Complete biography - works


Marquis of Jardines de Aranjuez



Throughout his life as a composer, from 1922 to 1987, Joaquín Rodrigo composed some one hundred and seventy works in almost all musical forms.



The most famous of all Joaquín Rodrigo's compositions, one of the best-loved pieces of music of the twentieth century amongst all kinds of people, is the first of his eleven concertos, the Concierto de Aranjuez of 1939. The success of this work has been extraordinary, and its fame has outdistanced that of two other popular guitar concertos written at about the same time as the Concierto de Aranjuez, that of the Italian Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and the Concierto del sur by the Mexican Manuel Ponce, who was a fellow pupil of Rodrigo in Paul Dukas's class at the École Normale ten years earlier. The success achieved by his first concerto, for the then unusual combination of guitar and classical orchestra, inspired Rodrigo to write two further concertos during the following four years for the most popular instruments of all, the Concierto heroico for piano (1942) and the Concierto de estío for violin (1943). Each of these is very different from the other and also from the spirit and mood of the Aranjuez concerto. The first, the largest of all the Maestro's orchestral works, pays homage to the great European tradition of the romantic concerto, in spite of its particularly Spanish inspiration. The second, more classical and even Mediterranean in inspiration, is a supremely original and attractive work, with a first movement which the critic Federico Sopeña declared in 1946 to be the finest work composed by Rodrigo up until that time. The cello is the protagonist of another important work written in 1949 for Gaspar Cassadó, the Concerto in modo galante, which is full of memorable themes, many of them of popular inspiration. A second concerto for the same instrument was written n 1982, at the request of the English virtuoso Julian Lloyd Webber, the Concierto como un divertimento, a work notable above all for a second movement of exceptional beauty. Another work which possesses all the best qualities of Rodrigo is the Concierto Serenata for harp and orchestra, written in 1952for the famous Nicanor Zabaleta, and which captures the essence of the instrument with a profusion of memorable themes and a joyfulness reminiscent of Haydn. In 1977 the virtuoso Irish flautist, James Galway, commissioned a work for his instrument, the Concierto pastoral. Galway himself gave the first performance in London to great public acclaim. It is a fascinating work, distantly related to the violin concerto of 1943 in the extraordinarily difficult figuration of the first movement and the melodic charm of the second.


As far as the four concertos for one or more guitars are concerned, which followed the Concierto de Aranjuez, they form a vitally important and indispensable part of the guitarist's repertoire. It seems that Rodrigo did not wish to attempt a repeat of his first concerto, in spite of the success it had had, until the famous guitarist Andrés Segovia asked him to undertake it, in 1954. The work composed for the famous artist, the Fantasía para un gentilhombre, was immediately greeted with the same enthusiasm by the public as they had shown for the Concierto de Aranjuez. It thus became the second most popular work by Rodrigo, an almost inseparable companion of the Aranjuez concerto on recordings and at times even in concerts. It is nevertheless a very different work from its predecessor, a suite of short movements based on melodies and dances collected by Gaspar Sanz, a musician of the court of Philip IV, which Rodrigo arranged, developed and orchestrated in an outstandingly attractive way. The two following concertos, Madrigal and Andaluz, were composed at about the same time, between 1966 and 67, but they are completely different one from another. The first of the two, for two guitars, is based on the famous Renaissance madrigal O felici occhi miei by Jacques Arcadelt.It is once again a suite, but the ten movements of this concerto represent one of the composer's finest achievements, in its remarkable evocation of the spirit of Golden Age Spain. The Concierto andaluz, for four guitars, is a work in which the character of Andalucía, or rather the essential spirit of its popular culture, is captured by the Valencian composer with the same devotion with which he paid homage to every region and culture of Spain. The impressive cycle of Joaquín Rodrigo's eleven concertos is completed by the Concierto para una fiesta, written in 1982, with perfect symbolism, in a return to a concerto for guitar and orchestra. This concerto was written, like the majority of the others, for a great virtuoso of the instrument, in this case, Pepe Romero. In this last concerto Rodrigo also made exceptional technical demands on the soloist, encouraging him to seek new levels of technical and expressive excellence. The composer, now more than eighty years of age, was also seeking new horizons in this work.


Works for orchestra

Apart from his concertos, Joaquín Rodrigo composed important works for orchestra throughout his career. There are small pieces for string orchestra, compositions for particular instrumental groups, works for voices and orchestra, and large-scale symphonic poems. Rodrigo attracted the attention of French critics in 1929 with one of his first orchestral works, Cinco piezas infantiles, and the symphonic poem, Ausencias de Dulcinea gained the first prize of the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Valencia in 1934, together with the admiration of his teachers and fellow-countrymen. The two works reveal the lyric gift which distinguishes Rodrigo's music, as well as his skill as an orchestrator. There are works of an extraordinary delicacy of feeling, such as the Cançoneta of 1923 for violin solo and string orchestra, and the Zarabanda lejana y villancico of 1934, also for string orchestra. The first part of this work was written first for guitar and there is also a version for piano, but one does not find any echo of these first versions in the orchestral work, such is the mastery of the adaptation. The variety of the music of Joaquín Rodrigo is made clear if one compares these works with the light-hearted eighteenth-century spirit of Soleriana (1953), the solemn Adagio for wind instruments (1966), or the refined world of the Música para un jardín (1957), where each piece resembles a Japanese haiku in its delicate perfection. One should also draw attention to A la busca del más allá (1976), a large-scale work written to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States, and inspired by the journeys of the astronauts on the one hand and the marvels of the universe on the other. One should not forget that when Joaquín Rodrigo wrote his first concerto, the Concierto de Aranjuez, whose brilliant orchestration is much admired, he had already had fifteen years experience composing for orchestra.


Vocal works

Joaquín Rodrigo always insisted that his songs formed the most important part of his music, apart from the concertos. The fascination which his country's literature had for him led him frequently to this form of composition, sometimes with piano or guitar, sometimes with orchestra. Like Richard Strauss, Rodrigo felt a particular affection throughout his life for the soprano voice, for which he wrote almost all his songs. Even at the outset of his career he was attracted by the verses of the greatest poets of Spain, such as Gil Vicente's Muy graciosa es la doncella, those of the Marqués de Santillana, or, somewhat later, San Juan de la Cruz and Lope de Vega. Everything attracted the composer - traditional ballads, anonymous fifteen-century lyrics, songs from plays, Baroque literature, Romantic poetry, works by Rosalía de Castro, Antonio Machado, or Juan Ramón Jiménez. In his great works for voices and orchestra, Ausencias de Dulcinea, Música para un códice salmantino, the Cántico de San Francisco de Asís, Rodrigo was not afraid to set to music words by the most illustrious figures of the novel, philosophy or religion. In these three works, as also in the majority of his songs, one notes above all the composer's ability to match musical ideas to poetry of the highest quality. Song-cycles such as the Cuatro madrigales amatorios, Rosaliana, o Con Antonio Machado can be found alongside individual works or small collections of songs. There are also compositions of popular inspiration, like the Doce canciones españolas, or - from another era - the Four Sephardic Songs, but Joaquín Rodrigo also composed the strange but touching music - archaic and modern at the same time - of the Líricas castellanas of 1980. With this impressive repertoire of choral works and more than sixty songs there is no doubt that Joaquín Rodrigo can be ranked amongst the foremost Spanish composers of vocal music.


Instrumental music

It is a great surprise to many music-lovers that the Spanish composer most associated with the guitar in fact did not know how to play it. Rodrigo not only wrote five concertos for this instrument; he also added more than twenty works for solo guitar to the repertoire, amongst them two sonatas and three groups each containing three separate pieces. In the majority of these works Rodrigo shows himself to be the last of the Spanish composers who worked within a recognisable national tradition, and works such as En los trigales, Bajando de la meseta, or Junto al Generalife have entered the repertoire to the great delight of both performers and public. But there are also some works written in a more original and more difficult musical idiom - a feature, it must be said, which can be observed in all areas of Rodrigo's music - amongst them one of the cornerstones of the guitar repertoire and an acknowledged masterpiece, the Invocación y danza of 1962, a profound homage to Manuel de Falla and his music.


Rodrigo's works for piano (the composer was himself a pianist) include a series of musical homages inspired by great figures of the past (Cinco piezas del siglo XVI), Scarlatti (Cinco Sonatas de Castilla con Toccata a modo de Pregón), the death of his teacher, Paul Dukas (Sonada de adiós), or of his friend, the great pianist Ricardo Viñes (A l'ombre de Torre Bermeja). There is a great variety of style in the more than fifty piano pieces composed by Rodrigo, from the simplicity of Pastoral or the bitonal originality of Preludio al gallo mañanero, with its hair-raising technical difficulties, to the Plegaria de la Infanta de Castilla (one of the composer's favourite works) which recreates the atmosphere of the mediaeval world without the slightest hint of pastiche. The two works, Cuatro piezas para piano of 1938, and Cuatro estampas andaluzas, written between 1946 and 54, belong to the great Spanish pianistic tradition which goes back to Granados and Albéniz, but one can always recognise the individual musical voice in every one of these pieces, as well as the mastery of their formal composition. The important study by Antonio Iglesias of the piano works of Joaquín Rodrigo (see Bibliography) gives ample testimony of the significance, quality and range of the works Rodrigo added to the repertoire of the piano, from the Suite para piano of 1923 to the Preludio de añoranza of 1987.


Joaquín Rodrigo's 'Opus 1' (apparently the composer did not wish to continue with this traditional way of listing his works) is the Dos esbozos for violin and piano, 'La enamorada junto al surtidor' and 'Pequeña ronda'. These two delightful pieces are the first of a small group of works written for the two instruments, violin and piano, which Rodrigo learnt to play in his youth, compositions written between 1923 and 1982. Amongst them one can single out the Capriccio, written in homage to Sarasate in 1944, the Sonata pimpante of 1966, and the last of these works, the Set cançons valencianes of 1982. Both the Sonata and the Set cançons were written for, Agustín León Ara, his son-in-law and also an outstanding interpreter of the Concierto de estío. Traditional in its musical form, with its classical three movements, the Sonata is a delightful work, full of striking ideas and textures, and with a particularly moving second movement. The world of the Set cançons is very different, with echoes of other compositions on which Rodrigo was working at the beginning of the 1980s, but the work is at times remarkably original, in spite of its anticipated popular idiom. There are also a number of other pieces for different instruments, amongst them perhaps the most important being the Sonata a la breve of 1977, for cello and piano, which Rodrigo dedicated 'A Pablo Casals in memoriam'.


Joaquín Rodrigo and his music

From the perspective of the year 2000 it can be said that during the second half of the twentieth century the figure of Joaquín Rodrigo dominated the world of classical Spanish music in the same way that Manuel de Falla did during the first. The celebrations and concerts which honoured Joaquín Rodrigo on his 90th birthday in 1991 not only gave rise to deep expressions of affection for the composer and his music throughout the world, on the part of performers and public alike, but also brought forth a deserved recognition on the part of the critics of the historical importance of his music. Proof of this is to be found in the numerous publications which appeared at the time: a brilliant analysis of the Zarabanda lejana, an interesting article on the Concierto de estío, commentaries praising the Música para un códice salmantino, and highly favourable reviews of the first performances of the Líricas castellanas or the Cántico de San Francisco de Asís. The music of Rodrigo, which for many had remained almost unknown until that time, was not limited any more to the Concierto de Aranjuez and the Fantasía para un gentilhombre.


The music of Rodrigo is fundamentally conservative. If at the beginning of his career some of his works resembled in their musical language that of his most distinguished European contemporaries, such as Ravel or Stravinsky, he soon set out on his own particular path, based on the richest traditions of his country's culture. His task - he himself declared many times - was not to break with the past, establish new musical forms, or create new horizons in sound. Others were already doing that and would continue to do so. He sought something different: to pay homage to master musicians with brilliant concertos, sonatas and individual pieces; to set the greatest poetry to music of comparable eloquence; and to give new life to words and music of the past. Joaquín Rodrigo's musical language offers little difficulty, except on rare occasions. Other equally significant composers have represented a continuation or culmination of their traditions, and Rodrigo is perhaps the last important representative of many of the cultural traditions of his country, to which he always endeavoured to remain faithful. To look through the Catalogue of his works is to contemplate a brief guide to the culture of Spain, and many will always thank him for having given new life to that culture, and to so many classical musical forms, with beautiful and original works. There is no doubt that Joaquín Rodrigo's importance in his country's music throughout his long life will be seen to be a permanent feature in the history of Spanish music.


© Raymond Calcraft


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