Thursday, August 13, 2020

Rodrigo - Concierto de Aranjuez

The Spanish master guitarist Andrés Segovia, a musician that was responsible for much of the Renaissance of the classical guitar in the 20th century, had this to say about his instrument:
The guitar is a small orchestra. It is polyphonic. Every string is a different color, a different voice.
Segovia's quote underlines the uniqueness of the instrument and well as one of the difficulties in writing music for it. Most music for the classical guitar is either written or transcribed by a musician that can play the instrument. Unlike other instruments where a working knowledge will suffice, the guitar is capable of playing the same note at the same pitch on different strings and in different positions, something that may not be readily ascertainable to a non-playing composer. Add to that the tonal quality of the same note played on a different string, and the problems multiply.

It may be a difficult proposition for a non-guitar playing composer to write for the instrument, but it is not impossible. With the increased popularity of the classical guitar in the 20th century, more non-playing composers wrote works for it. One of the most successful non-playing composers of a work for guitar was the Spanish composer and pianist Joaquín Rodrigo.

His most popular work for guitar was  Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra, written in 1939 while he was in exile in Paris.  He had been writing music for guitar since 1926, and the concerto was his first piece for guitar and orchestra.  The work was inspired by the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, a residence of Spanish kings located in the town of Aranjuez and built in the 16th and 18th centuries. The palace is known for its beautiful gardens, and it was these gardens that inspired Rodrigo. As Rodrigo had been almost totally blind since the age of three, it was the sounds of the gardens that inspired the work, as Rodrigo explains:
[The music] should sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the treetops in the parks...depict the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds and the gushing of fountains.
The work premiered in 1940 at Barcelona. It is in three movements:

I. Allegro con spirito -  There are few works for guitar and orchestra with one of the reasons being a problem of balance. An orchestra can easily overpower a solo guitar, but Rodrigo deftly keeps both entities on equal sonic terms. The work begins with the first theme played by the guitar with a very subtle underpinning by the low strings. The theme is in the style of flamenco and the fandango, a Spanish dance in triple time, and in this case with a few measures of duple time thrown in for rhythmic interest. This theme goes through various guises in the movement. A second theme is also involved and is put through the same development style. The movement ends with a final flourish from the guitar.

One of the gardens of the Palacio Real de Aranjuez
II. Adagio -  The guitar begins by strumming chords and the cor anglaise enters with a melancholy theme. The guitar takes up the theme and embellishes it. The haunting themes and harmonies continue until the guitar plays a solo section of the theme spiced with some occasional dissonant accompaniment.  The orchestra and guitar have a section of dialog before the guitar plays solo again in music of quiet agitation. The guitar plays arpeggios and strums flamenco style until the orchestra takes over and plays a short climax. The guitar returns, and the music grows quiet as the guitar rises in pitch and plays a gentle ending.

III.  Allegro gentile - A theme is played by guitar with a tripping rhythm. This theme is repeated throughout the finale and is varied as it goes.  The guitarist plays a descending figure and the music gently ends.

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