About this Recording
8.572365 - TARREGA, F.: Guitar Music (Bergstrom)

Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909)
Guitar Music


Francisco de Asís Tárrega y Eixea was born on 21 November 1852 in Villareal, a small town in the Valencian province of Castellón on the East coast of Spain. He received early training in piano and guitar, but soon surpassed his local teachers and in early adolescence was able to contribute to the family budget by performing at local establishments.

Francisco, or “Quiquet” as his family would affectionately call him as a child, had suffered from a severe eye infection at the age of three. In 1866 he underwent surgery that most likely saved him from blindness, but for the rest of his life his vision was permanently damaged. Thanks to a wealthy businessman he was able to acquire a guitar made by Antonio de Torres, later replaced by another instrument by the same maker, built in 1888, which then became his favourite. It is a replica of this very guitar, made by the Swedish luthier Lars Jönsson and tuned to a = 435 Hz, which was used in the present recording.

Tárrega studied violin, piano and harmony at the Conservatory of Madrid. From 1876 on, however, the guitar became his main focus and his performances become more frequent. At a concert engagement in Novelda, west of Alicante, he met María Rizo and they married in December 1881. In the following few years she bore him four children, only two of whom, Paquito and Marieta, reach adulthood. This was also an eventful time in Tárrega’s career. His success on the concert platform enabled the family to look for a permanent home and in the mid 1880s they moved to Barcelona. There Tárrega came to know Malats, Albéniz and Granados. Together with his brother Vicente, a violinist at the opera house, and the young Pablo Casals, he formed a chamber music group.

As Tárrega’s fame increased, the number of young guitarists wishing to study with him grew. Apparently he never charged for the lessons, something that did little to help his family budget, but then, Francisco Tárrega seems to have been genuinely uninterested in material things. Many anecdotes bear witness to his generous nature and uncompromising attitude to art. His pupils, or disciples, as they are often called—Miguel Llobet, Daniel Fortea, Pepita Roca, Josefina Robledo and Emilio Pujol being the best known—have described their beloved master as a charismatic romantic and a dreamer, unpretentious, kind and thoughtful. Llobet even called him “angelic”.

An ordinary day in the life of Tárrega was strictly organized, with long working sessions assigned to technical and musical exercises, composing or transcribing and teaching. He would quite happily start his daily practice even before getting out of bed and keep working into the small hours. His concert schedule forced him to spend considerable time on the road. Touring in those days was often a more casual affair; after travelling to a given town or city it would be necessary to organize various kinds of performance on the spot. Engagements included theatres or concert halls, but concerts in private salons or improvised outdoor functions were just as common and concert fees varied greatly. Tárrega appears to have preferred intimate settings and small, devoted groups of listeners. With a cigarette in his mouth—sparks would frequently fall down and leave burn marks on the guitar—he would keep his audience mesmerised for hours.

Tárrega’s concert programmes usually included at least a piece or two of his, but above all they featured arrangements of works by the great masters: Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Schumann in addition to popular opera tunes by Verdi and Bizet. Concert reviews show fascination with the fact that such a “simple” instrument as the guitar, usually associated with popular music, was capable of producing such noble sounds in the hands of this magnificent artist.

During the 1890s Tárrega undertook tours to Paris, London and Monte Carlo. Not only did his eye condition trouble him, but now also rheumatism. Frequent nail problems were another source of frustration. During a two-year period at the beginning of the new century, Tárrega made no public performances, but focused on developing his technique. When he returned to the stage at a concert in Barcelona in June 1902, he introduced a new kind of tone production. Instead of striking the string with the nail, he now used the flesh of the fingertip only. This was by no means a new technique, but combined with frequent use of apoyando or “rest stroke” it has been perceived as ground-breaking. (Other innovations attributed to Tárrega are the freeing of the right hand by abandoning the support of the little finger against the soundboard and the use of a footstool.) Those who heard Tárrega during this phase of his career have talked about his unparalleled beauty of sound, which, sadly, was never recorded.

A tour of Italy in 1903 turned out a happy episode in Tárrega’s life and his fame in musical circles became almost legendary. In 1905, however, his health started to decline. Two years later he suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body and brought his career to a temporary halt. Through great will-power he managed to rehabilitate himself to such a degree that he was able to perform in public again. In December 1909, however, he suffered another stroke, which turned out to be fatal. On 15 December he died in his home on Carrer de València 274, surrounded by members of his family. The burial took place a few days later but in December 1915 Tárrega’s remains were transported to a mausoleum in Castellón.

Francisco Tárrega’s catalogue of works comprises close to a hundred pieces, about half of them short preludes and etudes, and over two hundred arrangements and transcriptions. Miguel Llobet is among those who have praised his preludes in particular. They were written over a twenty-year period between 1889 and 1909. Only nine of them were published during the composer’s lifetime. Nos. 8 and 9 are in the style of etudes and are omitted here. Thus, of the present sixteen preludes, only Nos. 1–7 follow Tárrega’s original sequence. I have selected the remaining nine from the over twenty pieces that have been posthumously published as “preludes”. Of course, we cannot be sure whether they were ever intended for publication, but I personally think that the sixteen pieces presented here make up a very strong work.

Preludio sobre un tema de Mendelssohn is an arrangement of a section near the end of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s orchestral concert overture, The Hebrides or Fingal’s Cave, Op. 26, while Oremus is an extract from Robert Schumann’s Phantasientanz No. 5 from Albumblätter, Op. 124, for piano. There is a tradition among guitarists of performing this piece slowly and pensively. I have paid closer attention to Schumann’s original marking: Sehr rasch. The introduction to Las Dos Hermanitas, found in at least one edition of the work, is almost identical to that of Frédéric Chopin’s Valse Brillante, Op. 34. Isabel is an arrangement of two themes from Kuss-Walzer, Op. 400, for orchestra by Johann Strauss II and Estudio brillante de Alard is a transcription of Study No. 2 for solo violin by the French composer, Delphin Alard (1815–1888). Finally, I should mention that Recuerdos de la Alhambra was inspired by a visit to the Alhambra palace, near Granada, and that measures 13–16 of Gran Vals must be one of the most frequently heard tunes of our time: it is the ring tone for Nokia mobile phones.

Mats Bergström

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