Three great versions of “Concierto de Aranjuez” (Joaquín Rodrigo)

Three great versions of “Concierto de Aranjuez“, a composition for classical guitar and orchestra by the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo. The first version is from Paco de Lucia, the famous Flamenco guitarist. The second version is from Spanish classical guitarist Narciso Yepes, and the third version is from Australian classical guitarist John Williams.

The first version: Paco de Lucia

Recorded live at Bulevar de la Casa de la Cultura de Torrelodones, Spain, in 1991. Joaquín Rodrigo himself was in attendance for the concert.

The second version: Narciso Yepes

“Narciso Yepes gave a most delicate account of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. The range of timbres he can produce, to contrast phrases and to shape them, is astonishing…” (Paul Griffiths -author on new music, writer, librettist, critic- 1974, The Times, London, 6 Nov., p. 11

The third version: John Williams

From BBC Proms 2005.

Concierto de Aranjuez

Written in 1939, Concierto de Aranjuez is far and away Rodrigo’s (November 22, 1901 – July 6, 1999) best-known work, and its success established his reputation as one of the most significant Spanish composers of the twentieth century. Composed in early 1939, in Paris, amid the tensions of the impending war, it was the first work Rodrigo wrote for guitar and orchestra. The instrumentation is unusual: rarely does the guitar face the forces of a full orchestra. Instead, the guitar is never overwhelmed, remaining the solo instrument throughout. Joaquín Rodrigo was born in 1901 in Sagunto, Valencia, Spain, and was blinded by diphtheria at three years old, which he later said turned him to an early life of music. Rodrigo studied music in Valencia and Paris. He began to study solfège, piano and violin at the age of eight; harmony and composition from the age of sixteen. He was a brilliant pianist, but unlike many believe, he wasn’t a master at the guitar.

Movements

The concerto consists of three movements:

  1. Allegro con spirito – a fandango-like dance movement showcasing the intricacies and delicacies of balancing a guitar and an orchestra.
  2. Adagio – a slow movement with haunting Spanish folk tunes and beautiful harmonies.
  3. Allegro gentile – a gentile movement light on its “toes”.

Inspiration

The Concierto de Aranjuez was inspired by the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the spring resort palace and gardens built by Philip II in the last half of the 16th century and rebuilt in the middle of the 18th century by Ferdinand VI. Aranjuez lies just 30 miles south of Madrid and is a year-round favourite with weekenders flooding out of the capital. The work attempts to transport the listener to another place and time through the evocation of the sounds of nature. According to the composer, the first movement is “animated by a rhythmic spirit and vigour without either of the two themes… interrupting its relentless pace”; the second movement “represents a dialogue between guitar and solo instruments (cor anglais, bassoon, oboe, horn etc.)”; and the last movement “recalls a courtly dance in which the combination of double and triple time maintains a taut tempo right to the closing bar.” He described the concerto itself as capturing “the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains” in the gardens of Aranjuez. Rodrigo and his wife Victoria stayed silent for many years about the inspiration for the second movement, and thus the popular belief grew that it was inspired by the bombing of Guernica in 1937. In her autobiography, Victoria eventually declared that it was both an evocation of the happy days of their honeymoon and a response to Rodrigo’s devastation at the miscarriage of their first pregnancy. It was composed in 1939 in Paris. Rodrigo dedicated the Concierto de Aranjuez to Regino Sainz de la Maza (September 7, 1896 in Burgos – November 26, 1981 in Madrid), a Spanish classical guitarist. The Concierto de Aranjuez premiered in Barcelona in 1940, with Regino Sainz de la Maza playing the guitar. The concerto was a instant success, leading many musicologists to attribute Rodrigo for making classical guitar music popular.

Joaquín Rodrigo
Joaquín Rodrigo

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