Joaquín Rodrigo. 1st Marqués de los Jardines de Aranjuez (born Sagunto, Valencia, 22 November, 1901 – died Madrid, 6 July 1999). Spanish composer.
The music of Joaquín Rodrigo is a homage to the rich and varied cultures of Spain. No other Spanish composer has drawn on so many different aspects of his country’s spirit as sources of inspiration, from the history of Roman Spain to the work of contemporary poets. His music is refined, luminous, with a particular predominance of melody, and original harmonies. His personal style has created a notable chapter in the cultural history of Spain in the 20th century, where the originality of Rodrigo’s musical inspiration goes hand in hand with a devotion to the fundamental values of his tradition.
To write his compositions, Rodrigo always used the Braille system for the blind, later dictating the entire work, note by note, to a copyist. Afterwards, he proceeded to make the final corrections with the collaboration of his wife.
CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
Joaquín Rodrigo was born in Sagunto, in the province of Valencia on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, on St Cecilia's Day, the 22nd of November 1901. He was the youngest of ten children born to Vicente Rodrigo Peirats, a landowner from Almenara (Castellón). His mother, Vicente Rodrigo's second wife, was Juana Vidre Ribelles. At the age of three, he lost his sight as a consequence of an epidemic of diphtheria. The composer would say later, without bitterness, that this personal tragedy probably led him towards a career in music.
At the age of eight in Valencia, he began his musical studies of solfa, violin and piano.
He later received instruction in harmony and composition from maestros Francisco Antich, Enrique Gomá and Eduardo López Chávarri, whose classes he attended. These teachers exercised an important influence on his musical education. As far as his literary culture was concerned, which Rodrigo prided himself in all his life, this was due in great part to the work of Rafael Ibáñez, who was employed by the family to look after Joaquín, but who was also his companion, secretary and copyist in subsequent years. "Rafael lent me the eyes I did not have, and in addition he copied my music, without knowing music, but he copied it wonderfully, better than a professional copyist. He was a great person, with keen intelligence and intuition and was, for many years, my faithful companion", the composer said about the friend who read him the masterpieces of Spanish literature, together with works of philosophy, essays and monographs on the most varied subjects.
At the beginning of the 1920s Joaquín Rodrigo was already an excellent pianist and composition student familiar with the most important contemporary trends in the arts. His first compositions date from 1923 and were written in small musical forms: his opus 1 Dos esbozos (Two sketches) for violin and piano (La enamorada junto al surtidor and Pequeña ronda). The same year also saw the composition of the Suite para piano, Siciliana for cello and piano, the Cançoneta for violin and string orchestra, and an austere Ave Maria for voice and organ which he arranged years later for unaccompanied choir. The Berceuse de otoño, also from 1923, was composed originally for piano, but Rodrigo orchestrated it in the 1930s and incorporated it later into Música para un jardín in 1957. His first work for large orchestra, Juglares, was successfully premiered by the Symphony Orchestra of Valencia conducted by Enrique Izquierdo in 1924.
Encouraged by this triumph, Joaquín entered a national competition the following year with a much more ambitious work, Cinco piezas infantiles, the first of the works he dedicated to his wife and which received an honourable mention from the jury. It was premiered in Valencia’s Teatro Principal on 16 February, 1927 by the Symphonic Orchestra of Valencia conducted by José Manuel Izquierdo and in Paris on the 28th of March, 1927 by the Walther Straram Orchestra.
See the review in the French press.
“We discovered a young Spanish composer, Joaquin Rodrigo, whose name we should remember. His Cinco piezas infantiles, which were performed that day, are charming for their good humour, their great simplicity and precise observation.”
In 1926 he composed his first work for the guitar, Zarabanda lejana, dedicated to the vihuela of Luis de Milán. The work soon came to the attention of Miguel Llobet, at that time the authentic authority in guitar matters, who wrote to the young composer the following: “You have intuition for the guitar and you should continue to compose for it; I predict you will have great success.” Llobet’s predictions were accurate since with time Rodrigo would come to be well known for the many and varied works he contributed to the guitar repertoire, and his definitive achievement of having given dignity and universality to the Spanish guitar as a concert instrument.
By 1927 Rodrigo possessed a solid baggage of instrumental compositions, for piano (Dos esbozos, Deux berceuses, Suite para piano, Pastoral, Preludio al gallo mañanero), for voice (Cantiga, Serranilla) and symphonic works (Juglares, Cinco piezas infantiles) and decided to move to the French capital which had been from the beginning of the century an important cultural centre for Spanish writers, painters and musicians. It was to be expected, therefore, that the young Joaquín Rodrigo would want to follow in the footsteps of Albéniz, Falla and Turina.
Accompanied by Rafael Ibañez, his friend and secretary, he travelled to Paris and entered the École Normale de Musique to study composition with Paul Dukas, who had a particular affection for his Spanish pupil. Rodrigo studied for five years in Dukas’ class. He soon became known in Parisian musical circles as both pianist and composer, and formed friendships with Ravel, Stravinsky, Poulenc, Honegger and Milhaud. An event of great significance in Rodrigo's life occurred at that time, a meeting with Manuel de Falla, which was the start of a lasting friendship between the two. Falla, who was to be admitted as a member of the French Légion d'Honneur, insisted that in the concert which was to follow the ceremony on the 14th of March, 1928, not only his own music but also the music of young Spanish colleagues should be heard. On that occasion, Rodrigo premiered Preludio al gallo mañanero and he was always grateful to Falla for that opportunity to perform his own music before a distinguished and discerning audience. The French press reported as follows:
“At that concert we admired both the spectacular piano performance of Joaquín Rodrigo (who lost his sight due to a grave childhood disease) and the dazzling way in which he composes for the piano.” Signed by Robert Brussel, March, 1929,
Rodrigo’s works soon attracted the attention of great Spanish performers of the day, who premiered them and incorporated them in their respective repertoires. This was the case of the pianists José Iturbi, Joaquín Nín and Ricardo Viñes (1875-1943). The latter, who premiered the works of Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc, Granados, Albéniz and Falla, among other great composers at that time, would be of great assistance to the young Joaquín Rodrigo in Paris, promoting his works often in concerts.
On a personal level it was also during these years that the most important event of all occurred for Joaquín Rodrigo, his meeting with the Turkish pianist of Sephardic origin, Victoria Kamhi, who was fascinated by the originality of Preludio al gallo mañanero, the work from 1926 that became very significant in the composer’s piano repertoire. Their marriage took place in Valencia in 1933. Victoria’s influence was decisive in Joaquín’s career: she became his inseparable companion and remained his most important collaborator until the time of her death.
YEARS OF STRUGGLE
In 1934, after settling in Valencia with his wife, Joaquín Rodrigo composed various songs, among them the famous Cántico de la esposa, to poetry by St John of the Cross, (which Rodrigo considered to be his favorite work), and the symphonic poem, Per la flor del lliri blau, which obtained the Círculo de Bellas Artes Prize in Valencia. In Madrid, and again thanks to the support of Manuel de Falla, Rodrigo was awarded the Conde de Cartagena Scholarship, which allowed him to return to Paris in March of 1935 with Victoria. Joaquín began to compose assiduously, and works from this period include some of his most important songs and piano pieces. At the same time the composer was attending the classes given by Maurice-Emmanuel at the Sorbonne, and also those of André Pirro. He attended the last classes of his teacher, Paul Dukas. These courses, which covered music from Lassus to the history of opera, were an important source of inspiration for Rodrigo, who was now beginning to have a very solid musical education. In the summer of this same year, the Rodrigos went to Austria to cover the Salzburg Festival as official reviewers for “Le monde musical” in Paris, and the Valencian newspaper, “Las provincias”. It was in Salzburg that Rodrigo composed his moving tribute to the memory of his dear Maestro Paul Dukas, the Sonada de adiós, at the instigation of the “Revue musicale”.
After obtaining the renewal of the Conde de Cartagena Scholarship, Joaquín Rodrigo and his wife decided at the beginning of June 1936 to spend some time in Germany, at Baden-Baden. But on the 18th of July news came that the Spanish Civil War had broken out. The three years which followed were perhaps the most difficult in the lives of Joaquín and Victoria, since the scholarship was not renewed again. They decided to give Spanish and music lessons in their room at the Institute for the Blind in Freiburg, in the Black Forest, where they were received as 'Spanish refugees'. The composer made a study of bird-song there, as well as composing a number of songs, among them the Canción del cucú to a text by Victoria, inspired by the beauty of their surroundings.
RETURN TO SPAIN AND CONCIERTO DE ARANJUEZ
In the spring of 1938 Joaquín Rodrigo was invited to teach on the summer courses at the University of Santander, which had just opened. The title chosen for the three conferences was “Instrumental Music in the Imperial Courts of Spain”. The Rodrigos were thus able to renew their contacts with Spanish cultural life, in spite of the difficulties caused by the Civil War. A very significant encounter took place on the return journey to Paris, when during a lunch with the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza and the Marqués de Bolarque, Joaquín enthusiastically agreed to the idea of writing a concerto for guitar. This work would be the Concierto de Aranjuez. During their last year of residence in the French capital Rodrigo gave piano recitals, undertook various orchestrations, and composed a number of songs as well as piano works. But when winter arrived the Rodrigos began to consider a permanent return to Spain, once the country was finally at peace. In 1939 Joaquín received a letter from Manuel de Falla in which the latter suggested a post as Professor of Music at either Granada or Seville University. Antonio Tovar also offered him a position in the Music Department of Radio Nacional in Madrid. Since the Rodrigos were particularly anxious to reside in the Spanish capital, they opted for the second possibility. Joaquín and Victoria finally returned to Spain on the 1st of September 1939, two days before the outbreak of the Second World War, carrying with them in a suitcase the complete manuscript of the Concierto de Aranjuez.
On the 9th of November, 1940, the premiere of Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra took place in Barcelona, performed by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Barcelona, conducted by César Mendoza LaSalle, with soloist Regino Sainz de la Maza. The Concierto de Aranjuez was a clear example of his personality and the first of his works which would give him universal fame.
Rodrigo would continue to be faithful to an aesthetic tendency that he himself liked to label “neocasticism”, practicing tonal tradition, attracted by classical forms and incorporating refined elements as a link between Spanish tradition and the present, creating a style that is immediately recognizable.
JOAQUÍN RODRIGO, PROTAGONIST OF THE NEW ERA IN SPANISH MUSIC
Decade of the forties
The decade of the 1940s was especially important to Joaquín Rodrigo on both professional and personal levels. He began intense musical and academic activity, as well as performing as pianist. In 1939 he was named Head of the Artistic Section of ONCE, the Spanish national organization for the blind. From 1940 he was Music Advisor for Radio Nacional.
Cecilia, his only child, was born in 1941, and the following year the composer received the National Music Prize for his Concierto heroico for piano and orchestra, a work begun previously that was premiered in Lisbon on the 3rd of April, 1943 by the National Orchestra of Spain, conducted by the composer Ernesto Halffter, with Leopoldo Querol as soloist. Just one year later, also in Lisbon, another concerto was premiered, this one for violin and orchestra, Concierto de estío, with Enrique Iniesta as soloist and the National Orchestra of Spain conducted by Bartolomé Pérez Casas.
During these years he worked as music critic for various newspapers and was professor at the Conservatory of Madrid as well.
In 1947 Rodrigo occupied the position of Manuel de Falla Professor of Music at the Complutense University of Madrid, a post he held for thirty years. He acquired popularity and was venerated by the young university students who, in large numbers and from all faculties, attended his lectures in which he provided precise and discerning insight into the history of music, as well as organizing musical activities within the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters.
COMPOSITION OF VOCAL WORKS STARTING IN THE EARLY 20’s: A CONSTANT THROUGHOUT ALL HIS PRODUCTION
The premiere of Tríptico de Mossén Cinto, for voice and orchestra, on the 17th of October, 1946, at the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona with Victoria de los Ángeles and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Barcelona, conducted by Juan Pich Santasusana, constituted a cultural event.
In the same line of important works for voice, in 1948 two premieres took place that were fundamental in his career.
Cuatro madrigales amatorios, for voice and piano, on the 4th of February at the Ateneo of Madrid. Rodrigo himself, accompanied by four sopranos, was pianist for the premiere.
In April of the same year he was awarded the Cervantes Prize for the symphonic poem Ausencias de Dulcinea, for bass, four sopranos and orchestra, set to a text from “Don Quijote de la Mancha”. The premiere featured the National Orchestra of Spain conducted by Eduardo Toldrá.
In 1949, the Rodrigos made a long trip to Argentina, where many of his works were performed. This was the first of a series of trips he undertook throughout his long lifetime to attend numerous premieres, concerts, recitals and festivals dedicated to his music in all corners of the world in recognition of the composer as one of the figures most beloved and representative of contemporary classical music.
That same year, 1949, the premiere took place of Concierto in modo galante for cello and orchestra, written at the request of the great Spanish cellist Gaspar Cassadó, who performed it on the 4th of November in Madrid with the National Orchestra of Spain, conducted by Ataúlfo Argenta.
CONQUERING THE WORLD
Decade of the fifties
On the 18th of November, 1951, Rodrigo was admitted to a place as a permanent member of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. After his formal address, which took as its subject 'Taught technique and unlearned inspiration', he performed the Cinco Sonatas de Castilla con Toccata a modo de Pregón, which had been specially written for the occasion.
On the 6th of May, 1951, Concierto de Aranjuez was performed for the first time at the Theater of the Champs Elysees in Paris with Narciso Yepes and the National Orchestra of Spain, conducted by Ataúlfo Argenta. This event signified the international launching of the work (ten years after its premiere by Regino Sainz de la Maza) and also that of the composer (on the same date his Concierto de estío was performed in Chile by Enrique Iniesta). Thus, his music began its universal ascent, which would go far beyond the borders of Spain, thanks to the collaboration of extraordinary solists such as Cassadó and Argenta, Alicia de Larrocha, José Cubiles, Victoria de los Ángeles, Narciso Yepes, Nicanor Zabaleta and Andrés Segovia. In the area of ballet, Pilar López, Mariemma, José Udaeta and José Greco danced to his music in all parts of the world.
Important dance companies presented choreographies of many of Rodrigo’s works. Outstanding among them was the premiere of the ballet Pavana Real, with plot by Victoria Kamhi and choreography by Juan Magriñá, in the Gran Teatro del Liceo of Barcelona on the 9th of December, 1955. Shortly afterwards it was presented at the Teatro Colón of Buenos Aires.
In the framework of his creative versatility, the form most often practiced by Rodrigo is the concerto, in which he has written works for diverse instruments.
On the 9th of November, 1956, the Concierto serenata for harp and orchestra, commisioned by harpist Nicanor Zabaleta, was premiered in Madrid by the National Orchestra of Spain, conducted by Paul Klecki. On the 5th of March, 1958, Rodrigo attended in San Francisco, California, the premiere of his Fantasía para un gentilhombre for guitar and orchestra, written at the request of Andrés Segovia who performed it with the Symphonic Orchestra of San Francisco, conducted by Enrique Jordá.
PRIZES AND RECOGNITION
Decade of the sixties
The decade of the sixties began with Rodrigo’s nomination by the government of France as Officier des Arts et des Lettres and later, in 1963, as member of the Légion d'honneur, crowned by the maximum category of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 1998.
In 1961 he received First Prize in the “Coupe de la guitare” competition organized by French Radio and Television, with his guitar work Invocación y danza.
He was invited in 1963 to give a course in History of Music at the University of Puerto Rico.
Rodrigo received many academic honours beginning with the awarding of an honorary doctorate by the University of Salamanca in 1964. However, he continued to compose assiduously and while maintaining all his professional commitments, many significant premieres also took place:
In February, 1966, Sonata Pimpante for violin and piano was first performed at the Cercle Gaulois in Brussels. It was written for his son-in-law, Agustín León Ara, who premiered it with the pianist Albert Giménez Attenelle.
An important event in Rodrigo’s career as composer took place on the 5th of December, 1964 in Madrid’s Teatro de la Zarzuela: the premiere of his lyric comedy or zarzuela El hijo fingido, with text based on “De cuándo acá nos vino” and “Los ramilletes de Madrid” by Lope de Vega, adapted by Victoria Kamhi and Jesús de Arozamena.
Two major distinctions were awarded by the Spanish government in 1966, La Gran Cruz del Mérito Civil and Medalla de Oro al Mérito en el Trabajo.
Concierto andaluz, for four guitars and orchestra, written at the request of the Romeros Guitar Quartet was premiered by the Quartet in November of 1967 with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Victor Alessandro.
Decade of the seventies and eighties
Numerous concerts, recitals and festivals were beginning to take place throughout the world dedicated to the music of Joaquín Rodrigo. Among the most important were those held in Turkey (1972) following a previous one in 1953, in Japan (1973), Mexico (1975) and London (1986).
A new premiere would take the Rodrigos to the United States in 1970, that of the Concierto madrigal for two guitars, which took place in California’s Hollywood Bowl, on the 30th of July, 1970. The guitarists Ángel and Pepe Romero were accomanied by the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. In 1976, Rodrigo received a commission from the Houston Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Independence of the United States and he dedicated his work entitled In Search of the Beyond (A la busca del más allá) to NASA. It was premiered in Houston, Texas on the 7th of March, 1978 at the Jesse H. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts by the Houston Symphony, conducted by Antoni Ros-Marbá.
In 1976 he was elected member of the Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts of Belgium, taking the seat left vacant by Benjamin Britten, and later received Doctorates Honoris Causa from the University of Southern California (1982), the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (1988), and the Universities of Alicante and Complutense of Madrid (both in 1989), as well as Exeter, Great Britain (1990).
But Rodrigo, who had already awakened years earlier the interest of great performers from abroad, such as Julian Bream, Christian Ferrás from France who recorded his Concierto de estío, or the Presti-Lagoya duo for whom Rodrigo wrote Tonadilla and Concierto madrigal, received commissions from two well-known British soloists, James Galway and Julian Lloyd Webber to write concertos, respectively, the Concierto pastoral for flute, and the Concierto como un divertimento for cello. Concierto pastoral was premiered by James Galway and the Philharmonia Orchestra, directed by Eduardo Mata on the 17th of October, 1978 at Royal Festival Hall, and Concierto como un divertimento was first performed on the 15th of April, 1982, at London’s Royal Festival Hall by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jesús López Cobos with cellist Julian Lloyd Webber. Finally, on the 5th of March, 1983, Concierto para una fiesta for guitar and orchestra, written at the request of the McKay family of Texas in honour of their daughters’ debut in society, was premiered at the Ridglea Country Club, Fort Worth, Texas. This work, which was performed by Pepe Romero and the Texas Little Symphony under conductor John Giordano, marked the last of the eleven concertos composed by Joaquín Rodrigo. The series, which had begun with Concierto de Aranjuez, closed with yet another guitar concerto.
In March 1986, Joaquín and Victoria attended a Festival in London dedicated to his music, in which the world premiere took place of one of his last great works, the Cántico de San Francisco de Asís, for choir and orchestra at Queen Elizabeth Hall by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and Choir and The Renaissance Choir, directed by Raymond Calcraft
MAXIMUM RECOGNITION AND DEATH
Decade of the nineties
Starting in 1990, Rodrigo continuously received honours from private and public institutions in Spain and abroad, culminating in the highest distinction granted in Spain, the Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts, awarded to him in 1996 for his “extraordinary contribution to Spanish music, to which he has given a new and universal dimension.” Previously, on his ninetieth birthday in 1991, he was raised to the nobility by King Juan Carlos I with the title 'Marqués de los jardines de Aranjuez'.
His wife and inseparable companion in all aspects of his work as a composer, Victoria, died on the 21st of July, 1997. Two years later on the 6th of July, 1999, Joaquín Rodrigo died. Their mortal remains rest together in the family pantheon in the cemetery at Aranjuez, under a large cubist guitar sculpted by Pablo Serrano in tribute to Joaquín Rodrigo. His epitaph reads “My cup may be small, but I drink from my cup”, in allusion to Joaquín Rodrigo’s quest to remain faithful to himself, to his style. And it was that desire for authenticity that preserved him happily from the passing trends that dazzled each moment of his century, and has maintained his music alive and recognized.
Victoria’s epitaph reads: “Her husband placed his heart-felt confidence in her”, from “In praise of the strong woman”, the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. This quote is significant in Rodrigo’s words dedicated to her:
“My wife Victoria, my faithful partner and collaborator, has been my inspiration, my drive, she has given me faith in myself and endless love, she has dedicated her entire existence to mine and has been the light of my eyes.”
With the principal aim of ensuring the preservation and dissemination of Joaquín Rodrigo’s music throughout the world, the composer’s only daughter, Cecilia, founded the publishing house of Ediciones Joaquín Rodrigo in 1989 and created the Victoria and Joaquín Rodrigo Foundation in 1999, which holds in its vast Archive, among numerous and varied documents, the composer’s manuscripts.
QUOTES FROM RODRIGO
(Taken from documents in the Archive of the Victoria and Joaquín Rodrigo Foundation)
“Blindness enhanced my spiritual life”
“Music is my dream, my enchantment, my joy. I am enamoured of music and would define it as the highest form of poetry attainable in the world.”
“I believe that all that is superior is what we will leave behind after we are gone. For those of us whose work is creation, it would be particularly bitter, especially sad, to admit that everything ends with death.”
“My cup may be small, but I drink from my cup”.
HIS STYLE OF COMPOSITION
In the composer’s words:
“I believe that Spanish music is indeed authentic, and I modestly think that, regardless of its merit, this applies to my music. It cannot be considered neoclassical because Spain did not have a classical period. For that reason, I believe that part of my music follows in the line of our national school, in which we did have a “casticismo” (Spanish tradition), and thus it’s intent is not neoclassical, but rather towards “neocasticismo”.”
“I continue to believe in melody, the complete and measured phrase, when it comes to song.”
“My music speaks a language that is markedly tonal or modal, since under modal we can include the exotic character of our old scales which have great oriental influence. There are also incursions that are more or less polyphonic.”
“I believe that perfect chord, nevertheless, is the cornerstone of my language.”
In the words of other musicians
Yehudi Menuhin: “A Musician with deep roots”
On the occasion of the Medal of Honor of the Menendez Pelayo University of Santander that was awarded to Joaquín Rodrigo in July of 1998, Yehudi Menuhin said:
“Thinking back over the coherent life of the great Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo, which spanned practially all of a dynamic and difficult century, I am impressed by the similarity in the manner in which Rodrigo and Bartok carried out their lives and their work in the same century.
Both figures, uninfluenced by trends and maintaing their own identity, found inspiration and guide in the musical legacy of their country (melody, rhythm, counterpoint, harmony). Both created a personal style, bringing to their respective cultures a universal voice. Brilliant and cultivated men, both lived and breathed the feelings, the customs of their people, coming to know them perhaps better than any historian or psychologist, because our great composers understand (as do our poets as well) the essence of humanity.
It is wonderful to think that the Spanish will long be reminded of their character, their qualities of thought, and their feelings through the music of Joaquín Rodrigo”.