Claudio Arrau León (1903-1991) was a Chilean pianist of world fame for his deep interpretations of a huge, vast repertoire spanning from the baroque to 20th-century composers. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century.
Arrau was born in Chillán, the son of eye doctor Carlos Arrau and Lucrecia Ponce de León, a piano teacher. He belonged to an old, prominent family of Southern Chile. His ancestor Lorenzo de Arrau was sent to Chile by King Carlos III of Spain. Through his great-grandmother, María del Carmen Daroch del Solar, Arrau was a descendant of the Campbells of Glenorchy, a very prominent Scottish noble family.
He was a distant relative of Francesca von Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon, daughter-in-law of Otto von Habsburg. They both descended from Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, father of the first Earl of Breadalbane.
Arrau was a child prodigy, giving his first concert at age five. At age seven he was sent on a Chilean government grant to study in Germany, at the Stern Conservatory of Berlin where he was a pupil of Martin Krause, who had studied under Franz Liszt. At the age of 11 he could play Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes, considered to be one of the most difficult sets of works ever written for the piano, and also Brahms’s Paganini Variations.
Claudio Arrau was one of the great pianists I discovered in my younger years, next to Emil Gilels, Svjatoslav Richter and Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli. And all four of them had something unique and incomparable, and I discovered that I did not like to listen to any of the pieces one of them performed, by any of the others.
For example, for Liszt, I was signed up with Arrau, for Debussy with Michelangeli, for Beethoven and Prokofiev with Gilels—but the disturbing genius was Richter, for he could play all of that, and to perfection!