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A child prodigy raised in a musical family, Sarasate made his public debut at the age of eight and entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of twelve. He was still in his teens when he began the life of a touring virtuoso, eventually covering most of Europe, as well as North and South America. Though perhaps the archetype of the salon artist, he was also a favorite of leading composers: Bruch, Saint-Saëns, Lalo, Wieniawski, and Dvořák all dedicated works to him.

Sarasate published his vivid fantasy on themes from Carmen in 1882. At its premiere in 1875, that challenging opéra comique was greeted critically with indifference at best, outraged questions about both its musicality and its morality at worst. Nonetheless, it ran for 45 performances, and began its conquest of the opera world when it was produced in Vienna in October that same year.

Potpourris of tunes from popular operas were standard stock for virtuosos such as Sarasate, who appreciated highly charged dramatic pieces, writing similar works on operas ranging from Der Freischütz and Don Giovanni to Faust, La forza del destino, and Roméo et Juliette. His cleverly constructed and floridly virtuosic Carmen Fantasy is in five sections, each based on a different number from the opera.

— John Henken