RODRIGO: The Flower of the Blue Lily
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Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Palillos y panderetas Dos danzas españolas
Per la flor del lliri blau Tres viejos aires de danza
A la busca del más allá
Joaquín Rodrigo was born on 22nd November 1901 in Sagunto, in the Spanish province of Valencia. A bout of diptheria left him blind from the age of four, but it was ultimately as a result of this misfortune that he decided to dedicate himself to music. In 1906 the family moved to the city of Valencia, where Joaquín attended the local school for the blind. There he received his first music lessons and, on hearing Verdis Rigoletto, became convinced that his vocation was to be a composer. Between 1917 and 1922 he studied composition with Francisco Antich at the Valencia Conservatory. His earliest compositions date from 1922 and an orchestral work, Juglares, was first performed two years later. By then Rodrigo had come into contact with the new wave of avant-garde composers active in Madrid at the time but, on failing to win the National Music Prize in 1925, he decided to move to Paris where he studied under Dukas. He married the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi in 1933 they were separated briefly before being reunited in Paris in 1935, Rodrigo having expressed his yearning for his wife in his Cántico de la esposa. The Concierto de Aranjuez, the work that established his reputation as a composer, was first given by the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza after the end of the Spanish Civil War. There followed the Concierto heroico for piano (1943), the Concierto de estío for violin (1944), Ausencias de Dulcinea for bass, four sopranos and orchestra (1948) and the Concerto in modo galante for cello (1949): the central works of his catalogue. During the Franco régime, Rodrigos works were the sole representatives of Spanish music abroad, at least until the appearance on the scene of the innovation of the Generation of 51, and his international renown reached its height in 1958 with the première in San Francisco of Fantasía para un gentilhombre. The guitarist Andrés Segovia, the works dedicatee, was the soloist. The 1950s also saw the composition of two stage works: the ballet Pavana real (1955) and the zarzuela El hijo fingido (195560). The latter was first staged in 1964 but was then neglected until 2001 when it was resurrected as part of the composers centenary celebrations with a production at Madrids Teatro de la Zarzuela. Rodrigo was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Salamanca in 1964, a significant recognition on the part of the academic world of his creative efforts. In subsequent years he became less productive, and the rise of a new generation of Spanish composers meant he was no longer in the limelight. Ironically enough, some of his more important commissions came from outside Spain, such as that for the symphonic poem A la busca del más allá (1976), which came from the Houston Symphony for the bicentennial celebrations in the United States. The flautist James Galway then commissioned a piece for his instrument, the Concierto pastoral (1978), another in Rodrigos famous series of concertos, one of which, the Concierto para una fiesta of 1982, would be his final composition, before his peaceful death some years later, on 6th July 1999.
Palillos y panderetas (Castanets and tambourines) dates from 1982, a year before Rodrigo ceased composing altogether. It was commissioned by Enrique Tierno, the mayor of Madrid, to be performed at the Second "City Clean-up" Conference. The works three short movements, Prado de manzanares, Pastoral and Alegre mañana, are full of colour and optimism, in keeping with the ambiance suggested by its subtitle, "Music for an imaginary tonadilla", a tonadilla being a one-act stage piece popular in eighteenth-century Spain (another example of Rodrigos love for the music and culture of earlier times). Although it is dedicated to the city of Madrid, Palillos is unmistakeably Valencian in character. It was first performed on 10th November 1982 at Madrids Centro Cultural by a chamber orchestra conducted by Odón Alonso.
The next work in this collection is even shorter: the Dos danzas españolas (Two Spanish dances) take no more than ten minutes to perform and were written in 1966 for the unusual pairing of castanets and orchestra. One of the more conservative and minor works of Rodrigo, the Danzas were created for and dedicated to the castanet virtuoso Lucero Tena, the soloist at the première on 22nd June 1966 at the Pérez Galdós Theatre in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.
By contrast, Per la flor del lliri blau (For the flower of the blue lily, 1934) is one of Rodrigos most significant works. Composed for substantial orchestral forces, this symphonic poem is based on a medieval Valencian legend: the three sons of a dying king go on a quest for the flower of the blue lily, whose magic powers will save their father. The youngest finds it but is killed by his ambitious brothers. Musically, the poem is constructed around two principal motifs, one lyrical, the other epic in nature, one of the earliest examples of this kind of noble, courtly music to appear in the composers production. The work was first performed in Valencia on 26th July 1934 by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Valencia under the baton of José Manuel Izquierdo. In that same year it was awarded the prize for best symphonic poem of the year by Valencias Fine Arts Society. Rodrigo himself transcribed the piece for wind band, a very common type of ensemble in his native region.
The Tres viejos aires de danza (Three traditional dance airs) bring together an orchestrated version of the Pastoral of 1926, originally written for piano, and a minuet and gigue composed in 1929. A reduced orchestra is used and the music has an air of great simplicity. The Orquesta Sinfónica de Valencia, conducted by José Manual Izquierdo, gave the first performance of the work in the Teatro Principal in Turia on 20th January 1930.
The symphonic poem A la busca del más allá (In search of what lies beyond) was the result of a 1976 commission from the Houston Symphony to commemorate the United States bicentenary. The "beyond" of the title is an allusion to space exploration: the work is dedicated to NASA. With its fragmented discourse, complex writing, atonal passages and unusual timbre, this is one of Rodrigos boldest and most modern orchestral works. It was first performed in Houstons Jesse H. Jones Hall by the Houston Symphony, conducted by Antoni Ros-Marbà, on 27th March 1978.
Enrique Martínez Miura
Translation: Susannah Howe