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ClassicsOnline Home » RODRIGO: Songs and Madrigals (Complete Orchestral Works, Vol. 10)
Joaquín Rodrigo wrote more than two hundred compositions, creating a prolific variety of orchestral pieces, songs and instrumental music. Less well known, however, are various works for soprano and orchestra. This recording presents some of the finest examples of Rodrigo’ s songs, illustrating the wide range of Spanish poetry he set to music. The composer considered Cántico de la esposa (Song of the Bride) as his best vocal work. Here the melodic line recalls the glories of the Golden Age of 16th century Spanish song, while the imaginative orchestration locates the work specifically in the 20th century. Tríptic de Mossèn Cinto (Triptych of Mossèn Cinto) displays many of Rodrigo’s musical characteristics, including exquisite matching of word to note, swift but subtle changes of mood, and his love of the emotive power of the voice.
By David Denton
Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)
Songs and Madrigals for Soprano and Orchestra
Throughout his long life, Joaquín Rodrigo wrote more than two hundred compositions, creating a prolific variety of orchestral pieces, concertos, songs, and instrumental music for guitar, piano, violin, cello, and other instruments, now increasingly in demand and appreciated world-wide. Less well known among his output, however, are various works for soprano and orchestra, demonstrating both his love for this form and his mastery of it. This recording presents some of the finest examples of Rodrigo's songs illustrating the wide range of Spanish poetry he set to music, and the profound expressiveness of his orchestral accompaniments.
Joaquín Rodrigo was born on St Cecilia's Day, 22 November 1901, in Sagunto, Valencia. In 1905, an outbreak of diphtheria impaired his vision and within a few years he lost every vestige of sight. From the age of seven he attended the School for the Blind in Valencia, where, with his musical gifts becoming increasingly apparent, he played violin and piano. Later he took composition lessons with Francisco Antich Carbonell, renowned organist and maestro at the local parish church. In the autumn of 1927, the young composer travelled to Paris, enrolling at the Ecole Normale de Musique. His teacher, Paul Dukas, one of the masters of early twentieth-century French music, greatly influenced Rodrigo, especially in aspects of orchestration. In 1928, the French President awarded Manuel de Falla the National Legion of Honour. Rodrigo performed his own piano pieces at the ceremony, thus extending his reputation as composer and pianist.
Around the same time, Rodrigo met Victoria Kamhi, a young Jewish pianist from Istanbul, the daughter of a businessman. Despite various difficulties, financial and otherwise, they eventually married in January 1933, but a year later hardship enforced separation, a dilemma resolved only when Rodrigo was awarded a prestigious Conde de Cartagena Scholarship, enabling him to be reunited with his wife in Paris. In 1936 disaster struck again when the Spanish Civil War began and the scholarship fund was no longer available. Eventually Rodrigo and his wife found refuge for eighteen months at the Institute for the Blind in Freiburg, Germany. In 1938 he visited Spain briefly to lecture and perform at the Santander Summer School but, failing to obtain suitable employment in his native land, was compelled to spend another year in Paris. In 1939 he completed the Concierto de Aranjuez, a work which soon became internationally famous.
Rodrigo returned to Spain at the beginning of September 1939. Life was difficult, but with help from colleagues, including Falla, Rodrigo was offered various salaried appointments and after years of deprivation, the tide began to turn with the première in Barcelona of Concierto de Aranjuez on 9 November 1940. On 27 January 1941, Rodrigo's daughter, Cecilia, was born. His reputation as a great Spanish composer now began to gain international esteem.
The song cycle, Cuatro madrigales amatorios (Four Madrigals of Love), on poems (by authors unspecified) from the sixteenth-century anthology of Juan Vasquez, was composed in 1947 and orchestrated the following year. In the late 1930s, Rodrigo first heard the settings of these texts by the Renaissance masters of the vihuela (an early type of guitar), when Emilio Pujol, playing a reproduction vihuela, accompanied the soprano, Conchita Badía, in Paris. Each song derives its dramatic impulse from repetitions of the title, followed by lines which reveal the full meaning. Thus, '¿Con qué la lavaré?'(With what shall I bathe?), reflects that whereas wives and mothers‚ may bathe in lemon water, the poet's face is washed only in tears of grief and sorrow. 'Vos me matásteis'(You have slain me), similarly sad, expresses how the poet has been devastated by love having seen a beautiful girl on the banks of a river. The answer to the question in the third song, '¿De dónde venís, amore?'(Where have you been, my love?) is that the poet knows indeed where the beloved has been and is a witness to the fact. This is a more lighthearted piece, marked Allegro grazioso, suggesting that things need not be taken too seriously. Throughout the cycle, Rodrigo pays tribute to the early Spanish masters creating his own themes in close homage to the originals. But for 'De los álamos vengo, madre'(I come from the poplars, Mother), the composer uses the traditional melody, though providing his own ebullient accompaniment. Here the poet has met with the beloved among the poplar trees of Seville.
Cantos de amor y de guerra (Songs of Love and War) were dedicated (on the anniversary of her first five years of marriage), to the composer's daughter, Cecilia, humorously associating themes of passion and conflict with the state of matrimony. The first song, 'Paseábase el rey moro'(The Moorish king passed by), refers to the defeat of the Moorish king of Granada, while '¡A las armas, moriscotes!'(To arms, Moriscotes!) tells of the Moriscotes (Moors converted to Christianity) ready to battle against the French. In contrast, '¡Ay, luna que reluces!'(Oh, moon that shines!) is a hymn of praise to the moon shining through war and peace. 'Sobre Baza estaba el Rey'(The king was nearing Baza) refers to King Fernando's many battles in the eleventh century against the Moors. In this poem the king's army besieges the city of Baza, while an enemy behind the ramparts of the beleaguered garrison shouts a warning that the winter is cold, the Moors have good supplies of food as well as twenty thousand troops, eight hundred knights, and seven courageous leaders prepared to fight to the death. The fifth song, 'Pastorcico, tú que has vuelto' (Shepherd boy, you have returned) asks whether the young shepherd coming down from the mountain, has found the poet's beloved.
Rodrigo commented about Cantos de amor y de guerra: "The songs form a cycle inspired by romances, whose theme is love or the frontier wars against the Moors. The music and the texts (adapted by Victoria Kamhi), have been taken from the cancioneros of the sixteenth century. The music of these romances has been lightly modified generally, with the exception of 'Sobre Baza estaba el Rey', which is totally original. The composer has wished to preserve all the atmosphere of these romances and has therefore provided them with a very simple harmony and very restrained orchestration… This limitation of resources, both harmonic and instrumental is intended to allow the melody of the romances to stand out especially and contributes a particular atmosphere to the music which it serves, appropriate for a vihuela or a much reduced ensemble".
Tríptic de Mossèn Cinto (Triptych of Mossèn Cinto), written in 1936, when the composer was living in Paris, displays many of Rodrigo's musical characteristics, including brilliant orchestral colouring, exquisite matching of word to note, melodic innovation, swift but subtle changes of mood, and his love of the emotive power of the voice. This beautiful work, based on three poems by Jacinto Verdaguer (1845-1902), a priest and poet of Catalonia, brings together several sacred legends.
The first movement, 'L'harpa sagrada'(The Sacred Harp), celebrates David's ancient harp, which hangs on a tree in Zion. The Virgin Mary asks the angels to let her play the harp, which, if it has not lost its sound, she will die embracing, bringing joy to the world. 'Lo violí de Sant Francesc'(The Violin of St Francis of Assisi), mentions several musical instruments played to honour the Infant Jesus. St Francis picks up two sticks, holding them like a violin and bow, and from this, miraculously, comes the sound of great music. Finally, 'Sant Francesc i la cigala' (St Francis and the Cicada), tells of the cicada encouraged by St Francis to sing to God. The cicada sings so beautifully every morning for a week that the saint promises from henceforth the insect will be allowed to play the guitar as well as sing.
Romance del Comendador de Ocaña (Ballad of the Knight Commander of Ocaña), first performed in Madrid in 1948, is based on a passage from Lope de Vega's play Peribáñez y el Comendador de Ocaña. Casilda, wife of a poor peasant, is threatened by an unscrupulous aristocrat, who enters her house with evil intent during her husband's absence. The hero, Peribáñez, however, rescues his wife and, with the king's approbation, kills the would-be seducer. In Rodrigo's song, Casilda both mocks the nobleman and insistently proclaims her wifely devotion: "I love Peribáñez with his peasant's cloak more than the Commander of Ocaña with all his finery".
Cuatro cançons en llengua catalana was first given in 1946 by Victoria de los Angeles in Barcelona. The first two songs were written in the mid-1930s. 'Canço del Teuladí'(Song of the Sparrow), is based on a poem by the Valencian poet, Teodoro Llorente (1836-1911). A sparrow, making an appeal for clemency to the hunter, explains his virtues, less flamboyant than other birds but equally worthy. The orchestral accompaniment begins with birdsong, introducing a witty argument why the sparrow should be spared. 'Canticel' (Song), with text by the Catalan expatriate poet, Josep Carner (1884-1970), has the atmosphere of a ballad. For a sail on the sea, the poet is prepared to yield a throne, for a virtuous face, joy and part of youth may be given, while love itself would be offered for the gift of rosemary. 'L'Inquietut Primaveral de la Donzella'(The Anxious Springtime of the Maiden), with words by Josep Massó i Ventós, is the song of a maiden who yearns to bathe in the clear waters of the sea, enjoy sun and flowers, ornament her body with jewels and listen to the songs sung by the river. 'Brollador Gentil' (Gentle Fountain), the most dramatic of the group, tells of a troubadour singing and playing the guitar by the fountain at night. The cascading fluidity of the orchestra, with its vigorous rhythms, evokes the flowing fountain.
Rosaliana, first performed at La Coruña in 1965, comprises four varied poems by the Galician writer, Rosalía de Castro (1837-1885), woven into a substantial song cycle. The first, 'Cantart' ei Galicia'(I sing to you, Galicia), is a lyrical statement of devotion to the poet's homeland and the Galician language. This is contrasted against the more perplexed mood of '¿Por qué?'(Why?) where the questions range from the personal to the cosmic. Here (as previously), the themes recall folksong, as the poem develops above the orchestra's reticent sonorities. 'Adiós ríos, adiós fontes'(Farewell rivers, farewell fountains) is a heartfelt farewell to everything loved on earth – rivers, trees, home and happiness itself. As the singer ponders life's mysteries, plaintive timbres from flute and oboe echo over a light string accompaniment. The final song, '¡Vamos bebendo!'(Let us go drinking!), joyfully anticipates good prices for eggs, a wedding, and glasses of wine, the accompaniment evoking the raucous joviality of Galician bagpipes.
Rodrigo considered Cántico de la esposa (Song of the Bride, composed 1934), as his best vocal work. He remarked that it was written for his wife, Victoria, 'at a very difficult time of our life when, after just one year of marriage, we had to be separated for economic reasons'. St John of the Cross (1542-1591) invokes the sense of spiritual intensity between God and the believer, but Rodrigo recognised aspects of his own forlorn circumstances within the verse and commented that 'the bride represents the soul and a comparison is made between divine and earthly love'. The composer's own adverse experiences are thus expressed within the pathos of the song. Once again, the melodic line recalls the glories of the Golden Age of sixteenth-century Spanish song while the imaginative orchestration locates the work specifically in the twentieth century.
(author of Joaquín Rodrigo, A Life in Music, Joaquín Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez, and Distant Sarabandes: The Solo Guitar Music of Joaquín Rodrigo.)
Sung texts and English translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/555845.htm
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