Pablo de Sarasate (1844–1908)
Pablo de Sarasate was a Spanish violinist and composer. He was one of the 19th century’s most famous virtuoso violinists, performing regularly throughout Europe, North America, and South America. His friendship and close association with notable composers led to new works written for him to perform, which he popularized, along with concert pieces he composed, on his various tours. These works—charming and colourful, while also demanding technical brilliance—have since become a core part of the violin repertory, and continue to be beloved by violinists and audiences today.
Sarasate (christened Martín Melitón Sarasate y Navascuéz) was born in Pamplona on March 10, 1844. A child prodigy, he made his first public performance at age eight, and his talents attracted the attention and support of the Spanish elite and royalty. Following his studies with Jean-Delphin Alard at the Paris Conservatoire, Sarasate toured extensively as a concert violinist. By the early 1870s, he was famous in France, Belgium, England, the United States, and Argentina. In 1876, he gave his first performance in Vienna, an important debut in the German-speaking lands, where he eventually established his reputation and would visit annually.
According to critical reports, Sarasate’s violin playing was distinguished by a purity and sweetness in tone, and an astounding technical facility that he made to look effortless. Inspired by his abilities and showmanship, several composers wrote and dedicated works to him, including Max Bruch (Violin Concerto No. 2, Scottish Fantasy), Camille Saint-Saëns (Violin Concerto Nos. 1 and 3, Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso), Éduoard Lalo (Violin Concerto in F major, Symphonie espagnole), and Henryk Wieniawski (Violin Concerto No. 2). Sarasate himself composed 54 works, many of them based on popular and folk melodies, all of them vehicles for his virtuosic style.
In 1904, Sarasate became one of the first violin virtuosos to make gramophone recordings, releasing nine of them, including one of him playing an abridged version of Zigeunerweisen, one of his most popular showpieces. Beyond his solo career, he was an avid player of string quartets. Sarasate died in Biarritz on September 20, 1908, from chronic bronchitis.
By Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley