30 June, 2012

José Iturbi



José Iturbi Báguena was a Spanish conductor, harpsichordist and pianist. He appeared in several Hollywood films of the 1940s, notably playing himself in the 1943 musical, Thousands Cheer, and the 1945 film, Anchors Aweigh.

Born in Valencia, Spain, of Basque descent, Iturbi studied in Barcelona and at the Valencia and Paris conservatories on scholarship; at this time, he also undertook extensive private studies in keyboard technique and interpretation with the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska. His worldwide concert tours, beginning around 1912, were very successful. He made his American debut in New York City in 1929. He made his first appearance as a conductor in Mexico City in 1933 when presented by impresario Ernesto de Quesada from Conciertos Daniel. In April 1936, Iturbi was injured in the crash and sinking of Pan American Airways' Puerto Rican Clipper in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. After the incident, he said he would not be able to play "for some time", and "I may not be able to conduct again." Later that year, he was named conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in Rochester, New York, serving until 1944. He also led the Valencia Symphony Orchestra for many years. He often appeared in concert with his sister, Amparo, also a renowned pianist.

Iturbi was also a noted harpsichordist, and made several short length instructional films utilizing the re-emergent early 20th Century French Pleyel et Cie pedal, metal-framed harpsichord made famous by Wanda Landowska.

He appeared as an actor-performer in several filmed musicals of the 1940s, beginning with 1943's Thousands Cheer for MGM and again in Three Daring Daughters in 1948 again playing himself, and starring along with Jeanette MacDonald. He usually appeared as himself in these films. He later was featured in MGM's Anchors Aweigh, which starred Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, as well as several other MGM movies. In the biopic about Frédéric Chopin, A Song to Remember, Iturbi's playing was used in the soundtrack in scenes where Cornel Wilde, as Chopin, was playing the piano.

José Iturbi continued his public performances into his eighties. Finally he was ordered by his doctors to take a sabbatical in March 1980. He died on 28 June 1980, five days after being admitted to Cedars-Sinai Hospital for heart problems. He was 84 years old.

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