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29. August 2021

Well Played – Claudio Arrau


Lianyi Zhang

For readers less familiar with classical music, the name Claudio Arrau might not ring a bell. He is one of the greatest piano titans of the last century – at least, in my opinion. Born in 1903, he spent his childhood in Chile and it quickly became apparent that he was a prodigy. Arrau was destined to be a pianist. 

At the age of eight, he moved to Berlin – one of the world’s centres for (classical) music before the First World War. He was taught by Martin Krause, one of Franz Liszt’s last students. Like many other artists, Arrau moved to the U.S. in 1940 and resided there for the greatest part of his life. 

From his early teacher, Arrau inherited the style and tradition established by the nineteenth-century romantics. Unsurprisingly, he specialised in classic and romantic works and maintained his incredible vigour and technique up until old age. Between 1974 and 1976, when he was in his mid-70s, he recorded Liszt’s twelve Transcendental Études, one of the most challenging piano pieces around – believe me.

However, his virtuosity differs from Horowitz’s. Arrau rarely played in an exceedingly fast tempo or an exaggerated fashion. Instead, the unity of tempo and the structure of a piece are of utmost importance to him. The result is an interpretation that radiates stability and depth – a mastery of the keys and the scores.

However, this is still a blog on tailoring and suits and Arrau’s exquisite taste is also reflected in his remarkable sense of dressing. Arrau was not as much in the spotlight as some of his contemporary pianist stars (mainly, Horowitz and Karajan), but he was equally well-dressed. Let‘s turn to some key elements of his looks. 

Although well-dressed throughout his life, the style he adopted in his later years fascinates me the most. It is a subtle reflection of 1960s and 1970s sartorial trends. It might be hard to imagine Arrau in a Hardy Amies or a Tommy Nutter look, but he always managed to combine trend and personal temperament.

In some photos, presumably taken in the 60s, Arrau wears a well-cut three-buttoned jacket with slim lapels and a slim solid-coloured tie. As cuts became wider and lapels bigger in the 70s, his style changed, following these more dashing looks. It seems, the maestro very much enjoyed the game of pattern- and colour-matching in his later years. To accommodate the wide lapels, Arrau usually picked heavy silk ties with gigantic knots – strongly reminding me of HRH Prince Michael of Kent. Arrau also liked shirts with bold patterns such as horizontal stripes, polka dots or even geometric patterns. 

Still, he knew not to push it too far. As to his musical expression, balance was key. Unity and structure were never sacrificed for superfluous embellishments. In contrast to the bold shirts, he kept his tie and jacket in plain solid colours. Exceptions, as you may have noticed from the sketch, prove the rule: the dark blue flowers on his shirt form an accord with the navy silk tie, which – in turn – perfectly contrasts with the dark green Donegal tweed. Bold, but by no means out of balance – much like Arrau‘s exceptionally virtuous performances. Well played, Mr Arrau. LZ/YS