Eugene d’Albert was born in Glasgow, Scotland April 10, 1864 to an English mother and a German father of French and Italian descent. Music was in his blood, as his father Charles Louis Napoleon d’Albert was a direct descendent of composers Guiseppe Matteo Alberti and Domenico Alberti (remember the Alberti bass?) and was a dancer, pianist, music arranger and ballet-master at King’s Theatre and Covent Garden.
D’Albert had a rich musical life as a pianist and composer, studying with the likes of Sir John Stainer and Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan), and achieving early success in England as a bravura pianist. But he despised England, and headed to Vienna, where he met Brahms, Hans Richter, and Liszt who became his teacher. He encountered the music of Wagner, and became enraptured enough by his experiences to change his name to Eugen and to became a German citizen. Compared to Busoni for his amazing pianistic technique, d’Albert became a noted interpreter of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Liszt, and gained famed abroad when he traveled to the United States, Russian and throughout the world. He also found time to be a prolific composer of piano and chamber music, leider, and 21 operas, most notably Tiefland, which has maintained its place in the German and Austrian repertoire. “Though not a composer of profound originality… he had an unfailing sense of dramatic appropriateness and all the resources of a symphonic technique to give it expression and was thus able to achieve success in so many styles” (from his obituary in The Times).
A man of many minds, he was married 6 times (including to famed pianist Teresa Carreno). He compared his wives to Beethoven symphonies, and said he planned to marry until he “got up to the 9th, with chorus.” He also changed his nationality yet a third time when he became a citizen of Switzerland in 1914. He died in 1932 at the age of 69 in Riga, Latvia (where he had gone to get divorce #6), no doubt exhausted from a lifetime of music, marriages, and Wanderlust as a man of many countries. But his pianistic reputation was stellar. Bruno Walter called him “a new Centaur, half piano, half man.” And Tchaikovsky wrote:
“[There] is a certain young man, called d’Albert, who was in Moscow last winter, and whom I heard several times in public and at private houses. To my mind he is a pianist of genius, the legitimate successor of [Anton] Rubinstein.”
-Tchaikovsky, letter to N. von Meck (14/26 July 1884)
Hear Eugene d’Albert play in this video clip.