MADRID Alicia de Larrocha, a former child prodigy considered by many to have been the best Spanish pianist in history, has died in Barcelona at the age of 86, officials said.
"She was an extraordinary ambassador for Spain," Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde said in a news release following the death of the petite pianist, who was less than 5-feet tall, in Barcelona's Quiron Hospital on Friday night.
The Barcelona Symphony Orchestra was due to hold a minute's silence before this weekend's performances in honor of de Larrocha, whose public performances began at the age of six and stretched into her 80s, state news agency EFE said.
De Larrocha played with major orchestras around the world, won several prestigious Grammy awards for her recordings and was known for her interpretations of Mozart, Schumann and of Spanish composers.
Her championing of the Spanish repertoire, particularly the piano works of Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados, helped to make world audiences more familiar with music that has since gained enormously in popularity.
"Spanish music is very, very, very hard," she once said.
"Young people come to me and think they can play it right away. But Spanish music must have the right rhythm, just as Bach and Mozart must have the right rhythm."
(Reporting by Jason Webb; editing by Michael Roddy)