Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Author's suggestion:

Before reading my personal account of meeting Joacquin Rodrigo ... I recommend you listen to all three movements of his major work - Concierto de Aranjuez (especially the 2nd part performed by Narcisco Yepes - who was playing during the concert I write about below):

1st part: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LxpRVbhWlLI&feature=related

2nd part: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxwceLlaODM&feature=related

3rd part: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwBrv20CZDA&feature=related

Blind by the age of three due to a bout with diphtheria coupled with double pneumonia, composer Joaquin Rodrigo "saw' and felt Music even as he lay in that nether world of life and death. It entered through his every pore and permeated him. He lived it and breathed it. He imparted it to many of us.

The Concierto de Aranjuez was written specially for classical guitar. It is the first time in modern musical history that a composer wrote for this instrument and it is an immortal piece of Music. Rodrigo did not dedicate the Concierto de Aranjuez to Andres Segovia. He dedicated it to de la Maza. Perhaps that explains why the conceited though brilliant Segovia never once played the Concierto de Aranjuez throughout his long life.

Rodrigo was in Paris in 1939 while the civil war raged unabated in Spain. One million dead would stun the world and the Spaniards themselves. It was during his country's and his darkest hour that he composed El Concierto de Aranjuez.

The concert was first played in Madrid in 1940. My aunt or cousin twice removed Nini, (I never got the kinship clarified other than we were somehow related) who was then considered Generalissimo Franco's most important spy, attended the gala concert. It was a glorious event. Radio Espana broadcast it over the entire country. The audience in the concert hall cheered and clapped for 40 minutes. It lifted the hearts and souls of all those who listened for there was not one family in the whole of Spain that had not lost a loved one to "los rojos" - the Communists or to "los nacionalistas"- the Fascists.

I was first introduced to the concerto by my Uncle Matthias. Nini had sent a vinyl album of it to him. He headed a radio and television network in the Philippines for members of my clan, who were its main shareholders. All of the radios' programs struck the public's fancy, even The Classical Hour.

Listening to all three movements mesmerized me. To this day, I cannot imagine myself concentrating only on the Second Movement - the Adagio, a haunting and sublime lament devoid of pathos. Pure anguish and pain and acceptance of God's will. It was so unlike the mighty Tschaikovsky who could and did compose exquisitely pathetique music as witness his 6th Symphony known as La Pathetique.

The coolest cat on the planet Miles Davis together with arranger Gil Evans recorded the Adagio in his album Sketches of Spain in the early 60's, I think. It's mind blowing man!

Joaquin Rodrigo inflamed me to write music for guitar. Only I was tantalized and lured by the flamenco guitar which I then transposed for piano. It is not for the faint-hearted for it contains never ending arpeggios, discordant scales and rhythmic music. I called them "Danzas Atavicas." Atavistic Dances.

Gregorio Maranon, President of the Instituto de Cultura Hispanica - Institute of Hispanic Culture asked me to play the dances which I had arranged for piano at the Cultural Center. As a result of this recital, many flamenco cantaoras and cantaores sang the Danzas Atavicas as flamenco dancers in Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Granada and Cordoba danced to its fiery music.

Then in 1973,the guitarist Narciso Yepes was to be soloist with the Madrid Symphony Orchestra. Only the music of Joaquin Rodrigo would be played. The entire week was to be dedicated to the music of Rodrigo. Indeed, a grateful people and an equally thankful Ministry of Culture were bestowing a series of honorific gold medals and a jewel to him.

I think Aunt Nini pulled strings because I found myself sitting next to Joaquin Rodrigo on the V.I.P. row. I couldn't help thinking that he was a rose between two thorns; His wife Viktoria and I flanked him. He was a giant. To me all blind men are giants, particularly those with that kind of musical talent and the true grit to carry on.

We had spoken at length when Nini had hosted a small reception at her antique filled flat in Hermosillo, Madrid's historic center. I closed my eyes because I wanted no distractions other than his voice and whatever vibrated from his soul and spirit. His voice lilted, and he smiled easily. I opened my eyes for a few seconds - behind his dark glasses I could see his half shut eyes. Viktoria stood beside him and she looked amused. I hastily covered mine with my hands, taking care not to cover my mouth with my fingers. He would have noticed the change in the timbre of my voice.

"Maestro, I think that everyone should learn the art of listening. Your Concierto de Aranjuez is so bewitching because all three movements talk to us. The Adagio is out of this world but it fills me with sorrow. I need the joy of the Third Movement, the Allegro to take me to a different plane," I told him.

"I agree," he replied. "I composed three movements but the world seems to have taken to its heart the Adagio. I sometimes wonder, why the young people of today who have so much, feel such an almost irresistible attraction to the Adagio."

The concert hall was full, the silence reverential. And then the Symphonic Orchestra of Madrid intoned the first plaintive notes of the Adagio. My face was inundated with tears. I made no attempt to wipe them with my linen hankie because the blind are sensitive to any movement however slight. I couldn't bear to disrupt his emotions. But my tears flowed like rain. I wiped my face with the palms of my hands. In silence, I took his left hand for it was the one closest to me and placed my tear - wet hands in his. I wanted him to know that I understood why he had written the Adagio. Death had compelled him. The death of a loved one. A child? An infant?
He held my hands for a bit and then he brought them to his lips and kissed them. Ah! now I know, even if you will never tell me. Only the death of an infant can cause this unbearable anguish.

In the Adagio I saw 9 year-old Bubi, my favorite cousin and playmate in his white coffin. Zita, my partner in pranks, dead at 22 possibly from a stroke due to diabetes, probably from a concussion sustained to her head when she fell as a result of a blow from her violent husband. Cousins Mila, Carly, Cooky, shot to pieces and then beheaded by Marxist or CIA fiends in the Philippine jungles.

Let the tears flow. Let the music go on. Life goes on too. The end of the Adagio tells us that acceptance of loss is important. That the belief in a higher power is comforting. That all children are innocent and thus ascend into the Light.

The orchestra begun the Allegro I glanced at his wife Viktoria. A slight smile formed in her lips. She nodded as if to say "Yes, you have captured the essence of the Adagio. It's a secret between us."

Joaquin Rodrigo died at the age of 97 in the year 1999. Preparations were being made in Spain for his 100th birthday. Viktoria had preceded him by 10 years. He granted an interview a few months before his death.

"Yes, when I composed the Adagio I was in despair. My wife and I were very poor. We had just lost an unborn son. But the adagio is also full of hope. I see that my son is going towards God and that comforts me. Life continues inexorably."

Now listen again to the 2nd part with your eyes closed.

To learn more about this wonderful man and his music go to: http://www.joaquin-rodrigo.com/index2.html

To see some photos of the beautiful Jardin del Palacio de Aranguez go to: http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/jardin_del_palacio_de_aranjuez

1 comment:

  1. Yes,yes! Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez is divine music. Music of the Soul. As Helen Gardner's edition of John Donne's Holy Sonnets reads: "And death shall be no more, death thou shalt die." E.M. Ashford expresses this in the play W;t: "Nothing but a breath, a comma separates life from life everlasting."