JOAQUIN RODRIGO VIDRE (1901-1999)
Marqués de los Jardines de Aranjuez
LIFE AND WORKS
Joaquín Rodrigo was born in Sagunto, in the province of Valencia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, on St Cecilia's Day, 22 November 1901. He was the youngest of ten children born to Vicente Rodrigo Peirats, a landowner from Almenara (Castellón). His mother, Vicente Rodrigo's second wife, was Juana Vidre Ribelles. In 1905 an epidemic of diphtheria occurred in Sagunto, as a result of which many children died and Joaquín became virtually blind. The composer would say later, without bitterness, that this personal tragedy probably led him towards a career in music.
The Rodrigo family moved to Valencia when Joaquín was four years old, where he entered a college for blind children to begin his education. He quickly showed particular interest in literature and music. In Valencia the Rodrigo family often went to the Apollo Theatre, and young Joaquín was particularly attracted by the music which accompanied the performances. He began to receive instruction in music from teachers at the Valencia Conservatoire, although he did not formally enrol there. His teacher of harmony and composition was Francisco Antich, and the musicians Enrique Gomá and Eduardo López Chávarri, whose classes he attended, also exercised an important influence on his musical education. As far as the literary culture was concerned, which Rodrigo prided himself in all his life, this was due in great part to the work of Rafael Ibáñez, who was employed by the family to look after Joaquín, but who was also his companion, secretary and copyist in subsequent years. "Rafael lent me the eyes I did not have", the composer used to say about the friend who read him the masterpieces of Spanish literature, together with works of philosophy, essays and monographs on the most varied subjects.
At the beginning of the 1920s Joaquín Rodrigo was already an excellent pianist and composition student familiar with the most important contemporary trends in the arts. His first compositions were written in small musical forms, although his first large orchestral work dates from1924. His opus 1, Two Sketches for violin and piano ('La enamorada junto al surtidor' and 'Pequeña ronda'), was written in 1923. The same year also saw the composition of the Suite para piano, the Cançoneta for violin and string orchestra, and an austere Ave Maria for voice and organ which he arranged years later for unaccompanied choir. The Berceuse de otoño, also from 1923, was composed originally for piano, but Rodrigo orchestrated it in the 1930s and also incorporated it later into the beautiful Música para un jardín of 1957. His first work for large orchestra, Juglares, was successfully premiered by the Valencia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Enrique Izquierdo in 1924. Encouraged by this triumph, Joaquín entered a national competition the following year with a much more ambitious work, Cinco piezas infantiles, which received an honourable mention from the jury and was premiered with great success in Valencia and Paris in 1927 and 1929 respectively. By the latter date Joaquín was studying with his French master Paul Dukas in the École Normale de Musique in Paris. Rodrigo had decided to move to France in 1927, since the French capital had been from the beginning of the century an important cultural centre for Spanish writers, painters and musicians. It was to be expected, therefore, that the young Joaquín Rodrigo would want to follow in the footsteps of Albéniz, Falla and Turina.
The youthful works of Joaquín Rodrigo are characterized by a delicate lyrical style, orchestral colours which are at times quite daring, and a harmonic vocabulary reminiscent of Ravel and Granados, among others. These characteristics, and others, would be confirmed and developed through the years of study with Paul Dukas.
On his arrival in Paris, Rodrigo and Rafael Ibáñez, his friend and secretary, took lodgings in the house of the Valencian painter, Francisco Povo, who introduced them to numerous artists, musicians and editors. In the class of Paul Dukas, where Joaquín Rodrigo studied for five years, there were also the Mexican composer, Manuel Ponce, and the Basque conductor, Jesús Arámbarri, who would later become a great interpreter of the works of Rodrigo. Paul Dukas described Joaquín Rodrigo as perhaps the most gifted of all the Spanish composers he had seen arrive in Paris. An event of great significance in Rodrigo's life occurred at that time, a meeting with Manuel de Falla, which was the start of a lasting friendship between the two. Falla, who was to be admitted as a member of the French Légion d'Honneur, insisted that in the concert which was to follow the ceremony not only his own music but also the music of young Spanish colleagues such as Hálffter, Rodrigo and Turina should be heard. Rodrigo was always grateful to Falla for that opportunity to perform his own music before a distinguished and discerning audience.
On a personal level it was also during these years that the most important event of all occurred for Joaquín Rodrigo, his meeting with the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi, whom he married in 1933. Victoria Kamhi was one of the most important influences in Joaquín Rodrigo's career. An excellent pianist, she decided to give up her professional career when she married, in order to dedicate herself exclusively to her husband. Her ability to speak several European languages together with an extensive knowledge of different European cultures made Victoria the ideal companion for Joaquín. Many years later Victoria published an extensive autobiography recounting her childhood, her marriage to Joaquín, and the story of their lives. Its title was De la mano de Joaquín Rodrigo: Historia de nuestra vida.
The following year, 1934, after settling in Valencia with his wife, Joaquín Rodrigo composed various songs, among them the famous Cántico de la esposa, to words by St John of the Cross, and his largest work so far, the symphonic poem, Per la flor del lliri blau. With this work he obtained the Círculo de Bellas Artes Prize in Valencia. In Madrid, and again thanks to the support of Manuel de Falla, Rodrigo was awarded the Conde de Cartagena Scholarship, which allowed him to return to Paris with Victoria. Joaquín began to compose assiduously, and works from this period include some of his most important songs and piano pieces. At the same time the composer was attending the classes given by Maurice-Emmanuel at the Sorbonne, and also those of André Pirro. He also attended the last classes of his teacher, Paul Dukas. These courses, which covered music from Lassus to the history of opera, were an important source of inspiration for Rodrigo, who was now beginning to have a very solid musical education. In the summer of this same year, the Rodrigos went to Austria to cover the Salzburg Festival as official reviewers for Le monde musical in Paris, and the Valencian paper, Las provincias. It was in Salzburg that Rodrigo composed his moving tribute to the memory of Dukas, the Sonada de adiós, at the instigation of the Revue musicale.
After obtaining the renewal of the Conde de Cartagena Scholarship, Joaquín Rodrigo and his wife decided at the beginning of June 1936 to spend some time in Germany, at Baden-Baden. But on the 18th July news came that the Spanish Civil War had broken out. The three years which followed were perhaps the most difficult in the lives of Joaquín and Victoria, since the Scholarship was not renewed again. They decided to give Spanish and music lessons in their room at the institute for the blind in Freiburg, in the Black Forest, where they were received as 'Spanish refugees'. The composer made a study of bird-song there, as well as composing a number of songs, among them the Canción del cuclillo to a text by Victoria, inspired by the beauty of their surroundings.
In the spring of 1938 Joaquín Rodrigo was invited to teach on the summer courses at the University of Santander, which had just opened. The Rodrigos were thus able to renew their contacts with Spanish cultural life, in spite of the difficulties caused by the Civil War. Among the composer's new colleagues were the writers Gerardo Diego and Dámaso Alonso, and the critic Eugenio d'Ors. A very significant encounter took place on the return journey to Paris, when during a lunch with the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza and the Marqués de Bolarque Joaquín enthusiastically agreed to the idea of writing a concerto for guitar. This work would be the Concierto de Aranjuez. During their last year of residence in the French capital Rodrigo gave piano recitals, undertook various orchestrations which were commissioned from him, and composed a number of songs in light-music style. But when winter arrived the Rodrigos began to consider a permanent return to Spain, once the country was finally at peace. In 1939 Joaquín received a letter from Manuel de Falla in which the latter suggested a post as Professor of Music at either Granada or Seville University. Antonio Tovar also offered him a position in the Music Department of Radio Nacional. Since the Rodrigos were particularly anxious to reside in the Spanish capital, they opted for the second possibility. Joaquín and Victoria finally returned to Spain on the 1st September 1939, two days before the outbreak of the Second World War, carrying with them in a suitcase the manuscript of the Concierto de Aranjuez.
The decade of the 1940s was especially important to Joaquín Rodrigo on both professional and personal levels. From 1939 he held the post of Head of the Artistic Section of ONCE, the Spanish national organization for the blind. He was also from 1940 music assessor for Radio Nacional. Cecilia, his only child, was born in 1941, and the following year the composer received the National Music Prize for his Concierto Heroico for piano and orchestra. In 1942 he began work as music critic for the newspapers Pueblo, Marca and Madrid. In 1944 and 45 he was the Director of Music for Radio Nacional, and from 1947 onwards, for the next thirty years, he occupied the position of Manuel de Falla Professor of Music at the Complutense University of Madrid. In 1945 he was awarded the Encomienda de Alfonso X el Sabio. The national celebrations of the four-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Cervantes in 1948 inspired one of his most important works, Ausencias de Dulcinea, which was awarded the Cervantes Prize in April of that year.
On the 18 November 1951 Rodrigo was admitted to a place as a permanent member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. After his formal address, which took as its subject 'Taught technique and unlearned inspiration', he performed the Cinco Sonatas de Castilla con Toccata a modo de Pregón, which had been specially written for the occasion. In 1953 the composer was awarded the Gran Cruz de Alfonso X el Sabio and was elected Vice-President of the Spanish Section of the International Society for Contemporary Music. In 1954, at the request of the guitarist Andrés Segovia, Rodrigo composed the Fantasía para un gentilhombre for guitar and orchestra, the first performance of which took place the following year in San Francisco, in the presence of the composer
During all these years the composer received many honours both in Spain and from abroad in recognition of his work. He was named Officier des Arts et des Lettres in 1960 and member of the Légion d'honneur in 1963 by the French government, Doctor of Music honoris causa by the University of Salamanca in 1964, and in 1966 he received the Gran Cruz del Mérito Civil and the Medalla de Oro al Mérito en el Trabajo. In 1963 he travelled to Puerto Rico to teach a course in the History of Music at the University of Río Piedras, where he remained until February 1964. These were also years of great personal happiness for Joaquín and Victoria, with the marriage of their daughter Cecilia to the violinist Agustín León Ara and the subsequent birth of their two granddaughters, Cecilita and Patricia.
Numerous concerts, recitals and festivals were beginning to take place throughout the world dedicated to Joaquín Rodrigo, now one of the most popular figures in contemporary classical music. A new premiere would take the Rodrigos to the United States again in 1970, that of the Concierto Madrigal for two guitars, which took place in Hollywood. In the following years Joaquín Rodrigo was named Doctor of Music honoris causa by the University of Southern California (1982), the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (1988), the Universidad de Alicante and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (1989), and the University of Exeter, Great Britain (1990). He was commissioned by two well-known British soloists, James Galway and Julian Lloyd Webber, to write concertos, respectively, the Concierto pastoral for flute, and the Concierto como un divertimento for cello. And in March 1986 Joaquín and Victoria attended a two-week Festival in London dedicated to his music, in which the world premiere took place of one of his last great works, the Cántico de San Francisco de Asís, for choir and orchestra.
In 1991 Joaquín Rodrigo received the Guerrero Foundation Prize and the same year was raised to the nobility by King Juan Carlos I with the title 'Marqués de los jardines de Aranjuez'. In 1996 he received another great honour, being awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize "for his extraordinary contribution to Spanish music, to which he has given a new and universal dimension." The same year he was awarded the Medalla de Oro de Sagunto, the Gran Cruz de la Orden Civil de Soldaridad Social, and the Estrella de Oro de la Comunidad de Madrid. In 1998 the French government honoured him with the title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres and in the same year he received a prize from the Sociedad General de Autores de España as the most distinguished composer of classical music. In 1998 he was awarded the Medal of Honour of the Universidad Internacional, Santander, and, the following year, the Gold Medal of the Festival of Granada.
His wife and inseparable companion Victoria died on the 21st July 1997, and Joaquín Rodrigo himself died two years later, on the 6th July 1999, at his Madrid home, surrounded by his family. The mortal remains of Joaquín and Victoria rest together in the family pantheon in the cemetery at Aranjuez.
© Raymond Calcraft