About this Recording
8.557272 - RODRIGO: Piano Music, Vol. 1
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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Piano Music • 1

Throughout his long life Joaquín Rodrigo wrote more than two hundred compositions, creating a prolific variety of orchestral pieces, concertos, songs, and instrumental music for guitar, piano, violin, cello, and other instruments, now increasingly in demand and appreciated world-wide. This recording presents some of the finest examples of Rodrigo’s piano works. The composer was a virtuoso pianist who played many recitals at various periods of his life, featuring both his own compositions and representative selections of Spanish keyboard masters from the sixteenth century onwards. His formidable memory and brilliant technique ensured that he was soon established as an impressive performer who also wrote for the piano with insight and panache.

Joaquín Rodrigo was born on St Cecilia’s Day, 22nd November, 1901, in Sagunto, Valencia. In 1905, an outbreak of diphtheria impaired his vision and within a few years he lost every vestige of sight. From the age of seven he attended the School for the Blind in Valencia, where, with his musical gifts becoming increasingly apparent, he played the violin and piano. Later he took composition lessons with Francisco Antich Carbonell, renowned organist and maestro at the local parish church. In the autumn of 1927 the young composer travelled to Paris, enrolling at the Ecole Normale de Musique. His teacher, Paul Dukas, one of the masters of early twentieth century French music, greatly influenced Rodrigo, especially in aspects of orchestration. In 1928 the French President awarded Manuel de Falla the National Legion of Honour. Rodrigo performed his own piano pieces at the ceremony, thus extending his reputation as composer and pianist.

Around the same time Rodrigo met Victoria Kamhi, a young Jewish pianist from Istanbul, the daughter of a businessman. Despite various difficulties, financial and otherwise, they eventually married in January 1933. But a year later, hardship enforced separation, a dilemma resolved only when Rodrigo was awarded a prestigious Conde de Cartagena Scholarship, enabling him to be reunited with his wife in Paris. In 1936 disaster struck again when the Spanish Civil War began and the Scholarship fund was no longer available. Eventually Rodrigo and his wife found refuge for eighteen months at the Institute for the Blind in Freiburg, Germany. In 1938 he visited Spain briefly to lecture and perform at the Santander Summer School but, failing to obtain suitable employment in his native land, was compelled to live for another year in Paris. In 1939 Rodrigo completed the Concierto de Aranjuez, a work which soon became internationally famous.

Rodrigo returned to Spain at the beginning of September 1939. Life was difficult, but with help from colleagues, including Falla, Rodrigo was offered various salaried appointments and after years of deprivation, the tide began to turn with the première in Barcelona of Concierto de Aranjuez on 9th November, 1940. On 27th January, 1941, Rodrigo’s daughter, Cecilia, was born. Rodrigo’s reputation as a great Spanish composer now began to gain international esteem.

A l’ombre de Torre Bermeja (In the Shadow of the Crimson Tower) was written in tribute on the death of the great Spanish pianist Ricardo Viñes (1875-1943), and first published in a memorial album in Madrid. Rodrigo commented that ‘it was a kind of paraphrase of Albéniz’s work, of his first phase, entitled Torre Bermeja’. Albéniz’s music is reflected throughout in rapid arpeggios and the tolling bell of the old tower.

Cuatro piezas para piano (Four Pieces for piano), written between 1936 and 1938, evoke moods of Spanish life from the animation of dance to nostalgia for past glories. Caleseras is a homage to Federico Chueca (1846-1908) who composed forty zarzuelas (light operas) and various lively waltzes, echoes of which can be heard. The title refers to the calesa, the horsedrawn carriage popular in early twentieth-century Madrid. The rhythm and slightly off-beat melody certainly evoke the trotting of horses. Fandango del ventorrillo (Fandango of the Inn) may usefully be compared in terms of brilliance and colour with Rodrigo’s guitar piece En los trigales (In the Wheatfields).

Plegaria de la Infanta de Castilla (Prayer of the Princess of Castile) opens with a sarabandelike mood recalling Rodrigo’s admiration for Renaissance music. After a gentle beginning, however, the work develops into a technically demanding and passionate example of twentiethcentury pianism. A letter from Joaquín Nin- Culmell indicates that this composition possibly represents a poignant prayer for peace during the Spanish Civil War. Danza Valenciana provides one of Rodrigo’s rare references to the traditions of his native Valencia, drawing inspiration from the popular theme ‘el u i el dos’ (the one and the two) in the manner of the Levantine jota, a circle dance. The varied material includes two-part writing, brilliant ornamental arpeggio patterns and animated interchanges between bass and chords.

Pastoral, one of Rodrigo’s apprenticeship pieces, has been compared to the canción style of Mompou but also possesses a tender Mozartian or Schubertian atmosphere. Rodrigo described the work as ‘written in terms of the 18th century eclogue...inspired more or less by springtime, which, as you know, has inspired composers to write a great deal’.

Preludio de añoranza (Nostalgic Prelude) has a special significance, being the last piano piece Rodrigo ever wrote. Commissioned by the Albéniz Foundation to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Artur Rubinstein (1887- 1982), it was first performed in Madrid by Joaquín Soriano on 21st March, 1988. The composition evolves between three motifs, poignant arpeggio patterns, a melodic passage counterpointed in the bass with a downward scale and chordal interludes. A short coda fades away into silence.

Berceuse de Printemps (Spring Lullaby), written during Rodrigo’s first spring in Paris (1928), recalls childhood, musical boxes and spring’s gentleness rather than any rush of activity or rejoicing after winter. Its companion, Berceuse d’Automne, (Autumn Lullaby) (1923), is a sombre piece involving the multiple repetition of a single chord some seventy times. In 1957 Deux Berceuses would become the symphonic tone poem, Música para un jardín.

Another apprentice work, Bagatela (1926) combines light dexterity and an abundance of humour. Dedicated ‘To my friends, Eduardo Chávarri and Enrique Gomá’, the composition represented a final retrospective gesture to Rodrigo’s Valencian years. Bagatela contains that element of sardonic humour in its impetuous rhythms and moods which Rodrigo never relinquished, as well as a delight in his own keyboard mastery.

Cuatro estampas andaluzas (Four Andalusian Pictures) 1946/52), were written, as the composer commented, ‘under the sign of the Andalusian’‚ but do not feature ‘the popular themes of that region’. Here Rodrigo created his own melodies to celebrate Spain’s south. El vendedor de chanquetes (The Whitebait Seller), is a lively portrait of a street vendor offering chanquetes, a kind of fried fish much loved in Málaga.

The mood changes in Crepúsculo sobre el Guadalquivir (Twilight over the Guadalquivir River) to evening in Seville, heralded by dark recurrent patterns in the bass before the night life enters in brilliant array. Seguidillas del diablo (The Devil’s Seguidillas), written at the request of the Spanish dancer, Udaeta, enacts Rodrigo’s impressions of the satanic dance, a genre spectacularly deployed by various composers including Paganini and Liszt. Barquitos de Cádiz (Little Boats of Cádiz), dedicated to the British pianist, Harriet Cohen, begins with an Adagio, evoking a sense of stillness at sea. The second part, marked Allegretto, takes the form of the polo gaditano, a popular song and dance from Cádiz. Beginning with rolling arpeggios, this section grows in intensity to a full storm, concluding with an appropriately vigorous coda.

Following the death of his teacher Paul Dukas (1865-1935), Rodrigo composed a homage to be published in La revue musicale in 1936, along with similar tributes by Falla, Messiaen, and others. The result was Sonada de adiós (Sounding of Farewell), written in Salzburg, Austria. The composer describes this work as ‘written on a type of pedal...that is to say an ostinato, well harmonised with a good melody...It is like a tolling of bells...and upon this basis are founded the two short themes’. Rodrigo takes care to indicate that Sonada de adiós is indeed Sonada, a ‘sounding’, and therefore not a Sonata. The unusual key of A flat minor creates fascinating sonorities.

Throughout 1931 Rodrigo wrote only one work, Serenata española (Spanish Serenade), dedicated to the pianist, José Iturbi. Here he depicts a vivid Spanish landscape, using contrasting sections to express the vitality of Iberia. Beginning with a virtuosic show of arpeggios, the main theme enters. Another mood follows, indicated as marcato, with echoes of Falla’s Ritual Fire Dance. These two elements then move closer together, the main theme pursued by the marcato motif, passing through several modulations. A brief coda, reminiscent of Albéniz, presents a quieter ending, before lightning repeated notes end the work.

Air de ballet sur le nom d’une jeune fille (Ballet Theme on a Young Girl’s Name), was composed during Rodrigo’s student period (1929/1930). In minuet and trio form, the work begins with thirteen notes in a tone row spelling out the name of Victoria Kamhi, his future wife. The piece is characterised by the contrasts between this melodic phrase in various patterns and intermittent dissonances in the bass which agitate the texture. A number of embellishments as the work progresses propel the music towards a greater tonal complexity. In the trio, there are new features such as drone basses and altered rhythms.

Zarabanda lejana (Distant Sarabande), dedicated ‘To the vihuela of Luis Milán’, was written in 1926, before Rodrigo went to Paris. The work achieved success as the composer’s first guitar piece, as a piano solo, and also for string orchestra. The keyboard’s resources bring out the sensitive distribution of chordal patterns, its evocative sonorities and, above all, the superb ornamentation. The sarabande unites the dignity of the dance and the subtlety of Rodrigo’s twentieth-century harmonies.

Finally, Cinco piezas del siglo XVI (Five Pieces of the Sixteenth Century), show Rodrigo’s love for music of the Spanish Golden Age. The set begins with Diferencias sobre ‘El Canto del Caballero’ (Variations on ‘The Knight’s Song’) by Antonio de Cabezón (c.1510-1566), composer and organist, who, like Rodrigo, was blind from childhood. Cabezón’s variations involve elegant contrapuntal textures and many dramatic moments. The theme, stated in the opening eight bars, is subjected in the first variation to ornamentation in the lower parts while the treble retains the knight’s song. At the end, Rodrigo freely introduces double octaves in a Busoni-like flourish. The second variation shifts the modified melody to the tenor, the third puts the theme in the alto, accompanied by embellishment, while the last section is characterized by well-marked octaves in an exciting fortissimo finale.

In the 1930s, through his friendship with the guitarist and musicologist, Emilio Pujol (1886- 1980), Rodrigo was attracted by the discovery of the vihuela, a sixteenth-century Spanish guitar, and its tablature printed in exquisite collections from the royal courts. Rodrigo brought his audiences into touch with these little masterpieces by piano transcriptions. Two Pavanas by Luis Milán from the Valencian court (1535/1536), and one from Enriquez de Valderrábano, published in 1547 in Valladolid, present enchanting melodic lines and the rhythmic beauty of this dance. Alonso Mudarra’s Fantasía que contrahace la harpa de Ludovico (Fantasia in the style of Ludovico’s Harp) uses remarkably sophisticated dissonant techniques and the original publication (Seville, 1546) provides advice to the player printed below the discordant passages that ‘from here to the end there are some false notes; when played well they do not sound bad’.

Graham Wade


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