About this Recording
CD-16261 - RODRIGO, J.: Chamber Music (Aria Antigua) (Wolff, Wirsching, Dongois, Gorne, Reetz, Araki)
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The youngest of ten children of a prosperous family, Joaquín Rodrigo was born on that most musical day, St Cecilia’s Day, November 22, 1901 in Sagunto, Spain. Diphtheria took his sight when the boy was three. Rodrigo would later muse that, had it not been for his blindness, he might have pursued a different career. Yet the absence of vision left him ever more sensitive to sounds. Thus, during family evenings at the theatre, it was the music that touched his heart.

Assisted by Rafael Ibáñez, whom Rodrigo’s parents employed as their son’s companion, the youth began studies in piano, harmony, and composition. Encouraged by early successes, Rodrigo moved in 1927 to Paris to pursue advanced training with Paul Dukas. The decision set him on the same path blazed in earlier decades by Rodrigo’s elder countrymen. Some saw Rodrigo as destined to join their number. Dukas himself observed, “I have seen the arrival in Paris of Falla, Albéniz, Rodrigo. I’m not sure that this last is not the most gifted of the three.”

By the time of his marriage in 1933 to Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi, Rodrigo was already attracting favorable attention. Yet the Thirties would be challenging. Civil war raged in Spain, and the Rodrigos eked out an existence in Paris and Freiburg (Germany) by giving lessons in music and Spanish. Only at the close of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 (with an even larger conflict looming on the horizon) could Rodrigo return to his homeland to accept a professorship at Seville University.

After World War Two, Rodrigo became professor of music history at the University of Madrid, where he would serve for thirty years. Thoroughly grounded in the rich heritage of art music, Rodrigo reigned as a determined neo-classicist, even as other composers toyed with the extremes of dissonance and chaos. In both his teaching and his compositions, Rodrigo stood for grace and order.

Rodrigo earned numerous accolades throughout his life. Yet his greatest honor came in his ninetieth year, when King Juan Carlos I named him “Marqués de los jardines de Aranjuez”. For though hundreds of composers have served the aristocracy, few have been elevated to it. The title recalls Spain’s historic palace of Aranjuez, favored residence of Spanish kings and inspiration for Rodrigo’s best-loved composition, the Concierto de Aranjuez. It was there at Aranjuez where, in July 1999, Spain’s greatest composer of the century was buried.

A self-professed lover of literature, Rodrigo was particularly moved by poetry, and his songs show a natural affinity for vocal lyricism. The earliest song in this collection, Coplas del Pastor Enamorado, dates from his Paris years in the 1930s. Reminiscent of Canteloube’s Auvergne songs, it tells of a lovelorn shepherd, his sorrows thrown into relief by the natural beauty that surrounds him. The great Spanish soprano Victoria de los Angeles included the song in her repertoire, along with the Tres Villancicos (Three Christmas Carols). From this set, Rodrigo himself singled out Pastorcito Santo as his second-favorite of all his songs, after Cantico de la esposa (Song of the Bride) written for his wife soon after their marriage.

Like many of his countrymen, Rodrigo was sensitive to his nation’s rich cultural heritage. Folias Canarias, inspired by the indigenous dances of the Canary Islands, was imagined as a lullaby for the islands themselves, lulled to sleep by the murmuring sea. A more courtly inspiration lies behind the three love songs that comprise Líricas Castellanas (Castilian Lyrics). Scored for soprano, guitar, recorder and the Renaissance wind instrument cornett, the songs seek to evoke the mood of Renaissance dances. Liricas Castellanas were dedicated at her request to Spain’s Queen Sofía, who had attended the 1980 premiere.

The “Serenade to the Dawn” (Serenata al Alba del Dia) is drawing upon themes from the composer’s native Valencia. The work is cast in two brief movements. The first is serene in mood, the second joyous and agitated, as if with the rising sun, a flock of small birds has taken to wing. Originally a flute and guitar piece from 1982, the popular Serenata was transcribed for violin and guitar the following year.

Aria Antigua (1959) also exists in multiple scorings. What Rodrigo conceived as a flute and piano piece he immediately transcribed for flute and guitar, then later for flute and harpsichord. An orchestration by Wystraete also exists. The piece demonstrates one of Rodrigo’s favorite interests: Spanish music of the Renaissance, in the days of the guitar’s predecessor, the vihuela. Also evocative of the past is the Preludio y Ritornello for harpsichord (1978), in which Rodrigo recalls Bach’s habit of prefixing an introduction to a more technical theme.

The solo harp Impromptu resulted from a commission for the Royal Music Conservatory of Madrid. Harpist Ana Maria Martini Gil premiered the piece in 1959.

Folk elements abound in Rodrigo’s guitar music, in which the Flamenco-like rasgueado strumming effect is often heard. ¡Que buen caminito! from Dos pequeñas fantasías is one such work. The “Two Little Fantasies”, the last of Rodrigo’s many solo guitar works, date from 1987, over fifty years after the earliest work on this CD. The first of the two pieces is an unusually tranquil sevillana, more like a memory of a dance than the dance itself. The second piece, Ecos de Sefarad, offers a lively melody of Sephardic inspiration.

Notes by Betsy Schwarm


Recommended Reading:
A Singer’s Guide to the Songs of Joaquín Rodrigo by Suzanne Rhodes Draayer
Distant Sarabandes: The Solo Guitar Music of Joaquín Rodrigo by Graham Wade
Joaquín Rodrigo: a Life in Music by Graham Wade

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