About this Recording
8.572984 - RODRIGO, J.: Guitar Works, Vol. 2 (Jouve)
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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901–1999)
Guitar Music • 2

 

Joaquín Rodrigo, composer of the renowned guitar concerto, Concierto de Aranjuez, is acknowledged as one of the great Spanish composers of the twentieth century. He extended the romantic impressionist tradition of Albéniz, Granados and Falla, but was deeply influenced by French music, having studied from 1927 to 1932 with Paul Dukas in Paris. Though blind from childhood Rodrigo wrote almost two hundred works, including orchestral, choral and ballet music, many concertos, a host of songs, and a quantity of instrumental solos for pianoforte, guitar, violin, cello, and other instruments.

The composer’s contribution to the guitar is now appreciated as one of the central pillars of the concert repertoire. Over the years Rodrigo explored the Spanish nature of the guitar, responding to the distinguished history of plucked instruments going back to the sixteenth century. Many strands of Iberian culture, including Catalan, Valencian, flamenco and folk-song, as well as elements from European music north of the Pyrenees, are integrated in his guitar writing and his achievement remains central in the instrument’s development since the 1940s.

Rodrigo’s compositions for solo guitar comprise no more than some 25 titles. Yet the significance of his output is far greater than the sum of its parts because of his extraordinary insight into the nature of the guitar, developed over decades. His works for the instrument range between Zarabanda lejana (Distant Sarabande) (1926), and his final contribution to the repertoire, Dos pequeñas fantasías (Two Little Fantasias) of 1987. Often Rodrigo wrote nothing for guitar for several years, being occupied during these periods with his normal creation of hundreds of pages of music for concertos, orchestral and choral works, songs, piano and other instrumental pieces.

Joaquín Rodrigo, a concert pianist, who had also studied the violin during his childhood, never played the guitar though once, in a casual moment, he was photographed holding one. The fact that Rodrigo was not a guitarist may explain some of the technical intricacies in many of his pieces, including above all, the Concierto de Aranjuez. Certainly Rodrigo remained indifferent to the usual limitations of the guitar in his compositions. Once he imagined a sound it had to be played whatever the protests of the player. This applied equally to other instruments. When the composer produced a concerto, Concierto como un divertimento, for Julian Lloyd Webber, the British cellist, only to be informed that some passages appeared rather too difficult, Rodrigo strenuously objected, adding a few more notes to the score for good measure.

Rodrigo’s guitar music is full of variety and contrast. He wrote no progressive studies or ‘easy’ pieces to tempt students. Every composition is a committed artistic statement intended to do honour to Spain’s national instrument by extending its expressive capabilities. Thus the works range from impressionistic geographically inspired vignettes to the more challenging forms of sonatas and distilled essences of traditional dances, as well as some masterpieces that are distinctly in a genre of their own.

It took a few years for Rodrigo’s solo guitar works to achieve the acknowledgement they deserved. To some extent they were overshadowed for decades by the mighty mountain of the Concierto de Aranjuez, but from the 1960s onwards, the impetus gathered and Rodrigo was ultimately appreciated as one of the great creative composers for the twentieth-century guitar. What could be better than an integral recording of Rodrigo’s guitar works to continue this process of enjoyment and understanding of his supreme contribution to the instrument’s long and noble history?

Rodrigo’s Toccata remained a mystery to the outside world for decades, though mentioned in a letter to Regino Sáinz de la Maza of 22 May 1936, where the composer promised the performer a new guitar piece ‘after the enormous and unparalleled fiasco of the Toccata’. It was not until 2005 that a manuscript of Toccata was discovered in the Regino Sáinz de la Maza archives, with the indication that it had been written in Estivella in August 1933.

The composition is an ambitious and serious work extending to some three hundred bars spread over eleven pages, with a small amount of guitar fingering inserted (presumably by Sáinz de la Maza) intermittently throughout the first twenty-six bars before petering out. From the outset Toccata establishes its credentials as an extraordinarily virtuosic work, its energetic momentum interrupted merely by two short expressive passages before once again embarking on its headlong flight.

It is clearly a guitar piece which may be considered well ahead of its era, awaiting a time when the technique of guitarists could reach a kind of parity with that of leading violinists or pianists. Since its discovery, Toccata has become an accepted part of the international repertoire with performances and recordings from a number of eminent guitarists. A work that was once considered rather too demanding on both player and instrument has triumphed, through the imaginative power of the composer, and become acknowledged as a worthy masterpiece of the twentieth-century repertoire.

Invocación y Danza (Homenaje a Manuel de Falla) dedicated to the great Venezuelan guitarist, Alirio Díaz, won First Prize in the 1961 Coupe International de Guitare, held in Paris. The French magazine Combat described the work as ‘a page full of song, poetry, Mediterranean finesse, and elegant writing’. Over the years performers have seen fit to modify Rodrigo’s score at certain points to facilitate various technical difficulties. On this recording the soloist has returned to the composer’s first indicated intentions to be faithful to both the letter and the spirit of the piece.

From a subtle opening of harmonics and fragments of arpeggios, the Invocación flowers into a highly intricate pattern of melody and broken chords in which delicacy of effect is matched by clarity and complexity. The Danza is the Andalusian polo, a reminder perhaps of the last of Manuel de Falla’s Seven Popular Spanish Songs. After the rhythmic opening bars, it develops into passages of technically demanding tremolo and brilliant showers of demisemiquavers, the tremolo returning eventually in an extended section. The piece closes with sparse harmonics, a fleeting but expressive reference to a theme from Falla’s ballet with song, El Amor Brujo, and a final murmuring arpeggio. The work, in both structure and shifts of mood, represents a powerful example of Rodrigo’s creative imagination.

Zarabanda lejana (Distant Sarabande), written in the 1920s, is dedicated to the vihuela of Luis Milán, and represents Rodrigo’s tribute to the Spanish Renaissance and Golden Age. Marked Andante quasi adagio, the composition begins with three bars of a single note A (played on the sonorous fourth string) before weighty chords of D major, characterised by an acciaccatura ornamentation on the top string from B to A. Its apparent simplicity belies the technical difficulty of achieving a smooth legato as the chords progress through ingenious changes while the player articulates the melodic line. The sarabande unites the dignity of the dance and the subtlety of Rodrigo’s twentieth-century harmonies. The work achieved success as the composer’s first guitar piece, as a piano solo, and as an arrangement for string orchestra.

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 eighteenth-century eclogue…inspired more or less by springtime, which, as you know, has inspired composers to write a great deal’. Pastoral became popular as a frequent encore in piano recitals in Spain. It has been transcribed here for guitar by Jeremy Jouve.

Pájaros de Primavera (Birds of Spring) was written in 1972, one of only two works Rodrigo wrote that year. It was dedicated to Take Takahashi, the wife of Dr Isao Takahashi, an oculist and promoter of the guitar in Japan. The composition evokes the flight of swifts, their fluttering movements created at the outset by ornamentation. Though Rodrigo is rarely an enthusiast for prolonged tremolo effects, the introduction of a tremolo melodic section is a strong feature of this work. It is a piece full of concentration and delightful effects with the composer at his most lyrical.

Tiento antiguo (1947), dedicated to the German guitarist Siegfried Behrend and published by Bote & Bock a full decade after its writing, was intended, according to Pepe Romero, ‘to evoke the music of the vihuela’. Yet the piece is closer to the sounds and techniques of the modern guitar or flamenco than to echoes of early instruments. The work could be regarded as an experiment in guitar sonorities where two elements of Rodrigo’s characteristic solo writing for the instrument are apparent in the beautiful use of arpeggios and an emphasis on treble voicings, evocative of flamenco, where the composer exercises a rigid economy in the number of notes employed. The composition relies for its effect on localised atmospherics and the nostalgic resonances of the title. Essentially this was for Rodrigo a return to the guitar, its sonorities and techniques, after some years of absence, the previous works being En los trigales (1938) and Concierto de Aranjuez (premiered in 1940).

The three Pequeñas piezas (Little Pieces), edited by Regino Sáinz de la Maza, were published in 1963. The composer described them as ‘three easy pieces, as the title suggests, with a distinct Spanish sound... It is important that the complicated technique of the guitar should pause in its progress for a while so as to encourage young guitarists’.

The first is a setting of the carol, Ya se van los pastores (There go the Shepherds), dedicated to Villa-Lobos. The tune is constructed over fragmented angular ostinatos, throwing the simplicity of the original into a context of dissonance and disturbance where the familiar becomes slightly threatening.

Por caminos de Santiago (Along the Roads of Santiago), marked Adagio, begins with split intervals and repetitive phrases. The effect is of dislocation and estrangement but with nostálgico written beneath the stave, as if Rodrigo is thinking back to a time when music could be otherwise, singing a sweeter, less startling language.

Pequeña sevillana is quite different. Without an atonal care in the world and with a vintage lento e cantabile middle section, this is a most charming miniature and a memorable encapsulation of the spirit of a flamenco dance, the sevillanas.

Un tiempo fue Itálica famosa (Once upon a time Itálica was famous), (1980), dedicated to Angel Romero and first published by Schott in 1989, was written, according to Rodrigo’s wife, Victoria Kamhi, after a period of creative stagnation and depression. This work, written apparently after his recovery from any such phase, may seem to refer indirectly to the composer’s own declining years by imagistically harking back to ancient civilisations, the passing of empires, and the fading glory of all human endeavour.

The significance of the title depends on the listener knowing about the existence of Itálica, a historical site a few kilometres north-west of Seville. This was a Roman town built by Scipio Africanus in 206 BC for the veterans of the Second Punic War, and became the birthplace of the Emperors Trojan, Hadrian, and Theodosius. In the second century Itálica reached its peak of fame and development but was pillaged in the barbarian invasions of the fifth century and ravaged further during the Moorish settlement. Some of the raw materials of the old town were used to build Seville. The site today has a paved street system, the remains of the city gate, a forum, a mosaic floor, and an amphitheatre.

Un tiempo fue Itálica famosa is a superb solo, deeply impassioned, and virtuosic in its demands on the performer. It confronts many dark emotions including the mysteries of time and death. Beneath the surface of the music a phantasmagoria is hidden as past and present merge in the act of musical creation. The piece divides into two sections, Lento/Allegretto and Allegro moderato (ritmico), with a reprise of the first section as a coda. The Lento has elements of tarantas, the flamenco song from the mining areas of Spain, and a multiplicity of rapid scales. The Allegretto assumes a chordal texture, fierce repetitive discords exuding a kind of savage and regretful nostalgia before further clusters of scales and arpeggios. The Allegro moderato evokes the sevillanas, and its characteristic blend of strummed chords and single note passages. The finale is particularly demanding with scale runs of extraordinary velocity.

Cançoneta, an arrangement for guitar by Jeremy Jouve of a youthfully lyrical work for violin and orchestra written in 1923, was described by Rodrigo as ‘enveloped in a sweet poetic aura of the Mediterranean’. Raymond Calcraft commented how the ‘nostalgic lyricism and perfect form of this little work was another demonstration of the arrival on the musical scene of an exceptional talent and a highly individual voice’.


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


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