340px-Ramon_Casas_-_MNAC-_Isaac_Albéniz-_027630-D_006622Peter Schaaf

The royalty of Spanish musicians is populated by quite a few Catalan composers and interpreters. Let us salute the music of Enrique Granados, Francisco Obradors, Federico Mompou, Eduard Toldrà, Xavier Montsalvatge, and Isaac Albéniz.

Let us also honor the memories of some great interpreters of the music of Isaac Albeniz: Jorge Bolet… Alicia de Larrocha… And then let us tip our hat and add to that list the name of the immensely gifted Peter Schaaf

Listen closely to Schaaf’s commanding playing of the music of Isaac Albéniz, and you will perceive the minor modes of the Moors, the Celtic at the core and gaily Galician muiñeiras, with the piano merrily mimicking the blaring of the bagpipes that the gallegos inherited from their Irish cousins and renamed gaitas.

There is in Schaaf’s playing the soulful wailing about fate and life and death and heartbreak that is the lifeblood of the cantejondo chants of the gypsies.

The youth and early career of our composer were colorfully chaotic: studies in Switzerland, Brussels, tours as a piano prodigy in South America, a love affair in Cuba and another with Cuba itself, before he settled down as a happily married family man. His music reflects all of that.

Early on he found gigs as a composer of salon pieces which some critics might scoff at but which he quietly loved, calling them full of… “color, sunlight, (and the) flavor of olives…” He even had a fling with operettas while living and working in London.

But the piano was his instrument and he mostly wrote for it.

Quintessentially Spanish, unpredictable in their harmonic changes, deeply inflected by the various folk strains that make up the Spanish musical DNA, the piano works of Albéniz contain all that is Iberian in the music of his native country.

There are Catalan sardanas and Basque jotas, there are zapateados and sevillanas from Andalusia. Listen closely to Schaaf’s playing and your feet will tap to the rhythm of a Cuban habanera. There are even passages seemingly inhabited by waltzing figures of the imagination.

Rhythmic to the core, much of Spanish music is dance-inspired music. Albéniz distills the Spanish 6/8: 3/4 hemiola pattern into a heartbeat that brings to life several of the pieces that make up the four books of Iberia.

The pianistic obstacle course that is Iberia calls for a protean artist who can overcome the pitfalls built into the music and transcend them with a poetic sensibility, with an unerring instinct for color, with the self-assurance to pull back when lingering is wanted and then push forward with resolute energy.

Peter Schaaf is that and more.

Don’t even bother to discuss the technical hurdles: Schaaf solves them one by one and then boldly moves forward to make the music speak for itself. His playing is muscularly virile and soulful and evocative and unencumbered by fussy detail work. Schaaf focuses instead on the big picture. The music of Albéniz resonates throughout this gem of a CD and coalesces in Peter Schaaf’s hands into a heady blend of all things Spanish.

Schaaf is no miniaturist. He is a muralist.

On one track Schaaf eerily brings to life the expansive musical landscape of El Corpus en Sevilla with its inexorable Catholic procession of penitent pilgrims and its accompanying saetas, as if he had a full orchestra inside his head and another at the tips of his fingers.

He then moves comfortably to the rustic dance charms of Rondeña. Schaaf changes colors with chameleonic precision.

Throughout the 12 tracks of this gem of a CD there’s no wasted moment or missed opportunity. After an astonishing two-decade absence from the keyboard Peter Schaaf made his comeback with Iberia.

That does not make any logical sense, but then Schaaf’s artistry is not logical. It is simply magical.

Rafael de Acha

Iberia is available directly from


Listen to Peter Schaaf play Evocación from Iberia: