About this Recording
8.557923 - RODRIGO: Piano Music, Vol. 2
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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Piano Music • 2

 

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 others, 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 pianoforte with insight and panache.

Joaquín Rodrigo was born on St Cecilia's Day, 22 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 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 9 November 1940. On 27 January 1941, Rodrigo's daughter Cecilia was born. Rodrigo's reputation now began to gain world-wide esteem, rising year by year until over the last decades of his life he became not only the best known Spanish composer but his Concierto de Aranjuez achieved the greatest popularity of all twentieth-century classical works. Over recent years the public have increasingly enjoyed performances and recordings revealing the sheer amazing variety of his prolific compositional output.

Danza de la amapola (Dance of the Poppy) represents the composer's return to writing for the solo piano in 1972 after a break of twenty years, during which he had applied himself to a wide range of works for orchestra, guitar, violin, voice, among other things. The piece, dedicated to his granddaughter, Cecilita, brings to mind Rodrigo's comment that 'for me the voices of my grandchildren are the best music'. It is a succinct, brilliant composition evoking J.S. Bach's Two Part Inventions in its clarity, concluding with a vivacious coda.

El album de Cecilia (1948) is a collection of 'six pieces for small hands' dedicated to the composer's daughter, Cecilia Rodrigo, who at the age of eleven gave the première at the Círculo Cultural Medina, Madrid, in May 1952. Though written for a young pianist, this album is quite technically demanding, involving two part polyphony and lively rhythms. The suite begins with María de los Reyes (Sevillanas), a miniature re-creation of the flamenco dance of Seville, the left hand based on the first five notes of a C major scale matched against a tricky sequential melody. A la Jota (Jota de las Palomas) (Jota of the Doves), is another dance form, characterized here by a slow middle section before a brief coda. Canción del hada rubia (Song of the Golden-Haired Fairy) and Canción del hada morena (Song of the Dark-Haired Fairy) are contrasting movements, a slow lyrical mood being followed by a vigorous piece with staccato melodic lines and dotted rhythms. El negrito Pepo (Little Black Pepo), referring to a family pet, offers two part writing with a rhythmic bass and intricate melody, as well as a contrasting middle section with lively rhythms. The finale, Borriquillos a Belén (Little Donkeys in Bethlehem ) presents filigree patterns of harmony and stabbing discords against an unpredictably capricious melody.

Tres danzas de España (Three Dances of Spain ) (1941), inspired by poems of Victor Espinós entitled Danzas viejas (Old Dances), are a complementary second album to Four Dances of Spain (1938) (now known as Cuatro piezas de piano). The first of the sequence, Rustica (dedicated to the architect and pianist Gabriel Abreu), begins with the rhythm of the opening four syllables of the poem, Tan-tarán-tan, que los trigos son verdes y los van a trillar (Tan-tarán-tan, how green are the wheatfields, soon to be harvested). This rhythm is reiterated throughout until the finale of resounding chords, presenting a mood of rustic tranquillity. Danza de las tres doncellas (Dance of the Three Maidens) dedicated to the pianist Nikita Magaloff, is a vivacious work evoking the graceful movements of the dancers. Finally Serrana, dedicated to Gonzalo Soriano, a pianist from Alicante, introduces reminiscences of a traditional dance possibly originating among the smugglers of the Mediterranean coast.

Sonatas de Castilla, preceded by a toccata, a modo de pregón (in the style of a proclamation), were composed between 1950 and 1951 to commemorate the composer's inauguration into the prestigious Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando established in the heart of Madrid. On 18 November 1951, Rodrigo gave the première of these pieces for this august gathering. The composer has commented how the title brings us to the realm of Castile, much loved by himself. The first Sonata alludes to the eighteenth-century binary form of Scarlatti, while the second, Sonata in F sharp minor, represents a sixteenth-century contrapuntal style extending through five sections. Sonata in D, harks back to the nineteenth century, being in ternary form, with two themes and marked by the incisive accents of the bolero. The Renaissance is also evoked in the next, Sonata in the style of a Tiento, developing through two part writing a single theme elegantly ornamented. In the final piece, Sonata in A, Rodrigo returns to the nineteenth century in a virtuosic display with a distinct flavour of the tonadilla.

Suite para piano, written in Valencia in 1923, reveals the composer's penchant for blending ancient dance forms with elements of contemporary complexity. The opening Preludio, for example, is a bitonal work ranging from brilliant arpeggio patterns to a gentler second section. Siciliana, an old Sicilian dance in a new costume, offers some remarkably varied harmonic and dynamic colours. The traditional Bourrée also has various surprises in store, beginning in E major as a two part invention at times reminiscent of the folk-song ' I'll go no more aroving' but concluding with humorous discords in C sharp major. Minué begins conventionally enough with a simple tune but a shift from G major to E major signals a distinctly discordant mood. Finally, Rigodón, originally a seventeenth-century French dance, presents the most complex movement. From a sparse introduction of a slightly off-beat tune against a staccato bass pattern, the piece develops into a dazzlingly virtuosic display, occasionally returning to the opening motif before setting off again in search of increasingly intricate accumulations of arpeggios and rhythmic figurations.

Canción y danza, written in 1925 and dedicated to the Valencian composer, Manuel Palau, is stylistically different from any other Rodrigo pianoforte compositions. The piece remained out of sight for many years until given its première by the pianist, Ana Vega Toscano, in Madrid on 22 November 1996, on the occasion of the composer's 95th birthday. The title suggests it may have been influenced by Federico Mompou (1893-1987), whose Canción y Danza No. 1 was published in 1924. The work begins with few notes, certainly characteristic of Mompou, but swiftly progresses to passages of considerable dissonance as distinct contrapuntal lines are combined in startling polytonal effects. In the Danza, marked Agitato, the composer embarks on a combination of pianistic virtuosity and extraordinary clusters of demisemiquavers grouped in complex timing patterns and set against each other. Why Rodrigo did not encourage the progress of this work can only be surmised. Perhaps he perceived this as a line of development, involving the extended exploration of contemporary dissonance for its own sake, which he had no wish to investigate further. At this early point in his career Rodrigo seems to have decided that this area of experiment was a barren path and he quickly returned to his tonal and melodic compositional preferences. Canción y danza remains an interesting anomaly among the composer's extensive output.

The following year, Rodrigo composed one of his finest piano works, Preludio al gallo mañanero (dedicated to Ricardo Viñes), involving a strong element of pianistic bravura. The composer has commented as follows:

Evidently we have here a work of ironic tendencies, written somewhat under the influence, style and intention of the keyboard composers of the eighteenth century…It occured to me to imitate the cockerel, in contrast to those impressionistic preludes composed at the beginning of the twentieth century, so suave, so poetic, and to match against them a more caustic work, imitating precisely the morning cockerel.

The work was written with two themes and as pianistic writing it is curious in that the right hand plays on the white keys and the left hand on the black. This produces a kind of bitonality, that is to say a double tonality, which is fascinating in an area of technical writing which I have worked on for several years.

On 19 March 1928, Rodrigo performed this work in Paris before an audience of 800 people on the occasion when Manuel de Falla received the Legion of Honour from the French Government. As a result he not only came to know the greatest of the Spanish Maestros but also attracted the attention of publishers including Max Eschig and Rouart-Lerolle, thus launching his career as a composer as well as enhancing his reputation as a concert pianist.

Tres Evocaciones (1981) were commissioned by the Ministry of Culture to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Joaquín Turina (1882-1949), with works also being contributed by other leading composers such as Abril, Marco, Molleda, Montsalvatge, Sorozábel, and Torroba. Rodrigo himself commented:

Tarde en el parque (Afternoon in the Park) expresses the murmurings of the little fountains, so characteristic of the beautiful Andalusian city of Seville. Noche en el Guadalquivir (Night on the Guadalquivir ) is a nocturne, a song full of nostalgia and poetry that accompanies the sound of the dark waters of this legendary river, disappearing into the distance. The third piece, Mañana en Triana (Morning in Triana), is very rhythmic and brilliant, evoking the happy hubbub of the picturesque suburb of Triana on a bright morning in spring. I have attempted to show, in this modest tribute, the unique atmosphere of Seville, a city so loved by Turina, immortalised in so many inspired works, famous throughout the whole world.

Graham Wade
Graham Wade is the author of Joaquín Rodrigo, A Life in Music, Joaquín Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez, and Distant Sarabandes: The Solo Guitar Music of Joaquín Rodrigo

 


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