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José Iturbi

photo by Carl Van Vechten, 1933
Background information
Born November 28, 1895(1895-11-28)
Valencia, Spain
Died June 28, 1980 (aged 84)
Los Angeles, California, USA
Genres Classical
Occupations Conductor, pianist
Instruments Piano
Associated acts Rochester Philharmonic

José Iturbi (28 November 1895 – 28 June 1980) was a Spanish conductor and pianist. He appeared in several Hollywood films of the 1940s, notably playing himself in the 1943 musical, Thousands Cheer and in the 1945 film, Anchors Aweigh. He was involved in a complex family custody battle in the 1940s that culminated in his former son-in-law kidnapping Iturbi's two granddaughters.



Born in Valencia, Spain, of Basque descent, Iturbi studied in Barcelona[1] 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 brilliantly successful. He excelled as an interpreter of French as well as Spanish music. 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 donon Ernesto de Quesada from Conciertos Daniel. He was also conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in upstate New York from 1936 to 1944. He also led the Valencia Symphony Orchestra for many years. He often appeared in concert with his sister, Amparo Iturbi, who was also a renowned pianist.

Iturbi was most renowned in lightweight, showy repertoire, and he left no impression in music that required more depth. He appeared as an actor-performer in several filmed musicals of the 1940s, beginning with 1943's Thousands Cheer for MGM. 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.

Unfortunately, while these films made him very popular during his lifetime, his musical exhibitionism and Hollywood appearances caused many connoisseurs to undervalue him as a serious musician.

Personal life

Iturbi married María Giner de los Santos in 1916; she died in 1928; they had one child, María. His companion for many years was Marion Seabury, his secretary, who survived Iturbi and founded the José Iturbi Foundation after his death.

María Iturbi married Stephan Hero, an American concert violinist who had been one of her father's protégés in 1936. They had two daughters, Maria Antonia and Maria Theresa, before separating in 1939. At age 28, in 1946, Iturbi's daughter committed suicide.[2]

María Hero had obtained legal custody of the children in her 1941 divorce; her former husband had them for three months of each year. In 1943 Iturbi took his daughter to court for custody of the girls, calling her unfit, according to The New York Times. Their father, Stephan Hero, absconded with them while Iturbi was on a European concert tour in 1947. After a court battle, Iturbi and his former son-in-law ultimately resolved their differences, and the girls remained with their father.

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.


Iturbi is mentioned in Philip Roth's bestselling Portnoy's Complaint, where the women in Portnoy's neighborhood call a talented young pianist "José Iturbi the Second." The pianist kills himself because of his overpowering mother and thus becomes a memento to the protagonist, who also has to deal with a dominant mother. The reference to Iturbi is probably a side-thrust at the Jewish community Portnoy grows up in, especially at its mercantile, Hollywood-dominated notion of culture.

Cormac McCarthy honored Iturbi with a moment of colloquial humor in Suttree, his semi-autobiographical novel published in 1979. Conversing with his Aunt Martha on the topic of dogs once owned between himself and his ancestors, he proclaimed, "We had one named Jose Iturbi. Because it was the peeinest dog."[3]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Milestones". Time XLVII (17). 29 April 1946.,8816,778660,00.html. Retrieved 2007-07-17.  
  3. ^ McCarthy, Cormac; p. 128 (1992). Suttree. New York: Vintage International, Vintage Books. ISBN 0679736328.  

External links



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