Joaquín Rodrigo — Concierto de Aranjuez
Unlike the other two composers on tonight’s program, Rodrigo was a born-and-raised Spaniard, and one of the few such men to gain international fame as a composer during the 20th century. Blind from the age of three, his world was one of sound and texture; his musical creations attest to his sensitivity to the world around him. While it would be ironic to speak of his music in terms of “colors,” Rodrigo managed to evoke in his music a vivid sense of Spanish culture and life perhaps matched only by the music of Manuel de Falla.
The obscurity of Spanish musicians on the international stage was at least partly owed to the second-rate musical education available in the country at the time. So it’s no surprise that Rodrigo felt it necessary to seek his training in Paris. He studied first under the great composer Paul Dukas at the Ecole Normale; after that, at the Paris Conservatoire and the Sorbonne. Finally, after living out the Spanish Civil War in France and Germany, Rodrigo returned to Madrid in 1939, at the age of 38. Despite spending most of his formative years abroad, Rodrigo never forgot the music of his home, and he endeavored throughout his remaining years to write music reflecting his country’s unique character.
Proof that he never lost touch with his roots can be found in his first and, to this day, most popular concerto, the “Concerto de Aranjuez” for guitar and orchestra. Premiered just one year after he returned to Spain, the Concerto is both a showpiece for guitar — almost unparalleled in its idiomatic and virtuosic deployment of the instrument — and a great work of Spanish art. The work’s popularity has endured almost unabated since its premiere; indeed, it is only in recent years that audiences and critics have begun to grant Rodrigo’s other compositions the praise they deserve.
Program notes provided by Joe Nickell