Accompanied by the Danmarks Radio SymfoniOrkestret (Denmark Radio Symphony Orchestra), the Spanish classical guitarist Pepe Romero performs Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”, a composition for classical guitar and orchestra. Conductor: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. Recording date: March 21, 2013.
Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez
Written in 1939, Concierto de Aranjuez is Joaquín 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 into 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.
The concerto consists of three movements:
- Allegro con spirito: The first movement of Concierto de Aranjuez is an evocative exploration of melody and rhythm, set against the backdrop of the Spanish guitar’s unique timbre. Rodrigo skillfully interweaves orchestral and soloist roles, creating a dialogue that reflects the splendor of the Aranjuez royal gardens. The movement, characterized by its lively and rhythmic melodies, represents the mixture of joy and drama inherent in Spanish culture. It has become an iconic example of Spanish music and is beloved for its virtuosic guitar passages, emotive orchestral responses, and subtle allusions to flamenco rhythms.
- Adagio: The second movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez, titled Adagio, is one of the most celebrated pieces in the classical guitar repertoire, and also the most popular movement of the piece. This slow, profound movement embodies a sense of deep longing, evoking the melancholic beauty of the Spanish landscape. Its haunting theme, played by the solo guitar, is characterized by an exceptionally expressive and poignant melody that seems to carry a story of love and loss. The English horn introduces the theme, which the guitar then extends in a series of increasingly intricate variations, creating a dialogue with the orchestra. Notably, this movement is reported to express Rodrigo’s grief over his wife’s miscarriage. Through this deeply personal tragedy, Rodrigo crafted an incredibly moving and memorable piece of music that resonates with listeners worldwide for its universal themes of love, loss, and resilience.
- Allegro gentile: The finale of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is a lively and spirited composition showcasing the virtuosity of the guitar. This movement stands in stark contrast to the previous melancholic Adagio, with Rodrigo expertly weaving traditional Spanish folk dance rhythms into a celebration of joy and vitality. The energetic dialogue between the solo guitar and orchestra is reminiscent of a traditional Spanish fiesta. The thematic materials are restated and varied in a rondo-like structure, highlighting Rodrigo’s craftsmanship. Despite its technical demands, the movement retains an air of playful lightness and grace, concluding the Concierto on an optimistic note, leaving a lasting impression of the Spanish sun-drenched landscapes.
The story behind the Concierto de Aranjuez
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 favorite with weekenders flooding out of the capital.
In August of 1938, Joaquín Rodrigo was invited to give classes at the University of Menéndez Pelayo in Santander, which had just opened its doors. The title chosen for the three conferences was Instrumental Music in the Imperial Courts of Spain.
In September of 1938, I was in San Sebastián on my return to France. (…) It was during a dinner organized by the Marqués de Bolarque with Regino Sainz de la Maza and myself. We ate well and the wine was not bad at all; it was the right moment for audacious fantasizing. (…) All of a sudden, Regino, in that tone between unpredictable and determined which was so characteristic of him, said:
-Listen, you have to come back with a ‘Concerto for guitar and orchestra’- and to go straight to my heart, he added in a pathetic voice: -it’s the dream of my life- and, resorting to a bit of flattery, he continued: -This is your calling as if you were ‘the chosen one’.
I quickly swallowed two glasses of the best Rioja, and exclaimed in a most convincing tone:
-All right, it’s a deal!
The scene has remained engraved in my mind because that evening constituted a pleasant memory in my life, and a moment of calm in those times that were not at all peaceful for Spain and indeed threatening for Europe.
I also remember -I don’t know why but everything related to Concierto de Aranjuez has stayed in my memory-, that one morning several months later, standing in my small studio on Rue Saint Jacques in the heart of the Latin Quarter, vaguely thinking about the concerto, which had become a fond idea given how difficult I judged it to be, when I heard a voice inside me singing the entire theme of the Adagio at one go, without hesitation. And immediately afterward, without a break, the theme of the third movement. I realized quickly that the work was done. Our intuition does not deceive us in these things…
If the Adagio and the Allegro were born of an irresistible and supernatural inspiration, I arrived at the first movement after some thought, calculation, and determination. That was the last movement I composed; I finished the work where I should have started it.
–Joaquín Rodrigo, 1938
- Concierto de Aranjuez on Wikipedia