Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes
Date of Composition: 1938–1939
Duration: 22 minutes
Born in the region of Valencia, twentieth-century Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo (1901–1999) lost his sight as a small child. He learned to play piano and violin at the school for the blind he attended, demonstrating a natural talent. After majoring in composition at the conservatory in Valencia, he moved to Paris where he studied with Paul Dukas. Rodrigo’s catalog includes almost 200 works, including instrumental solos, vocal, and chamber music. Half of his more than two dozen orchestral works are concertos for various instruments, but he is best known for his first two guitar concertos: Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) and Fantasía para un gentilhombre (1954).
Rodrigo composed Concierto de Aranjuez toward the end of the Spanish Civil War while living abroad. The work was premiered a year later in Barcelona, after the composer’s initial return to Spain. The concerto looks back nostalgically to an earlier time in the nation’s history. Aranjuez refers to a region south of Madrid that was embraced by the sixteenth-century monarch, King Philip II. There, Philip began building an impressive royal castle overlooking the surrounding countryside. For the next almost two hundred years, only those with noble rank were permitted entrance. Today, the expanded royal estate has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rodrigo declared that his first guitar concerto was intended to bring forth “the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains,” as experienced in the impressive gardens for which the landmark is known.
Concierto de Aranjuez’sthree movements immediately transport listeners to the Spanish locale, the first movement infused with dancelike rhythms accentuated by the country’s most iconic solo instrument. The second slow second movement, with its haunting melody, has become a favorite for use in film scores, as well as in concert halls. The final movement, however, fully reveals Rodrigo’s historical inspiration with its use of eighteenth-century dance idioms that are reminiscent of the time when Aranjuez first achieved its architectural, botanic, and cultural beauty.
© Dr. K. Dawn Grapes, 2023