On the rare occasion that a guitar concerto is programmed on a concert, it’s a sure bet that it will most likely be Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. There are a myriad of rather boring reasons for concert programming having become encased in amber, including unadventurous music directors, but the main reason that it’s performed so often is that it’s a great piece!
Joaquín Rodrigo’s life spanned the entirety of the 20th century. He was born in Valencia in 1901 and died in Madrid in 1999. At the age of three he lost his sight after contracting diphtheria and starting learning the piano, violin, and solfège (do, re, mi) when he was eight. When he was sixteen he started to learn to compose, which he would do by using Braille and then someone would transpose to music notation. While he known best for his guitar music — there are many other concertos and pieces he wrote for the instrument aside from Aranjuez — he never learned to the play the instrument.
He wrote the Concierto de Aranjuez in 1939 for the guitarist, Regino Sainz de la Maza. He and his wife later admitted that the concerto was written in response to the miscarriage of their first child and the very emotional central movement has become one of the most recognizable pieces of music written in the 20th century.
Rodrigo would later arrange this concerto for the harp, which is a very satisfying version, in my opinion.
The central, second movement was also used as the impetus for one of the greatest jazz collaborations and albums ever recorded, Miles Davis’ 1960 album, Sketches of Spain, arranged and conducted by Gil Evans.
The second movement was also used for one of the tracks (track four) of one of the greatest jazz guitar records of all time, Jim Hall’s Concierto, featuring incredible contributions by Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Ron Carter, and Stevie Gadd. This is personally one of my favorite jazz tracks ever recorded.
Before I share some wonderful performances of Aranjuez, I thought I’d direct you to some of Rodrigo’s other compositions for guitar.
Fantasía para un gentilhombre, composed for Andrés Segovia.
Concierto Andaluz for Four Guitars and Orchestra, written for Los Romeros.
Concierto Madrigal for Two Guitars and Orchestra
Here are three great performances of Concierto de Aranjuez.