Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Retablo de Navidad (Christmas Carols and Songs)
Himnos de los neofitos de Qumran (Hymns of the Neophytes ofQumran)
M??sica para un codice salmantino (Music for a SalamancanCodex)
Cantico de San Francisco de Asis (Canticle of Saint Francisof Assisi)
Joaquin Rodrigo was born on 22nd November 1901 in Sagunto,in the Spanish province of Valencia; he was the son of a businessman and theyoungest of ten children. A bout of diptheria left him blind from the age ofthree, but as a result of this misfortune he developed a strong internal worldand ultimately decided to dedicate himself to music. In 1906 the family movedto the city of Valencia, where Joaquin attended the local school for the blind.There he received his first music lessons and, on hearing Verdi's Rigoletto,became convinced that his vocation was to be a composer. Between 1917 and 1922he studied composition privately with Francisco Antich, a professor at theValencia Conservatory. His earliest compositions date from 1922 and anorchestral work, Juglares, was first performed two years later. By then Rodrigohad come into contact with the new wave of avant-garde composers active inMadrid at the time, but in 1927 he decided to move to Paris, where he studiedunder Dukas. He married the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi in 1933 -- they wereseparated briefly before being reunited in Paris in 1935, Rodrigo havingexpressed his yearning for his wife in his Cantico de la esposa. The Conciertode Aranjuez, the work that established his reputation as a composer, was firstperformed by the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza after the end of the SpanishCivil War. There followed the Concierto heroico for piano (1943), the Conciertode estio 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 ofhis catalogue. During the Franco regime, Rodrigo's works were the solerepresentatives of Spanish music abroad, at least until the appearance on thescene of the innovation of the Generation of '51, and his international renownreached its height in 1958 with the premi?¿re in San Francisco of Fantasia paraun gentilhombre. The guitarist Andres Segovia, the work's dedicatee, was thesoloist. The 1950s also saw the composition of two stage works: the balletPavana real (1955), on the life of the sixteenth-century Valencian composerLuis de Milan, and the zarzuela El hijo fingido (1955-60, after Lope de Vega).The latter was first staged in 1964 but was then neglected until 2001 when itwas revived as part of the composer's centenary celebrations with a productionat Madrid's Teatro de la Zarzuela. Rodrigo was also awarded an honorarydoctorate by the University of Salamanca in 1964, a significant recognition onthe part of the academic world of his creative efforts. In subsequent years therise of a new generation of Spanish composers meant he was no longer in thelimelight. Ironically enough, some of his more important commissions came fromoutside Spain, such as that for the symphonic poem A la busca del mas alla(1976), which came from the Houston Symphony for the bicentennial celebrationsin the United States. The flautist James Galway then commissioned a piece forhis instrument, the Concierto pastoral (1978), another in Rodrigo's famousseries of concertos, one of which, the Concierto para una fiesta of 1982, wouldbe his final composition, before his death some years later on 6th July 1999 atthe age of 97.
The Retablo de Navidad dates from 1952 and is made up of twogroups of songs: the Tres villancicos, for soprano and orchestra, and the Cincocanciones de Navidad, for soprano, bass, mixed chorus and orchestra. Rodrigoalso adapted the work into versions for voice and piano and for voice andguitar. Most of the texts are by Victoria Kamhi, with two by Lope de Vega andtwo by anonymous writers. These very simple songs clearly have their roots infolklore, as illustrated by the changing rhythm of Pastorcito santo, in whichthe repetition of the refrain adds to the desired atmosphere. This song hasfrequently been performed with great depth of feeling by Victoria de los?üngeles. Kamhi's best lyric is probably Coplillas de Belen and Rodrigo'ssetting is very traditional in style. La espera, dedicated to MontserratCaballe, is the penultimate song of the Canciones de Navidad, and despite itsdelicacy has a genuine sense of drama.
The Himno de los neofitos de Qumran was first performed inCuenca in 1965 as part of the Religious Music celebrations during Holy Week,under the baton of Odon Alonso. Its text is an adaptation by Victoria Kamhi ofan extract from the Dead Sea scrolls, discovered in 1947. Here Rodrigointerprets the cosmic yearning of the words through music rich in allegoricalcontent, as can be seen in the nine-note scale, with occasional glimpses oftonality, and in the writing for three sopranos to symbolize the threearchangels. The orchestral forces are reduced to a minimum, with no violins. In1975, again within the context of Cuenca's Holy Week celebrations and conductedby Odon Alonso, two further Himnos were given their premi?¿re, establishing thedefinitive version of this work. The two later pieces are similar in characterto the first, although in the last, more dramatic hymn, the male chorus takeson a leading r??le.
In 1953 Rodrigo was commissioned by the University ofSalamanca to compose a work to commemorate its seventh centenary. This was tobe the M??sica para un codice salmantino, a cantata for bass, mixed chorus andeleven instruments setting the Oda a Salamanca by Miguel de Unamuno, who hadbeen rector of the University. In its pared-down expressiveness, the cantataharks back to the Castilian Renaissance. Its premi?¿re took place at theUniversity on 12th October 1953, conducted by Odon Alonso and with Joaquin Deusas soloist.
The Cantico de San Francisco de Asis, for chorus andorchestra, was written in 1982 to mark the 800th anniversary of the birth ofthe saint. A relatively long work, and one of Rodrigo's last, its text is basedon one of the last poems written by Saint Francis, and despite an undeniablesimplicity of style, the music has considerable depth. For this reason, as thecritic Enrique Franco has noted, the work falls into the tradition of so-calledSpanish musical mysticism, as defined by Henri Collet. It was first given inLondon by Raymond Calcraft, its dedicatee, on 15th March 1986.
Enrique Martinez Miura
Translated by Susannah Howe