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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

A Visit To Tárrega's Birthplace Makes My Day

A unique chance to hear his complete works in concert reveals a rare refinement

It is a curious coincidence that two of Spain´s most emblematic composers were born within a few miles of each in the sun-drenched region of Valencia, in south-east Spain. Separated by fifty years, Joaquín Rodrigo was born in Sagunto, Francisco Tárrega a few miles north in Vila Real, but a handful of miles from the Mediterranean coastline. Both were drawn, even captivated, by the folk-roots of much Spanish music, searching to distill its essence into a refined classical form.

Last week I spent an agreeable and inspiring few days in Tárrega´s birthplace where the enterprising Instituto para el Desarrollo Musical (IDM) under its Artistic Director David Eres Brun and Technical Director Migel Angel Brun organized a week of activities related to Tárrega, called Semana Tárrega (Tarrega Week).This included concerts, masterclasses, lectures and a visit to the composer’s birthplace.

If ever proof were required that inspiration does not arise from what you experience but how you experience it then a visit to the house where Tárrega was brought up may be enough to provide all the evidence you need. The house, now owned by the town and open to the public, is a narrow three-storey building with a small balcony on the first floor. I stood for a long time on it, gazing at the nearby square, narrow street and church – a scene similar to many hundreds of towns and villages in Spain.

A few hundred yards away is the Tárrega Museum, which contains photographs, artefacts, and copies of many contemporary press reviews from France, Italy, and Spain of the guitarist in concert. I was struck by the constant references to his sublime expressivity and beauty of sound, with scarcely a mention of any virtuosity or brilliance.

The Festival presented the complete original works of Tárrega over the space of three concerts in three days played by ten guitarists including yours truly

Luckily I started the proceedings on the opening night so could then sit through the rest of the concert at the back of the hall. Given the composer’s inclination for short pieces, seventeen works were performed on that first night. They ranged from Capricho Arabe, Gran Jota and Recuerdos de la Alhambra to four lesser known preludes, each scarcely a minute long.

The cumulative effect on me of listening to his music on a hot Valencian night with the recital room doors open to the surrounding garden was to be swept up in Tárrega’s delicate sound world. Never a note out of place, lovely melodic fragments in Spanish or Romantic style filled the night air. Sometimes it was the nostalgic fragrance of a lost Moorish paradise as in Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Capricho Arabe, at other times it was the musical ghosts of Chopin and Schumann who seemed to be leaning over the shoulder of guitarist Carlos Jaramillo as he spun a magical web of sound around the room.

It is our loss that Tárrega composed so little, and mostly in the last decade of his life. It is a pity he did not (or felt unable to) compose more substantial works. His gift for melody and for creating a musical atmosphere have left their mark, from the many guitarists who have been inspired to take up the instrument by his music to the many listeners who have been enraptured by the simple telling lines of his most celebrated compositions.

Listen again to the perfect modulations and structure of the Capricho Arabe; to the flowing lines of the Recuerdos as it reaches the major key at just the right moment and then suddenly take our breath away with an F sharp minor arpeggio; listen to the prelude in E major with its double octaves and harmonics hanging like jewels on a melodic line; listen to La Mariposa (the butterfly), a virtuoso study of great refinement, and listen to all the mazurkas, their understated perfection reflecting Tárrega´s over-modest but hugely musical nature.

As I was driven out of Vila Real towards Valencia airport I passed by Rodrigo´s birthplace of Sagunto, with its huge Roman fortification on one side and the sea on the other. Tárrega never lived anywhere other than in this climate and terrain where the omnipresent sun turns everything brilliant shades of white and green and blue.

Congratulations to the IDM for devising this wonderful festival dedicated to the father of the modern guitar: Francisco Tárrega, and for their inspired idea of presenting his complete works in concert.

19th July, 2013, Mexico

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Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2560 .
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