American classical guitarist Sharon Isbin plays Isaac Albéniz’s Asturias (Leyenda). An astonishing interpretation of one of the most important works of the classical guitar repertoire.

Music video by Sharon Isbin performing Isaac Albéniz’s Asturias.

Asturias (Leyenda) is a musical work written by the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz. It was originally written for the piano and set in the key of G minor, and first published in Barcelona, by Juan Bta. Pujol & Co., in 1892 as the prelude of a three-movement set entitled Chants d’Espagne.

Many have attributed the first transcription for guitar to Francisco Tárrega who put it in its most recognizable key, E minor. According to guitarist and guitar scholar Stephen Yates, the first guitar transcription of the piece was probably by Severino García Fortea, although Andrés Segovia’s transcription is the most famous and most influential.

Sharon Isbin

Sharon Isbin (born August 7, 1956, in St. Louis Park, Minnesota) is a widely recorded American classical guitarist, recording artist, concert performer, and the founder of the Guitar Department at the Juilliard School.

She is a Multi-Grammy Award-winner Sharon Isbin is the author of the Classical Guitar Answer Book and is Director of the guitar department at the Aspen Music Festival and the guitar department at The Juilliard School which she created in 1989.

Sharon Isbin
Sharon Isbin

Her catalogue of over 25 recordings ranges from Baroque, Spanish/Latin, and 20th century to crossover and jazz fusion. In November 1995, her CD American Landscapes was launched in the space shuttle Atlantis and presented to Russian cosmonauts during a rendezvous with Mir. She won the 2010 Grammy Award for “Best Instrumental Soloist Performance” for her CD Journey to the New World (Sony) which includes guests Joan Baez and Mark O’Connor.

She won a Grammy Award in 2001 for her Dreams of a World: Folk-Inspired Music for Guitar (Warner Classics) for “Best Instrumental Soloist,” becoming the first classical guitarist to win a Grammy in 28 years. Her world premiere recording of concerti written for her by Christopher Rouse and Tan Dun won another Grammy in 2002 and she won Germany’s prestigious Echo Klassik Award for “Best Concert Recording”.

She received a 2005 Latin Grammy nomination for “Best Classical Album” and a 2006 GLAAD Media Award nomination for “Outstanding Music Artist” for her disc with the New York Philharmonic of Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and concerti by Mexican composer Manuel Ponce and Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos. This is the Philharmonic’s first-ever recording with guitar and follows their Avery Fisher Hall performances in June 2004 with Sharon Isbin as their first guitar soloist in 26 years.

Her Journey to the Amazon with Brazilian percussionist Thiago de Mello and saxophonist Paul Winter received a 1999 Grammy nomination for “Best Classical Crossover Album.” Her CD of Aaron Jay Kernis’ Double Concerto with violinist Cho-Liang Lin and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra received a 2000 Grammy nomination.

According to the Beginner Guitar HQ website, Isbin is one of the six best female guitarists of all time.

Asturias (Leyenda)

Asturias (Leyenda), named simply Leyenda by its composer, is a famous musical work by the Spanish composer and pianist Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909).

The piece was originally written for the piano and set in the key of G minor. It was first published in Barcelona, by Juan Bta. Pujol & Co., in 1892 as the prelude of a three-movement set entitled Chants d’Espagne (English: Songs of Spain).

The name Asturias (Leyenda) was given to it posthumously by the German publisher Hofmeister, who included it in the 1911 “complete version” of the Suite Española, although Albéniz never intended the piece for this suite. Despite the new name, this music is not considered suggestive of the folk music of the northern Spanish region of Asturias, but rather of Andalusian flamenco traditions.

Leyenda, Hofmeister’s subtitle, means legend. The piece is noted for the delicate, intricate melody of its middle section and abrupt dynamic changes.

Isaac Albéniz at the piano (1901)
Isaac Albéniz (29 May 1860 – 18 May 1909) at the piano (1901). He is best known for his piano works based on folk music idioms.

Albéniz’s biographer, Walter Aaron Clark, describes the piece as “pure Andalusian flamenco” with the main theme that mimics the guitar technique of alternating the thumb and fingers of the right hand, playing a pedal-note open string with the index finger and a bass melody with the thumb. The theme itself suggests the rhythm of the bulería – a song from the flamenco repertoire. The ‘marcato’/’staccato’ markings suggest both guitar sounds and the footwork of a flamenco dancer. The piece sounds as though it is written in the Phrygian mode which is typical of bulerías.

The second section is reminiscent of a copla – a sung verse following a specific form. Clark states that it is written in typical Albéniz form as it is “presented monophonically but doubled at the fifteenth for more fullness of sound. The music alters between a solo and accompaniment that is typical of flamenco. The short middle section of the piece is written in the style of a malagueña – another flamenco-style piece. The malagueña borrows two motives from the previous copla and builds on them. The piece returns to its first theme until a slow “hymn-like” passage ends the piece.

Many have attributed the first transcription for the guitar to Francisco Tárrega who put it in its most recognizable key, E minor. According to guitarist and guitar scholar Stephen Yates, the first guitar transcription of the piece was probably by Severino García Fortea, although Andrés Segovia’s transcription is the most famous and most influential. The piece has become one of the most important works of the classical guitar repertoire.

Sources

M. Özgür Nevres

Published by M. Özgür Nevres

I am Özgür Nevres, a software engineer, an ex-road racing cyclist, and also an amateur musician. I opened andantemoderato.com to share my favorite music. I also take care of stray cats & dogs. Please consider supporting me on Patreon.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.