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8.557223 - RODRIGO: Retablo de Navidad (Complete Orchestral Works, Vol. 7)
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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

Retablo de Navidad (Christmas Carols and Songs)

Himnos de los neófitos de Qumrán (Hymns of the Neophytes of Qumran)          

Música para un códice salmantino (Music for a Salamancan Codex)

Cántico de San Francisco de Asís (Canticle of Saint Francis of Assisi)


Joaquín Rodrigo was born on 22nd November 1901 in Sagunto, in the Spanish province of Valencia; he was the son of a businessman and the youngest of ten children. A bout of diptheria left him blind from the age of three, but as a result of this misfortune he developed a strong internal world and ultimately decided to dedicate himself to music. In 1906 the family moved to the city of Valencia, where Joaquín attended the local school for the blind. There he received his first music lessons and, on hearing Verdi’s Rigoletto, became convinced that his vocation was to be a composer. Between 1917 and 1922 he studied composition privately with Francisco Antich, a professor at the Valencia Conservatory. His earliest compositions date from 1922 and an orchestral work, Juglares, was first performed two years later. By then Rodrigo had come into contact with the new wave of avant-garde composers active in Madrid at the time, but in 1927 he decided to move to Paris, where he studied under Dukas. He married the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi in 1933 — they were separated briefly before being reunited in Paris in 1935, Rodrigo having expressed his yearning for his wife in his Cántico de la esposa. The Concierto de Aranjuez, the work that established his reputation as a composer, was first performed by the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza after the end of the Spanish Civil War. There followed the Concierto heroico for piano (1943), the Concierto de estío for violin (1944), Ausencias de Dulcinea for bass, four sopranos and orchestra (1948) and the Concerto in modo galante for cello (1949): the central works of his catalogue. During the Franco régime, Rodrigo’s works were the sole representatives of Spanish music abroad, at least until the appearance on the scene of the innovation of the Generation of ’51, and his international renown reached its height in 1958 with the première in San Francisco of Fantasía para un gentilhombre. The guitarist Andrés Segovia, the work’s dedicatee, was the soloist. The 1950s also saw the composition of two stage works: the ballet Pavana real (1955), on the life of the sixteenth-century Valencian composer Luis de Milán, and the zarzuela El hijo fingido (1955–60, after Lope de Vega). The latter was first staged in 1964 but was then neglected until 2001 when it was revived as part of the composer’s centenary celebrations with a production at Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela. Rodrigo was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Salamanca in 1964, a significant recognition on the part of the academic world of his creative efforts. In subsequent years the rise of a new generation of Spanish composers meant he was no longer in the limelight. Ironically enough, some of his more important commissions came from outside Spain, such as that for the symphonic poem A la busca del más allá (1976), which came from the Houston Symphony for the bicentennial celebrations in the United States. The flautist James Galway then commissioned a piece for his instrument, the Concierto pastoral (1978), another in Rodrigo’s famous series of concertos, one of which, the Concierto para una fiesta of 1982, would be his final composition, before his death some years later on 6th July 1999 at the age of 97.


The Retablo de Navidad dates from 1952 and is made up of two groups of songs: the Tres villancicos, for soprano and orchestra, and the Cinco canciones de Navidad, for soprano, bass, mixed chorus and orchestra. Rodrigo also adapted the work into versions for voice and piano and for voice and guitar. Most of the texts are by Victoria Kamhi, with two by Lope de Vega and two by anonymous writers. These very simple songs clearly have their roots in folklore, as illustrated by the changing rhythm of Pastorcito santo, in which the repetition of the refrain adds to the desired atmosphere. This song has frequently been performed with great depth of feeling by Victoria de los Ángeles. Kamhi’s best lyric is probably Coplillas de Belén and Rodrigo’s setting is very traditional in style. La espera, dedicated to Montserrat Caballé, is the penultimate song of the Canciones de Navidad, and despite its delicacy has a genuine sense of drama. 


The Himno de los neófitos de Qumrán was first performed in Cuenca in 1965 as part of the Religious Music celebrations during Holy Week, under the baton of Odón Alonso. Its text is an adaptation by Victoria Kamhi of an extract from the Dead Sea scrolls, discovered in 1947. Here Rodrigo interprets the cosmic yearning of the words through music rich in allegorical content, as can be seen in the nine-note scale, with occasional glimpses of tonality, and in the writing for three sopranos to symbolize the three archangels. The orchestral forces are reduced to a minimum, with no violins. In 1975, again within the context of Cuenca’s Holy Week celebrations and conducted by Odón Alonso, two further Himnos were given their première, establishing the definitive version of this work. The two later pieces are similar in character to the first, although in the last, more dramatic hymn, the male chorus takes on a leading rôle.


In 1953 Rodrigo was commissioned by the University of Salamanca to compose a work to commemorate its seventh centenary. This was to be the Música para un códice salmantino, a cantata for bass, mixed chorus and eleven instruments setting the Oda a Salamanca by Miguel de Unamuno, who had been rector of the University. In its pared-down expressiveness, the cantata harks back to the Castilian Renaissance. Its première took place at the University on 12th October 1953, conducted by Odón Alonso and with Joaquín Deus as soloist.


The Cántico de San Francisco de Asís, for chorus and orchestra, was written in 1982 to mark the 800th anniversary of the birth of the saint. A relatively long work, and one of Rodrigo’s last, its text is based on one of the last poems written by Saint Francis, and despite an undeniable simplicity of style, the music has considerable depth. For this reason, as the critic Enrique Franco has noted, the work falls into the tradition of so-called Spanish musical mysticism, as defined by Henri Collet. It was first given in London by Raymond Calcraft, its dedicatee, on 15th March 1986.


Enrique Martínez Miura

Translated by Susannah Howe

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