Life and career
Viñes was born in Lleida, Catalonia. He studied the piano at the Paris Conservatoire under Charles-Wilfrid de Bériot, and composition and harmony with Benjamin Godard and Albert Lavignac.
In 1895 Viñes made his début at the Salle Pleyel, Paris. From 1900 he had an international career, touring in Russia and throughout Europe and South America. Between 1930 and 1936 he lived in Argentina, returning to Paris in 1936 where he continued to play until the final year of his life.
According to Charles Timbrell and Esperanza Berrocal in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Viñes's keyboard technique was magnificent and his repertoire extensive. In addition to the established classics he championed new works by the many composers of whom he was a close friend. They included Ravel, Debussy, Satie, Falla, Granados, Albéniz and Déodat de Séverac. He was also a proponent of Russian music, and introduced to France pieces by Mussorgsky (Pictures at an Exhibition), Balakirev (Islamey) and Prokofiev (Sarcasmes). Grove lists among the many works dedicated to him Ravel’s Oiseaux tristes, Debussy’s Poissons d’or and Falla’s Noches en los jardines de España.[n 1]
Viñes composed a small number of works, the best known of which are the two Hommages, for Séverac and Satie. He also wrote several articles, mostly on Spanish music, and his diaries are much quoted by biographers of his musical contemporaries. His piano students included Marcelle Meyer, Joaquín Nin-Culmell, Léo-Pol Morin and Francis Poulenc. Poulenc later said of his teacher:
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 and everything I know about the piano.
Viñes was a delightful character, some kind of strange Hidalgo with an enormous moustache, a brown sombrero in true Barcelona style, and button boots with which he used to kick me in the shins whenever I was clumsy at the pedals. No one could teach the art of using the pedals, an essential feature of modern piano music, better than Viñes. He somehow managed to extract clarity precisely from the ambiguities of the pedals. His staccato playing was equally remarkable. Marcelle Meyer, his most brilliant pupil, declared that he made even Petrushka seem easy.
An annual International piano competition "Ricard Viñes" has been held since 1995 in his birthtown Lleida. The city council named one of the city's most popular squares the "Plaça Ricard Vinyes", and the main room of the Llotja de Lleida theatre and congress centre (opened in 2010) is also named after him.
Viñes died in Barcelona at the age of 68. He was unmarried.