Ricardo Viñes – distilled biography



This biography has been distilled from the substantial contributions made by researchers such as Matthew Goodrich and David Potvin.[1] In their dissertations they translated a vast amount of information from French, Spanish and Catalan sources that were previously not available to English readers.  


How can I speak about Claude Debussy, my dear Henri Malherbe? First of all, I’m no speaker, and secondly although I have lived in Paris since my childhood I still have a slight Spanish accent which I have never been able to shake off, and thirdly I have innumerable memories of Claude Debussy, and I am at a loss to know which ones I should chose out of all those which flow into my mind. But I cannot refuse the request you have made, dear friend, to recall and to honor the memory of that glorious musician whose death occurred 20 years ago now, whom I loved so well and whom I admired more than any other. I am very proud and eternally grateful to Claude Debussy that he chose me to play the first performances of almost all the works he wrote for the piano. I was for many years his official performer, I was known as the friend and confidante of Claude Debussy. He asked me to give the first public performances of Prelúde, Sarabande and Toccata, Pagode, Jardins sous la pluie, La soirée dans Grenade, Masques, L’isle joyeuse, Reflets dans l’eau, Hommage à Rameau, Movement, Cloche à travers les feuilles, Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut, Poissons d’Or, etc. This last piece, Poissons d’Or, was even dedicated to me. I was all the more touched by the honor as Claude Debussy had never dedicated any of his works to a pianist. One evening, Debussy and Mme. Debussy had invited me to dinner. I could see he was agitated, embarrassed, and gesturing to his wife. He was a delightful friend, but fearfully difficult to get on with. I was expecting some friendly reproach and was waiting with some trepidation for what was going to happen, but Debussy sat down at the piano and started to play, in his supple, velvety style: Poissons d’Or. Then he showed me, laughing up his sleeve, that he had dedicated it to me. I thanked him, overcome with emotion. The only other pianist he awarded this favor to was Chopin, in whose memory he had dedicated a collection of pieces for the piano. (Ricardo Viñes, 1938) [2] [3]  


The Catalan-French pianist Ricardo Javier Viñes y García Roda was born on February 5, 1875 in an apartment on the corner of Calle Caladererías and Calle Major in Lérida, also known as Lleida, in the Catalan region of Spain.[4] His parents were the lawyer Javier Viñes y Solano and Dolores Roda y Vives. Although Ricardo’s parents were not professional musicians, the family home was invested in the arts. The young Viñes was a sensitive child, and his reoccurring headaches meant that he would often stay home instead of attending school.[5] Because of this, he would consequently have more time for piano lessons with his amateur pianist mother, who became Ricardo Viñes’s first teacher. 


Having studied piano and solfège with the local organist Joaquín Terraza since 1882, the Viñes family had come to realize their son's rapidly evolving talent. In 1885, the entire family moved to Barcelona, hoping to enroll Ricardo at the conservatory. Being only ten years of age at the time, Ricardo Viñes was too young to enter, so the Catalan pianist and pedagogue Joan Baptista Pujol chose to teach him as his private student. Pujol is today regarded as an influential teacher who also taught Enrique Grenados and Joaquín Malats. As we shall later see, I put great emphasis on Viñes’s pedaling technique as a part of the recreated recordings, and it is therefore interesting to note that Joan Baptista Pujol allegedly began the so-called “Catalan school of piano playing,” which is characterized by “special attention to clarity of voicing, tone color, and most especially, subtle use of the pedals.”[6] In January 1887 Ricardo Viñes was finally admitted into the superior class of Pujol at the conservatory and received his first prize only six months later, together with the aforementioned Joaquín Malats, who, like Viñes, would later also enroll at the Paris Conservatoire. After his rapid climb to the top of Joan Baptista Pujol’s class, the path to becoming a concert pianist was set for Ricardo Viñes, but his mother sought the advice of the by then already famous international concert pianist Isaac Albéniz. Albéniz was not in favor of a prematurely launched concert career and therefore advised Dolores Roda y Vives to take her son to Paris for further studies.


In late 1887, Ricardo Viñes once again found himself left outside of the class, this time because the quota for foreign students at the Paris Conservatoire had been reached. He was nonetheless admitted as an auditor and had his first lesson with Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot before the end of the year – perhaps a natural choice for a teacher because he was already teaching Enrique Grenados, who, like Viñes, had also been taught by Pujol in Barcelona. 


Striving for a pianistic career was an expensive endeavor, and as a result of this Ricardo Viñes’s family had ongoing financial struggles. Viñes started regularly playing in the soirée circuit to contribute to his expenses. On 22 November 1888, Viñes met fellow student, pianist, and composer Maurice Ravel for the first time. They became close friends and had a common inquisitive interest for all the arts. One year later, Viñes was finally, officially, admitted as a student in Bériot’s conservatory class. In 1894, he obtained the First Prize at the Paris Conservatoire. His Salle Pleyel debut program was ambitious and showcased his prodigious-like memory with a two-and-a-half-hour program; "A prominent event attracting a well-heeled audience of hundreds, the concert earned Viñes a profit of 2,000 francs."[7]


Ricardo Viñes’s memory was perhaps his most important talent as a pianist, and this enabled him to acquire an extraordinarily extensive piano repertoire, which he showcased throughout his vast concert career. Despite his extensive touring in England, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Portugal, South America and Spain, Viñes was first and foremost a pianist of Paris and France most of his life. In addition to his numerous solo recitals, Viñes collaborated with orchestras and gave chamber music concerts. His ability to rapidly learn new music, combined with his virtuosic technique, made it natural for Viñes to champion contemporary repertoires. Among the composers whose work Viñes premiered we find Manuel de Falla, Erik Satie, Joaquín Turina, Florent Schmitt, Henry Février and Gabriel Fauré.[8] He also took great effort in introducing Russian as well as South American works to French audiences. However, it is first and foremost through his numerous world premieres of the piano works by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel that he made his most important mark. In his dissertation, Ricardo Viñes and Les Apaches, Matthew G. Goodrich presents a thorough overview of the complete works by Ravel and Debussy which were premiered by Viñes:

Table of premiered works by Matthew Goodrich.[9]

Although Ricardo Viñes’s role as the first interpreter of these works is becoming recognized, there are several commentators who also praise Viñes’s importance to the very creation of them. In the words of Elaine Brody from Viñes in Paris: New Light on Twentieth-Century Performance Practice:

But Debussy and Ravel might almost be said to have a symbiotic relationship, with Ravel first borrowing some of Debussy’s concepts of instrumental music and Debussy later being inspired by Ravel’s piano music, each feeding on the other and both stimulated by their mutual interpreter Ricardo Viñes.[10]


In Reflections: The Piano Music of Maurice Ravel, Paul Roberts make the claim that “Viñes...it might be argued, provided Ravel (and Debussy) with the crucial impetus for writing piano works in the first place.”[11] In an article concerning The Ricardo Vines Piano Music Collection at the University of Colorado at Boulder, David Korevaar and Laurie J. Sampsel state that, “there is little question that Viñes's brand of pianism, dependent on his exquisite pedaling and command of color, had a tremendous influence on Ravel's development as a composer.”[12] Viñes’s own words from his diary also shed some light on this: 

Sunday, 3 February 1903: At three o’clock, I went to Debussy’s house to have him hear the Images which I played several times in a row, and also I saw that he was very happy because afterward he made his current wife come (Mme Bardac). Then they asked me to introduce the Miroirs of Ravel that I played for them. I left their house at six o’clock.[13]


Despite Ricardo Viñes’s vast importance for contemporary music, his role in performing historical repertoires should by no means be understated. Viñes was a pioneer in programming piano works from the baroque period to the contemporary pieces of his day, arranging the different works chronologically or by national tradition. This practice is clearly evident in his Four historical concerts for keyboard music in 1905 at the Erard Hall in Paris. They include keyboard music from sixteenth-century composer Antonio de Cabezón to Claude Debussy, with a total of 55 works by 49 composers.[14] Even more impressive is the concert series Viñes gave during his first of three longer stays in South America. In Buenos Aires in 1920, he presented a series of seven consecutive concerts, surveying the entire keyboard literature, and featuring 212 pieces by about fifty composers.[15] Viñes was highly praised for this endeavor, as can be seen in this review in La Nación of his final concert:


Review in La Nación, October 8, 1920. [16]

Part of this review states that: “We have discussed the importance of these recitals many times. Mr. Viñes has already won considerable prestige in our audience, so that it is necessary to insist on the illustrative and superior character of his interpretations.”[17]

The advanced memory skills of Viñes also enabled him to teach himself mathematics, astrology, palmistry, English (specifically in order to be able to read Edgar Allan Poe in the original language), as well as a number of branches from the “occult sciences.”[18] Viñes also read extensively amongst several of the most important authors of the time.[19] By doing this, Ricardo Viñes won the admiration and respect that allowed him to enter some of the highest intellectual circles in France. The writer Victor Seroff observed that: 


They used to say in Paris that one could see Viñes anywhere and everywhere. As a matter of course he went to concerts, but also he never missed an art exhibit, a new play, a lecture, or an informal gathering of the literati, where he would astonish them with his encyclopedic knowledge, or by hour long recitations of poems by Verlaine, Baudelaire, and Mallarmé.[20]


Viñes also wrote several articles that provide an interesting insight in the artistic debates he took part in.[21] In his radio speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of Debussy’s death, we can bear some witness to Viñes’s vast cultural and intellectual knowledge: 

Claude Debussy was rather awe inspiring, with his great head, magnificently ugly face, his odd overhanging forehead in the manner of Verlaine, and his intimidating feline eyes looking at you from below, with their rather ironic, ambiguous gaze. This Romantic image recalled some Condottiere, or if I may be so bold as to say, some honorable Calabrese bandit. There was something about Debussy, and more two thirds of his work bears witness to this, something magical, something extraordinary incantatory, diaphanous, it was said, which came from another world. Debussy’s art was wed to the powers of the soul, as Stanislas Fumet has said of romanticism. This mystical marriage gives to Claude Debussy’s music its most mysterious character, this note of poetic otherness, which made him somehow unreal, a foretaste of paradise, if I may say so, and a potential of persuasive emotion. You should not think that Debussy was in any way heavy or austere. At certain times he could amuse himself as a child.[22]


Among the most important of the cultural and intellectual circles in Paris, we find “Les Apaches”: a group of artists who met to discuss poetry, philosophy, literature, painting and music. Among the key members of this group we find, in addition to Ricardo Viñes, Déodat de Séverac, Désiré-Émile Inghelbrecht, Florent Schmidt, Émile Vuillermoz, Dimitri Calvocoressi and Maurice Ravel.[23] Ricardo Viñes would often perform at the Les Apaches meetings, occasionally with fellow pianist Maurice Ravel at his side, playing four-hand pieces on the piano. 


Viñes was also an influential teacher, and among the most well-known pianists who studied with him we find Marcelle Meyer, Francis Poulenc, Joaquín Rodrigo, Joaquim Nin-Culmell, Gonzalo Tintorer, and Maria Canals. In the words of Poulenc: 

He was a delightful man, a bizarre hidalgo with large mustaches, who wore a brown 'sombrero' in the purest Barcelonaise style, and who wore fine buttoned boots which he used to kick my shins when I didn’t change the pedals properly. The art of pedaling, this essential ingredient in modern music; no one could teach it better than Viñes since he managed to play clearly in a wash of pedaling, which seems paradoxical. And what science he demonstrated in staccato![24]


Poulenc also said that: “I admired him madly, because, at this time, in 1914, he was the only virtuoso who played Debussy and Ravel. That meeting with Viñes was paramount in my life: I owe him everything […] In reality it is to Viñes that I owe my fledgling efforts in music [i.e., composition] and everything I know about the piano.”[25] According to scholar Lisa Harrington, Marcelle Meyer said that, “it was Viñes to whom she attributed her brilliant technique,”[26] and according to Poulenc, Meyer also once said that Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Petrouchka “[…] is not as difficult as all that, thanks to Viñes”.[27]


Ricardo Viñes died in Barcelona on April 29, 1943. He was never married, nor did he have children. 





The complete catalogue of the recordings of Ricardo Viñes as listed on the Marston: Lagniappe Volume 7 website:[28]




Sonata in D, K. 29 (L. 461)



(WL 1742) Columbia D 13102 




Gavotte in A



(WL 1741) Columbia D 13102 







Scherzo in A-flat



(WL 2204-1) Columbia LF 41 




Soirée dans Grenade (from Estampes)



(WLX 1150) Columbia D 15245 



Poissons d’or (from Images, Book 1)



(WL 2203-3) Columbia LF 41 



Le Parc d’Attractions



L’Orgue du Carroussel/Polka de l’Equilibriste




(WLX 1146) Columbia LFX 73 




Granada (Serenata), Op. 47 No. 1



(WLX 1416) Columbia LFX 73 



Seguidillas, Op. 232 No. 5



(WL 2331-1) Columbia LF 42 



Orientale, Op. 232 No. 2



(WL 2330-1] Columbia LF 42 



Torre bermeja, Op. 92 No. 12



(WLX 1147) Columbia D 15245 



Serenata española, Op. 181



(OLA 1209-1) HMV DA 4885 



Tango in A Minor, Op. 164 No. 2



(OLA 1208-1) HMV DA 4885




Miramar (from Chants d’Espagne)



(WL 1889) Columbia LF 12 



Dans les Jardins de Murcia



(WL 1888) Columbia LF 12 




Dance of Terror/ Récit du Pêcheur



(WLX 1166) Columbia LFX 72 



Introduction and Ritual Fire Dance



(WLX 1167) Columbia LFX 72 




Dos Tonadas Chilenas



(OLA 1210-1) HMV DA 4910







(OLA 1211-1) HMV DA 4910 








(OLA 1211-1) HMV DA 4910







Hommage à Rameau (from Images, Book I)



(incomplete; measures 31-76 only)



Etude No. 10, “Pour les sonorités opposées”



(incomplete; measures 31-75 only)



Ricardo Viñes speaks on Debussy  



(radio address commemorating the 20th anniversary of Debussy’s death)



According to the Marston website, tracks 1-11 and 14-18, were recorded in 1930; Tracks 12-13 and 19-22 on July 22, 1936; Tracks 23-25 are of an unknown recording date and Track 25 (the radio speech) recorded in 1938.[29] However, in David Potvin’s dissertation from 2020, he disputes this and provides the following recording dates[30]:


Sixteen pieces for the French Columbia Company at Studio Albert in Paris:

  • C.W. Gluck’s Gavotte from Iphigénie en Aulide, arranged by J. Brahms (June 17, 1929) 
  • Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in D Major, K. 29 (June 17, 1929) 
  • Isaac Albeniz’s Granada from Suite Espagnole, op. 47, no. 1 (June 7, 1930), and Torre Bermeja from Douze Piezas caracteristicas, op. 92, no. 12 (November 4, 1929) 
  • Manuel Blancafort’s L’orgue del carroussel and Polca de l’equilibrista both from Le Parc d'atraccions (November 4, 1929) 
  • Claude Debussy’s La Soirée dans Grenade from Estampes (November 7, 1929) 
  • Joaquin Turina’s Miramar and En los jardines de Murcia from Cuentos de España, op. 20, nos. 3 and 4 (both recorded November 13, 1929) 
  • Alexander Borodin’s Scherzo in A flat Major (April 23, 1930) 
  • Isaac Albeniz’s Oriental and Seguidillas from Cantos de España op. 232, nos. 2 and 5 (June 6, 1930) 
  • Claude Debussy’s Poissons d’or from Images II (June 1930) 
  • Manuel de Falla’s suite from El amor brujo, including Danza del terrorDanza rituel del fuego, and Romance del pescador (June 1930) 

On July 22, 1936 for Gramophone at Studio Albert in Paris:

  • Albeniz’s Tango from Deux danses espagnoles, op. 164, no. 2, and Serenade espagnole, op. 181 (originally published as ‘Cadiz’ in Suite espagnole op. 47, no. 4) 
  • Pedro Humberto Allende’s Tonadas de caracter popular Chileno, nos. 6 and 7 
  • Carlos Lopez Buchardo’s Bailecito 
  • Caytano Troiani’s Milonga from Ritmos argentinos 


The fragmented Debussy recordings are according to Marston Records of an unknown date, provided by Jonathan Summers and the British Library Sound Archive.[31] In an email correspondence from 2018, Jonathan Summers gave some more information on the matter: 

I believe the two unpublished items that Ward got from me at the British Library are both from radio broadcasts. Certainly, the speech about Debussy is and I suspect that the two Debussy extracts are also from broadcasts, although I cannot find a listing of Vines playing for the BBC. They could have been recorded in England from a short wave broadcast from France in the 1930s. The disc is a 10 inch, so will have limited recording time, hence the incomplete nature of the recording.[32]


David Potvin may indirectly have solved this mystery as he writes in one of his footnotes: 


Esperanza Berrocal, “Ricardo Viñes and the diffusion of early twentieth-century South American piano literature” (PhD diss., The Catholic University of America, 2002), 137, states Viñes also recorded for the Radio Nacional in Barcelona in 1940. This must have been a live broadcast because no copy of any recording from this exists.[33]


Unfortunately, the treasure hunt stops here.






[1] Goodrich 2013 and Potvin 2020

[2] Henri Malherbe, winner of the 1917 Prix Goncourt (French literary prize). 

[3] Ricardo Viñes: The Complete Recordings, Lagniappe Volume 7, Marston Records 2007, track 25, Ricardo Viñes speaks on Debussy (radio address commemorating the 20th anniversary of Debussy’s death), translation included with booklet by John Humbley and Vincent Giroud.

[4] Goodrich 2013, 6

[5] Goodrich 2013, 6-7

[6] Banowetz 1985, 220

[7] Goodrich 2013, 12

[8] Goodrich 2013, 147-149

[9] Goodrich 2013, 154

[10] Brody 1977, 50-51

[11] Roberts 2012, 2

[12] Korevaar and Sampsel 2004

[13] Gubisch 1980, 229

[14] Goodrich 2013, 17

[15] Goodrich 2013, 23

[16] La Nación, October 8, 1920, from the archives at Biblioteca Nacional Mariano Moreno, Buenos Aires

[17] Ibid.

[18] Korevaar and Sampsel 2004

[19] Ibid.

[20] Potvin 2020, 8

[21] David Potvin has translated and discussed several of these in the chapter Viñes the Writer: Articles on Music, in his dissertation Ricardo Viñes’s Pianistic Legacy: An Evaluation of his Articles, Recordings, Compositions, and Pedagogy, pages 24-40.

[22] Ricardo Viñes: The Complete Recordings, Lagniappe Volume 7, Marston Records 2007, track 25, Ricardo Viñes speaks on Debussy (radio address commemorating the 20th anniversary of Debussy’s death), Translation included with booklet by John Humbley and Vincent Giroud. Stanislas Fumet (1896-1983) was an avant-garde critic of the arts and literature.

[23] Potvin 2020, 8

[24] Schmidt 2001, 20-21

[25] Ibid, 20

[26] Goodrich 2013, 112

[27] Ibid.

[28] Marston Records Lagniappe Volume 7. Accessed on October 27, 2021, https://www.marstonrecords.com/pages/lagniappe-7-vines

[29] Marston Records Lagniappe Volume 7. Accessed on October 27, 2021, https://www.marstonrecords.com/pages/lagniappe-7-vines

[30] Potvin 2020, 42-43

[31] Marston Records Lagniappe Volume 7. Accessed on October 27, 2021, https://www.marstonrecords.com/pages/lagniappe-7-vines

[32] Summers, Jonathan. London: The British Library. Email, November 29, 2018

[33] Potvin 2020, 42


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