About this Recording
8.570286 - RODRIGO, J.: Guitar Works, Vol. 1 (Jouve)
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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Guitar Music, Volume 1


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?

Tres piezas españolas (Three Spanish Pieces), dedicated to Andrés Segovia, were composed in 1954, the same year as Rodrigo’s second guitar concerto, Fantasía para un gentilhombre (Fantasia for a Gentleman). Fandango, with its ‘wrong note’ beginning, contains fine moments of lyricism accompanied by colourful chords, as well as many brilliant passages of triplets in which the player’s dexterity is exploited to the full. The composer wrote about this piece: 

The fandango was a very popular dance in the eighteenth century; it was the dance both of the nobility and the masses...The fandango is a slow dance and sometimes includes ballads which are sung. Its origin is uncertain though many experts claim the fandango is of Arabian descent. Except in the trio of this central section, this Fandango does not employ popular themes, but it is inspired by the sevillanas, an extremely intricate folk-dance. The melodic style reflects the gallantry and pomp of the eighteenth century in Spain and especially in Madrid.

The second movement, Passacaglia, more introspective in character, reveals how resonant a single line can be on the guitar, especially on the bass strings. Gradually the figurations over the repeated ground become more complex through succeeding sections until a chordal rasgueado (strumming) takes us into the atmosphere of the indigenous guitar of Spain, but with slightly altered chords from what might be expected. The harp-like brilliance of the following section precedes a fugato coda in fandango rhythm. The transition from the pensive opening to the vigorous finale is a masterly piece of composing requiring a fine judge of pace and shading from the performer. Zapateado is a virtuoso demonstration of the rhythms of the flamenco dance famed for its skilful footwork. Its perpetual motion, inventive modulation and subtle rhythms create not only picturesque images of vigorous choreography but also provide a dramatic climax to the triptych.

Sonata giocosa, Rodrigo’s first sonata for the guitar, was composed in 1958 and dedicated to Renata Tarragó, an earlier editor of the Concierto de Aranjuez. The work is naturally good-humoured, following concepts of the ‘sonatina’ rather than the weightier precedents implied by ‘sonata’. The opening Allegro moderato contains several echoes and associations from other works, such as the ‘wrong note’ and dissonant chord concepts of Fandango from Tres piezas españolas, the downward triple runs reminiscent of the Concierto de Aranjuez, and rapid scale passages in quasi-flamenco mode. The slow movement, Andante moderato, relies on a lightly dotted rhythm interspersed with firm chords, the key of E minor here contrasting with the A major of the outer sections. A composer can hardly be giocoso (Italian for ‘jocose, playful, jesting’) at a more leisurely tempo but this Andante moderato has charm and elegance and the thematic implications of its opening bars are fully explored. The Spanish writer, Sergio Fernández Bravo, described the piece as ‘like a pavana, lento, solemn, full of reveries and references to a past steeped in history’. The final Allegro is a vigorous zapateado dance in six/eight time, with strummed chords, and a strong flamenco flavour, reinforcing the predominant mood of wit and gaiety.

Por los campos de España (In the Spanish Countryside) is a group of impressionistic pieces written over several years. The first of these, En los trigales (In the Wheatfields) was composed during a short summer visit to northern Spain in 1938 after Rodrigo had spent several years abroad. It can be viewed both as a stimulating portrait of the Spanish landscape and as a song of joyous homecoming after long absence.

Junto al Generalife (Close by the Generalife) (c.1955), was dedicated to the eminent German guitarist, Siegfried Behrend. The Generalife was the pleasure palace, with beautiful gardens, of the former kings of Granada, its name derived from the Arabic, Gennat-Alarif – ‘the gardens of the architect’. Situated on the slopes of the Cerro del Sol, the Generalife overlooks the city. The composition is in two parts. The introduction is a gentle lento e cantabile, with fast scale passages in quasi-improvisatory style punctuated by full chords. An Allegro follows, reminiscent of the malagueña. The middle section consists of the melodic tremolo recalling the themes of the granadinas, the flamenco form originating among the gypsies of Granada. The final pages present the recapitulation and a coda which includes passages of fiery descending triplets.

Bajando de la meseta (Coming Down from the Plateau) was completed in 1954, and dedicated to Nicolás Alfonso, Professor of Guitar at the Brussels Conservatoire. Rodrigo explained the background to the work:

The plateau (meseta) referred to is the one that forms the region of Castilla la Nueva; coming down from this plateau we reach Andalusia and in this imaginary and musical journey we are suddenly confronted by loud singing that echoes out to the wide horizon and then changes into a quick, trembling dance. It is the real, bewitching Andalusia, with its pulsing rhythms, which rewards the traveller after the long journey.

En tierras de Jerez (In the Lands of Jerez), written for the famous Austrian guitarist, Luise Walker, was published originally in Antologia per Chitarra (Ricordi, 1973), along with compositions such as Poulenc’s Sarabande (his only work for guitar) and Petrassi’s Suoni notturni. Jerez is the sherry producing area of Spain around Jerez de la Frontera, some sixty kilometres from Seville on the way to Cádiz. Sherry was first exported to England from there in the reign of Henry VII. Originally the town was the Roman settlement called Asido Caesaris, so the word ‘sherry’ may distantly evoke the name of Caesar. Later Jerez became a Moorish settlement until recaptured in 1264 by Alfonso X. The composition offers a variety of moods and some exquisite melodic moments. The quiet opening, in six/eight time, deploys once again the single line concept culminating in tersely rhythmic chords. The theme returns (after the chords), stated an octave higher, ending in a rapid scale run. An intriguing section with strummed six-string chords follows, conjuring up images of the Andalusian guitar glimpsed from afar. After a melody in the bass accompanied by treble chords, an intricate arpeggio episode (broken into by further chords) is introduced. This part also ends with a virtuosic scale across the length of the fingerboard. The climax consists of strummed chords, a repeat of the bass melody section, and a further hearing of the original theme.

Entre olivares (Among Olive Groves), dedicated to Manuel López Ramos, was first published by Ediciones Musicales Madrid (1958) in company with En los trigales (edited by Narciso Yepes). It begins with discordant triplet chords (such as a chord of G major set against an augmented fourth, the C sharp). The energy of the piece, a rapid allegro, suggests that Entre olivares is less a serene amble through twisted little trees on Spanish hillsides than a boisterous peasant dance. The middle section presents a characteristic device of Rodrigo – a melodic line articulated on the bass strings contrasted against allegro gracioso quaver passages featuring the use of alternating pedal notes and rapid movement on the treble strings. The opening theme returns, with a frenetic coda, the last bars marked accelerando and siempre accelerando.

In 1960 Rodrigo composed Tonadilla for two guitars, a work which demonstrates the composer’s mastery of guitar idioms. Dedicated to the esteemed Presti-Lagoya Duo, the perfect appropriateness of the duo writing, the high level of virtuosity demanded, and the breadth of the sonata-like structure, reveal Rodrigo at full creative stretch. Rodrigo, in a short note, observed how the tonadilla is related to the Italian intermezzo, a musical interlude played between acts of a theatrical presentation, whether burlesque or tragedy, and thus a flexible form capable of expressing many diverse moods. Tonadilla is made up of brief themes developing in the style of a sonata as the three movements conjure up individual scenes according to the listener’s imagination. The language of Tonadilla is lucid and logical, inspired by the music of Scarlatti but absorbing within the first movement bitonal passages representative of both the twentieth-century and the traditional influence of Scarlatti’s harmonic writing.

Fandango del ventorrillo (Fandango of the Little Tavern) was originally a piano piece written in 1938, dedicated to Emile Trépard, a Parisian friend of the composer, and included in the suite Cuatro piezas para piano (Four Pieces for Piano). Emilio Pujol, guitarist and scholar, arranged this for two guitars and it was first published in Paris by Max Eschig in 1965. A subsequent arrangement by Pepe Romero was published by Ediciones Joaquín Rodrigo, Madrid, in 1993.

The pianists, Gregory Allen and Linton Powell, described this as ‘another of Rodrigo’s masterly exercises in two-part counterpoint...full of unexpected quirks such as off-beat accents, overlapping phrases, vehement interruptions, mercurial harmonic twists – and a diabolical little drumroll’. The piece certainly displays considerable indebtedness to the late Baroque, exploring harpsichord figurations with implications of the toccata style in dexterity and lightness of mood. Moreover, the repeated notes of the opening theme have various similarities with the melodic vitality of En los trigales, composed the same year. The transferring of Fandango del ventorrillo from pianoforte to plucked strings seems entirely natural, enhancing the piece by bringing it closer to the timbres and spirit of the eighteenth-century keyboard.

Graham Wade

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

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