10 March 1844
Pamplona, Navarra, Spain
28 September 1908 (aged 64)
Pablo Martín Melitón de Sarasate y Navascués (March 10, 1844 - September 28, 1908, pronounced Sah-ra-SAH-teh), was a Spanish violin virtuoso and composer of the Romantic period.
Pablo Sarasate was born in Pamplona, Spain, the son of an artillery bandmaster. He began studying the violin with his father at the age of five and later took lessons from a local teacher but his musical talent became evident early on and he appeared in his first public concert in La Coruña at the age of eight. His performance was well-received, and caught the attention of a wealthy patron who provided the funding for Sarasate to study under Manuel Rodríguez Saez in Madrid where he gained the favor of Queen Isabel II. Later, as his abilities developed, he was sent to study under Delfín Alard at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of twelve. There, at seventeen, Sarasate entered a competition for the coveted Premier Prix and won his first prize, the Conservatoire's highest honor.
Sarasate made his debut as a concert violinist in 1860, and played in London the following year. Over the course of his career, he toured many parts of the world, performing in Europe, North America, and South America. His artistic pre-eminence was due principally to the purity of his tone, which was free from any tendency towards the sentimental or rhapsodic, and to that impressive facility of execution that made him a virtuoso. In his early career, Sarasate performed mainly opera fantasies (most notably the Carmen Fantasy) and various other pieces that he had composed. The popularity of Sarasate's Spanish flavor in his compositions is reflected in the work of his contemporaries. For example, the influences of Spanish music can be heard in such notable works as Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole (dedicated to Sarasate), Bizet's Carmen, and Saint-Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (also dedicated).
The playwright Bernard Shaw once declared that though there were many composers of music for the violin, there were but few composers of violin music. Of Sarasate's talents as performer and composer, Shaw said that he "left criticism gasping miles behind him." Sarasate's own compositions are mainly flashy show-pieces designed to demonstrate his exemplary technique. Perhaps the best known of his works is Zigeunerweisen (1878), a work for violin and orchestra. Another piece, the Carmen Fantasy (1883), also for violin and orchestra, makes use of themes from Georges Bizet's opera Carmen. Probably his most performed encores are his two books of Spanish dances, brief pieces designed to please the listener's ear and show off the performer's talent. He also made arrangements of a number of other composers' work for violin, and composed sets of variations on "potpourris" drawn from operas familiar to his audiences, such as his Fantasia on La Forza del Destino (his Opus 1), his "Souvenirs of Faust", or his variations on themes from Die Zauberflöte. In 1904 he made a small number of recordings.
Sarasate died in Biarritz, France on September 20, 1908 from chronic bronchitis. He bequeathed his 1724 Stradivarius, dubbed "The Sarasate" in his memory, to the Real Conservatorio Superior de Música of Madrid. The Pablo Sarasate International Violin Competition is held in Madrid.
A number of works for violin were dedicated to Sarasate, including Henryk Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No. 2, Édouard Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole, Camille Saint-Saëns' Violin Concerto No. 3 and his Introduction and Rondo capriccioso " Spanish Dances ", and Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy.
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