Born in Buenos Aires, his Russian-Jewish parents taught him piano from the age of five and by seven he was performing in public. When he was 11 the family moved to Tel Aviv.
At a young age he attracted the attention of renowned conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, who described the young musician as “a phenomenon”. By 1957, Barenboim was playing Prokofiev professionally on a New York stage and is now known as one of the most influential conductors in the world.
Famous for his extraordinary talent, his personal life has also attracted a few headlines. In 1967 he married British cellist Jacqueline du Pré in Jerusalem. The couple remained together until her death 20 years later.
He remarried, to Russian pianist Elena Bashkirova, in 1988. His two sons (with Bashirova, with whom he was having an affair before du Pré’s death) are both musicians; hip-hop record producer David and classical violinist Michael.
Now living in Berlin, he accepted a Palestinian passport in 2008. At the time he said: "I believe that the destinies of ... the Israeli people and the Palestinian people are inextricably linked. We are blessed - or cursed - to live with each other. And I prefer the first."
He set up the acclaimed West-Eastern Divan Orchestra with Palestinian intellectual Edward Said in 1999, with the aim of creating a space for young Arabs and Israelis to play classical music together.
A fierce critic of Israel, he once refused to be interviewed by an IDF journalist because she was wearing uniform. Last September he announced his support for a boycott of Israeli settlements by adding his name to a list of public figures expressing solidarity with Israeli artists who refused to perform in the West Bank.
What he told the JC about his Jewish identity: “It’s simple and complicated at the same time. It’s very difficult to define a secular Jew, and very easy to define a religious one. What is the difference between a secular Jew and a secular non-Jew? They are both human beings, both have dignity. Being a secular Jew is partly belonging to a people, partly religious tradition. In the end, I believe that if you feel Jewish, you are Jewish.”
See more from the JC archives here