About this Recording
8.572648 - RODRIGO, J.: Chamber Music with Violin - Sonata pimpante / 7 Cançons valencianes / Capriccio / Serenata al alba del día (León, Vinokur, Luque)

Joaquín Rodrigo (1901–1999)
Chamber Music with Violin


Joaquín Rodrigo is internationally renowned as the composer of the most celebrated guitar work of the twentieth century, the Concierto de Aranjuez, premiered in 1941. It remains one of the perennial masterpieces of the last century, universally admired and loved by an immense audience. But over recent years the public has become increasingly aware that Rodrigo was not just the composer of one popular concerto. He was actually a prolific artist, writing almost 200 compositions which comprise a variety of orchestral pieces, concertos, songs and choral works, as well as pieces for piano, violin, guitar, cello and other instruments. The magnitude of his musical achievement and his total contribution to Spanish culture are still being assessed. In recent years almost his entire output has been recorded, while new scholarly and biographical studies reveal his life and work to be of absorbing interest and international relevance.

In the twentieth century, Spain was often regarded as culturally apart from northern Europe. Certainly most leading Spanish composers such as Manuel de Falla (1876–1946), Joaquín Turina (1882–1949), Federico Moreno Torroba (1891–1982), and Federico Mompou (1893–1987), as well as Joaquín Rodrigo, ignored the atonal approaches to composition of the Viennese School of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, so often academically regarded as the main focus and identity of ‘twentieth-century music’. Most Spanish composers continued to write in traditional styles, laying emphasis on melodic lyricism, tonal harmony, and impressionistic or romantic philosophies. In this they may have missed opportunities for certain kinds of development, but at the same time they avoided the false turnings and blind alleys that characterized various composers of other nationalities during these years of frenetic modernism that frequently alienated concert-goers.

Awareness of Rodrigo’s music was for decades subject to some distortion, viewed almost entirely through the prism of the Concierto de Aranjuez. The composer was also misunderstood in terms of his life and personality. It is now apparent that his apprenticeship years were a time of struggle and deprivation, aggravated by the fact that he was blind from the age of three. Thus in the first half of his long life, he experienced disability, poverty, rejection, hardship, displacement through civil and imminent world war, virtual exile, uncertainty and desperation. The road to his personal summit was difficult almost beyond belief. Yet, with courage and the inspiration of genius, Rodrigo overcame all obstacles heroically and achieved his artistic destiny.

This recording of Rodrigo’s chamber music for violin reveals significant elements of his compositional styles in more intimate recital contexts than his many concertos. In his own fashion the composer seems often both experimental and progressive, each time exploring genres and musical textures with his own unique musical vocabulary. His music for violin is profoundly original. It is certainly extremely virtuosic and clearly imbued with Spanish intensity. Each work is distinct and varied, presenting severe challenges to the performer. The scope of his imagination is well demonstrated here in works that span almost the entirety of his creative life.

Sonata pimpante (‘Swish’ or ‘smart’ Sonata) for violin and piano (1966) was dedicated to Agustín León Ara, the composer’s son-in-law, who premiered the work at the Cercle Gaulois, Brussels, on 25th February, 1966. Following Tonadilla (1959) and Sonata giocosa (1960), this was the third sonata to adopt the form of the classical sonata, allegro, lento, and rondo.

The composition opens with rapid quintuplets from the piano over which is played the ‘pimpante’ theme. This virtuosic melody, which begins in the violin’s high register, is heard three times, interspersed with increasingly elaborate Andante moderato episodes in stark contrast. The movement ends with a sparkling coda.

The second movement, Adagio, is ‘interrupted’ (as Joaquín Rodrigo commented) by ‘a witty Sevillana, the popular dance of the great city of Seville. This is followed by a further Adagio, one of those ‘beautiful slow movements’ such as occurs in the composer’s Concierto de Aranjuez. The finale movement is a ‘devilish’ Zapateado, in rondo form in which both violin and piano are kept extremely busy in a perpetual motion of ecstatic energy.

Set cançons valencianes (Seven Valencian Songs) (1982) were also dedicated to Agustín León Ara, who gave the first performance with José Tordesillas (piano) in May 1982. This, the final work in Rodrigo’s compositions for violin and piano, represents the end of a significant chapter in his creative life, as well as a nostalgic return to the melodies of his native Valencia. Clearly the violin has a less complex task in these arrangements than in, for example, Sonata pimpante. The statements of the themes are generally straightforward without embellished departure from the melodic foundation.

The simple theme of the first song, Allegretto, accompanied on the piano by descending octave patterns, evolves into unexpected tonal alterations of the melody while the violin part progresses from the lower register to very high notes. It has been observed by the Rodrigo scholar, Raymond Calcraft, that Andante moderato has subtle Sephardic inflections from time to time. For the second appearance of the theme the accompaniment quotes Albéniz’s Asturias (Leyenda).

The third song, marked Allegro, has the vivacity of a children’s song, the violin performing vigorous three-part chords against a rhythmic staccato accompaniment. Andante moderato e molto cantabile is a serene theme against a gently rocking accompaniment which between statements of the theme imitates the chiming of church bells. Andantino, the fifth song, in six-eight time, takes us through ingenious tonal progressions against an agitated rhythmic accompaniment. The violin and piano weave intense patterns of dialogue with contrapuntal repetitions of the melody following the violin’s lead.

The sixth song, Andante religioso, opens with the violin playing intervals of thirds and occasional fourths. The piano accompaniment, when it enters, features strong bell-like chords evoking ecclesiastical processions. The final movement is a Tempo di Bolero (Moderato), with a jaunty theme backed up by a virtuosic accompaniment.

Capriccio (Ofrenda a Sarasate) (Tribute to Sarasate) (1944), Rodrigo’s only composition for solo violin, was written at the invitation of Radio Madrid to commemorate the centenary of the great violinist Pablo Sarasate (1844–1908). The work was dedicated to the Spanish violinist Enrique Iniesta (1906–1969) who gave the first performance in Madrid in January 1946.

In an introduction to Capriccio, the composer comments that he was interested in whether it ‘was possible to write an attractive violin piece’ without being restrained by ‘the heavy halter of its mentor, the piano, getting in the way’. Thus he ‘opened the book of the old magical charms of the guitar, with its eternal cabalistic formulas of Spanish music’ and transferred those elements to the violin, an instrument like a sprightly horse without harness now unimpeded by its heavy rider, ‘the cold and noble piano’.

Serenata al alba del dia (Serenade to the Dawn) (1982) was dedicated to and edited by Jiří Knobloch (1931–2012), Czech guitarist, luthier, composer, and producer of fine guitar strings, who settled in Munich, Germany. The work was premiered at the Ambassador Auditorium, Los Angeles in December 1983 by Agustín León Ara and Pepe Romero.

The first movement, Andante moderato, begins with a gentle guitar accompaniment with lyrical snatches of melody alternating with staccato single notes. The violin, when it enters, presents a ballad-like theme contrasting with sudden bursts of staccato flourishes. Allegro opens with staccato guitar chords alternating with the violin’s rhythmic octaves. The main theme then comes in, a lively dance tune. A middle section has bell-like scale passages where the two instruments come together. The coda reverts to Spanish style chords supporting the violin’s arabesques.

Dos esbozos (1923) (Two Sketches), dedicated to the violinist and composer Abelardo Mus (1907–1983), was the only work to be given an opus number (Opus 1) by Rodrigo. The first of the two, La enamorada junto al pequeño surtidor (The Young Girl in Love beside the Little Fountain) depicts a young girl’s emotions set against the sound of water from a fountain. This was written as a memory of the Parterre gardens in Valencia, where Rodrigo played as a child—‘Everything I sensed in those gardens—fountains, jasmine—was expressed in this piece’. Pequeña ronda, the second composition, has the characteristics of a lively folk dance.

Rumaniana (1943), dedicated to the Spanish violinist, Josefina Salvador (1920–2006), is based on Rumanian dance tunes. The work begins with weighty chords and an impassioned cry from the violin, followed by a quasi-improvisatory cadenza passage. The violin continues to sing the high notes until a gentle Andante section introduces a plaintive theme, with harp-like chords from the piano. This is followed by Hora, marked Allegro vivace, a wild dance with multiple trills, slides, and pounding rhythms. The work ends with declamatory, triumphant chords from both instruments.

Graham Wade

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

Grateful acknowledgements are due to El arte de Joaquín Rodrigo by Antonio Gallego and to Joaquín Rodrigo: Voice & Vision by Raymond Calcraft and Elizabeth Matthew.

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