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Sarasate, Pablo de

Pablo de Sarasate was one of the most well-known violinists of the late 1800s. He performed the world premieres of many significant works for violin and orchestra and writing violin music that is now widely performed and preserved.

Sarasate found his home in Paris, France. The exotic Spanish tinge he introduced to French concert life helped pave the way for composers in France and other northern European countries to develop a lifelong obsession with Mediterranean sounds. Sarasate was also well-known outside of France. In the tale "The Red-Headed League," fictitious detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson planned to spend most of a day waiting for one of their schemes to come to life by attending a Sarasate festival. Sarasate's name was a natural option for author Arthur Conan Doyle, as Sarasate was a regular on London concert bills. Sarasate was a prolific actor who visited North and South America twice. Despite the typical German-French hostility, which spread into cultural and political, and military relations, he was acclaimed in Germany. Sarasate was born in Pamplona, Spain's culturally and musically diverse Basque city. Don Miguel Sarasate, his father, was a military bandmaster and part-time violinist who, according to legend, was taken aback when his five-year-old son picked up a violin and played the passage that he, the father, had been grappling with. It's difficult to know if the tale is accurate, but two things are part of the historical record: Sarasate and his father did not get along, but Sarasate excelled as a violin prodigy as a boy. At the age of eight, he gave his first concert, winning the respect of Countess Espoz y Mina, who provided him with a 2,000 Spanish reales annual allowance to help him continue his education. Spain had vivid regional cultures now, but it was a backwater in European classical music's primary trends. Sarasate moved to Madrid and became a favorite of the Spanish royal family. Still, even the strongest instructors at the Spanish court quickly realized that their pupil had outgrown their abilities. They persuaded Sarasate's family to take him to Paris to further his education. Sarasate, who was 11 years old, boarded a train to Paris with his mother. Sarasate's mother died of a heart attack at the Spanish-French frontier, and the doctor who was summoned determined that Sarasate himself was suffering from cholera. He was eventually taken in by a bureaucrat at the famous Paris Conservatory after being nursed back to health by a Spanish nobleman who saw what was going on. Sarasate managed to make steady development under Mr. Alard, a violin professor at the Conservatory. Spaniards praised his fame, and a grant from Queen Isabella of Spain supported his research. He took the first prize in violin at the Conservatory in 1857, putting him among the best violinists in Spain. His teachers cautioned him not to get too caught up in the whirlwind of concert life, and he received another award in harmony in 1859.

Sarasate was ready to embark on what would become a lifetime of concert touring at that stage. He moved into a Paris apartment, and despite frequent visits to Spain (particularly Pamplona), he became increasingly known as a Frenchman. His home base was Paris, and when he was able to buy a more lavish home in 1884, he had it decorated by one of the most prominent artists of the day, American-born James McNeill Whistler. In the end, Whistler painted a portrait of Sarasate, which became one of the artist's most well-known works and was assigned the Whistleresque title of Arrangement in Black, but is also the most famous painting of the violinist.


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