RODRIGO: Concierto serenata / Concierto de Aranjuez
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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Concierto serenata • Sones en la Giralda (Fantasía sevillana) • Concierto de Aranjuez
Joaquín Rodrigo was born on St Cecilia's Day, 22 November 1901, in Sagunto in the Spanish province of Valencia. In 1905 an outbreak of diphtheria impaired the young boy's vision and within a few years he lost every vestige of sight. From the age of seven he attended the School for the Blind in the city of Valencia where, his musical gifts becoming increasingly apparent, he played the violin and piano, the latter being his favourite. Later he took composition lessons with Francisco Antich Carbonell, the renowned organist and maestro. Having composed various apprentice pieces, Rodrigo was awarded an Honourable Commendation in 1925 in a national music competition for his orchestral work, Cinco piezas infantiles, first performed by the Valencia Symphony Orchestra two years later.
In the autumn of 1927, the young composer, following the precedent of so many Spanish musicians, travelled to Paris to enroll as a student at the Ecole Normale de Musique. His teacher, Paul Dukas, one of the masters of early twentieth-century French music, profoundly influenced Rodrigo, especially in aspects of orchestration. In 1928, the French President awarded Manuel de Falla the National Legion of Honour and Rodrigo was invited to perform his piano pieces at the ceremony, thus extending his growing reputation as composer and virtuoso pianist.
Around the same time, Rodrigo met Victoria Kamhi, a young Jewish pianist from Istanbul, the daughter of a businessman. Despite various difficulties, financial and otherwise, they fell in love and were eventually married in January 1933, but a year later hardship enforced months of separation, a dilemma resolved only when Rodrigo was awarded a prestigious Conde de Cartagena Scholarship, enabling him to study abroad and thus be reunited with his wife in Paris. In 1936 disaster struck again when the Spanish Civil War began and the scholarship fund was no longer available.
Eventually Rodrigo and his wife were compelled to seek refuge for eighteen months at the Institute for the Blind in Freiburg. In 1938 they were able to make a brief visit to Spain for a summer school in Santander but, failing to secure appropriate employment, were forced to return once more to Paris. In 1939 Victoria suffered a miscarriage brought on by exhaustion and poverty. Yet somehow, despite all these tribulations, Rodrigo found the strength and will to keep on composing and during this time completed the Concierto de Aranjuez, a work which would ensure his international fame.
Rodrigo returned to Spain a few days before the start of the Second World War and with the help of colleagues, including Manuel de Falla, was soon offered posts in broadcasting and the university sufficient to earn a living. After years of deprivation, the tide began to turn with the première in Barcelona of the Concierto de Aranjuez on 9 November 1940, followed by performances in other Spanish cities. On 27 January 1941, the anniversary of Mozart's birthday, Rodrigo's daughter, Cecilia, was born.
Though there were to be many setbacks over the years, Rodrigo's reputation as a great Spanish composer now began to gain global esteem. Throughout his long life Joaquín Rodrigo wrote more than two hundred compositions, comprising a prolific variety of orchestral pieces, concertos, songs and choral works, and pieces for piano, violin, guitar, cello, and other instruments, his music being increasingly in demand and more and more appreciated worldwide.
Joaquín Rodrigo was attracted to writing for the harp because of the instrument's 'joyful sonorities and affinity for diatonic music, that is to say for music of clarity and simplicity'. Concierto serenata (1952), dedicated to the eminent Basque harpist, Nicanor Zabaleta (1907-1993), was intended by Rodrigo 'as a message for the younger generation, evoking sounds of fiestas and customs of other epochs'. For this reason the composition is inspired by a vision of Spain two centuries or more ago, with references to composers such as Padre Antonio Soler (1729-1783), the great Catalan master of the harpsichord, and Francisco Barbieri (1823-1894), also a conductor and musicologist.
Concierto serenata begins with Estudiantina (Allegro ma non troppo) which follows the first movement structure of the classical concerto form, but, as Rodrigo informs us, 'the second theme introduced by the orchestra, is almost non-existent', being a refrain rather than merely a theme. The work continues as a kind of march with occasional quotations of familiar musical phrases. Intermezzo con aria (Adagio), the second movement, is an aria in the form of a canon, first performed by the harp and then interrupted by an allegretto section, a fugue which permits the aria to conclude pianissimo after the orchestra has developed the totality of its expressive emotion. The third movement, Sarao ('soirée') marked Allegro deciso, takes the form of a rondo, the main theme being alternated with secondary themes, though the composer considered these to be of equal significance. Rodrigo also commented how he had 'attempted to accomplish a very difficult thing - to make the entire work light, clear and joyful, like the harp's child-like soul, and in the manner of a Concerto Serenade'.
Sones en la Giralda (Fantasía sevillana) (1963), (Sounds of the Giralda, Seville Fantasia), dedicated to the Spanish harpist, Marisa Robles, is a superb celebration of the Andalusian city of Seville and its incomparable Giralda (lit. 'weathercock'), the tower of the great cathedral, completed in 1198 and originally the minaret of the mosque. Though Sones en la Giralda is in concerto style, it is really a single movement tone poem, developing a sequence of imaginative moods. Beginning with a lento section, nocturnal in its dissonances and dark colours, the piece proceeds to Allegro vivace, tempo de sevillana, creating the essential spirit of Seville's traditional flamenco dances with their characteristic rhythmic intensity. The work is vividly virtuosic throughout for the harpist in collaboration with a fiery accompaniment from the orchestra.
Concierto de Aranjuez, destined to be the most celebrated guitar work of the twentieth century, takes its name from the magnificent Aranjuez palace (once a royal summer residence), fifty kilometres south of Madrid. Since its première by Regino Sáinz de la Maza, its dedicatee, the work has received hundreds of performances and innumerable recordings, as well as being used for a ballet, in films and jazz contexts and also heard in a variety of popular arrangements. Rodrigo's notes for the première envisaged his concerto as being ideally performed by an 'imaginary instrument which might be said to possess the wings of the harp, the heart of the grand
piano and the soul of the guitar'.
Thus it is not surprising that in 1974 the composer presented his friend, Nicanor Zabaleta, with a harp transcription of the famous work. Rodrigo commented that while the guitar 'has its strings saturated in the roots of the spirit of Spanish music, and this is where the classical and flamenco traditions converge', the harp is also 'full of the spirit of crystalline brightness posse