and write.
From the age of 4, Claudio Arrau was able to translate some of Beethoven's sonatas, and was soon considered a child prodigy, dazzling those around him with his uncommon facility for music. A year later, he wrote his first public recital in his hometown, Chillan, with a program consisting of works by Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin. Everything went very fast for Claudio Arrau, so fast that at the age of 6, the Chilean president, impressed by his virtuosity, sent him an exceptional state scholarship to study music in Europe, and more precisely in Germany for ten years. At the age of 8, the young Claudio Arrau, accompanied by his mother and sister, moved to Berlin to attend the prestigious Stern Conservatory. There he met Martin Krauze, a key figure in Berlin's artistic life, a renowned teacher and music critic who was both feared and admired, and who would later become his mentor.
Immediately the current passes between the master and the pupil. Krauze recognizes, in Claudio Arrau, a real raw talent to model according to his rigorous principles while the young boy, far from his native Chile, finds in this authority figure, the substitute of the father he has known very little. During his mentorship, Claudio Arrau refined his technique to the point of being able to play, at the age of 11, works considered to be the most demanding in the repertoire: Liszt's "Transcendental Performance Studies" and Brahms' "Paganini Variations".
However, Claudio Arrau was only 15 years old when Martin Krauze died of the flu. Out of loyalty, he refused to follow anyone's teaching and chose to continue his apprenticeship as an autodidact. He made his concert debut at the Royal Albert Hall in London and played in Berlin with the Philharmonic Orchestra.
Under the guidance of Karl Muck, he made his first major European tour, accompanied by such illustrious conductors as Nikisch, Furtwängler and Mendelberg. At the age of 16 and 17 respectively, he won the famous Franz Liszt International Piano Competition and, crowned with this newfound glory, undertook a major tour of South America and the United States in 1921 with concerts in New York, Boston and Chicago. Back on the old continent, at the age of 24, he won the Grand Prix International des Pianistes de Genève and began to record his first discs, considerably extending the scope of his references by including in his repertoire composers ranging from Bach to Debussy, as well as the great German romantics such as Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, but also Mozart, Liszt, Chopin and Schoenberg. Everything goes well for Claudio Arrau in his career, in the 30's, he makes two consecutive tours in the Soviet Union and consolidates his reputation by interpreting in a marathon of 12 recitals, the entire keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach, thus contributing, for a part, to the ongoing rehabilitation of the composer.
Following the war in Europe, Claudio Arrau left Germany to return to Chile, where he founded a music school, and then moved to the United States after a triumphant tour. In 1979, he obtained American citizenship and began a new life. He oscillates between teaching, an enormous activity as a concert performer and intensive recording, notably for the Philips label. Claudio Arrau, recognized at the time as one of the greatest interpreters of the great Beethoven, multiplied his public performances of the sonatas, recording between 1962 and 1966, a first complete work that became a legend.
Multiplying honors and official distinctions at the international level, celebrated on the occasion of his 80th and 85th birthdays as one of the monuments of the history of the piano in the 20th century, Claudio Arrau never ceased his activities and never slowed down the pace until his death on June 9, 1991. His last albums, published in part posthumously and devoted to Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy and Bach, sound today like the moving artistic testament of a giant of prodigious substance.