This concerto is a remarkable feat of musical composition, as Rodrigo was blind from the age of 3, a pianist, and did not even play the guitar! Pitting a solo guitar against the full force of an orchestra is also fairly unique instrumentation, and it is remarkable how the guitar is never totally overwhelmed.
Joaquin Rodrigo was born near Valencia and showed early promise as a musician. He was accepted at the Sorbonne and later at the Ecole Normale de Musique where he befriended and worked with Paul Ducas. He settled in Madrid and produced a prolific variety of compositions, writing for the violin, cello, harp and piano. His works blend mainstream European classicism with Moorish Iberian harmony, and he was always expressively melodic with a delicate musical refinement. This work is said to evoke memories of the lovely gardens of Aranjuez, with their fountains, trees and birdsong. First performed in Barcelona in 1940, it was an instant success and has achieved worldwide acclaim. Jazz legend Miles Davis reinterpreted the work, and a clarinet transcription ‘Aranjuez’ has sold over 2 million copies.
The opening movement ’Allegro con Spirito’ quietly sets off at a relentless pace and is animated by a vigorous rhythmic spirit. The second movement, ‘Adagio’, is the most famous of the three movements, and is marked by its slow pace and quiet melody introduced by the horn, with soft accompaniment by the guitar and strings. Quiet regret permeates the piece, but the first seeds of tension are introduced with an off tonic trill by the solo guitar. This eventually builds into a climatic unleashing of the main melody ‘molto appassionato’ voiced by strings and woodwinds. The music finally resolves to a calm arpeggio from the guitar, though it is the strings that bring the movement to a close. The concluding movement ‘Allegro Gentil’ is in the style of a courtly dance, with a jaunty duple and triple time maintaining a taut tempo right to the closing bar. Rodrigo was catapulted to instant international notoriety with this concerto, setting unreasonable expectations for further great works which he was never able to fulfill. He was however bestowed with innumerable prizes and honorary degrees, and King Juan Carlos raised him to nobility in 1991.