El Maestro Rodrigo

Known internationally by one immensely popular work, Rodrigo was in fact the composer of 170 pieces, including 11 concertos, many choral and orchestral works, songs, duets for piano and guitar and music for the ballet, theatre and cinema. ‘During the second half of the 20th.century, Rodrigo came to occupy a position in Spanish musical life close to that of that of Manuel de Falla. Like his mentor, ‘he cultivated a style far removed from the major currents of European musical development and…his music needs to be judged in the context of Spain’s classical and traditional music, art and literature.’ (NGDM).

Moving from my own narrow perspective, I have been listening to some of his piano and orchestral works in the excellent Naxos ‘Spanish Classics’ series. I have been surprised at the abrasive even aggressive style he employs in some of these pieces. The four movement Concierto heroica para piano (a revision by Joaquin Achucarro of an earlier work) begins with an avalanche of clamorous orchestral rhythms and although the work settles down to a more even dynamic with the beautiful Largo second movement, this is the proud distinctive Spanish style to which the quotation from NGDM refers.

It takes some getting used to for someone who is more used to the differently structured North European classics. But, once in the idiom of this Iberian modernism, here is profoundly moving and arresting music.

Similarly on a disc of piano music (first in a promised series) played with virtuosity by Artur Pizarro. The first piece is A l’ombre de Torre Bermeja and it begins with a crashing chord followed by a cascade of arpeggios and then moves into one of the many tunes that fill this disc – such as the two lullabies – Spring and Autumn, but even there the latter of these is marked by a limpid dissonance as it slowly travels in and out of the minor key.

There are times when one listens to these works that the figuration of music for guitar seems never far away. This is beautiful, intellectually demanding, brilliantly colourful music and never a matter of sound for sounds sake.

King Carlos 1 awarded Rodrigo and his wife the appropriate hereditary title of Marqueses de los Jardines Aranjuez in 1992. More about Maestro Rodrigo in Spanish Modernists V