written by guest blogger, Irene Gómez (Strings By Mail Sponsored Artist)
Recently, some classical guitar magazines featured Joaquin Rodrigo’s Aranjuez Concerto. You can also find a play along version of this Aranjuez Concerto here. This reading reminded me of those almost parallel guitar concerts written in great part after Andres Segovia´s request between the 30’s and 50´s for composers to create guitar concertos. Those were years of the unprecedented career of this guitarist that positioned the guitar in a high place in the world of classical music. Here is a browsing of memories of that time:
The Aranjuez Concerto, paradoxically was not related to Segovia. It was born as a result of a casual lunch in 1938 between Joaquin Rodrigo, his wife the pianist Victoria Kamhi, the Marqués de Bolarque, and the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza in San Sebastian, Spain, in which the composer promised to write a concert for Regino Sains de la Maza. He subsequently premiered the Aranjuez Concerto on November 9, 1940, with the Barcelona Philarmonic Orchestra conducted by César Mendoza Lasalle, and was greatly received. He recorded the concerto around 1947-48 with the Spanish National Orchestra under the baton of Ataulfo Argenta. Guitarists such Manuel Diaz Cano performed the concert in Turkish , and Rey de la Torre made the premiere of this concert in New York in 1959 with the Cleveland Orchestra. The concerto was also starred as a ballet especially by the company of legendary Spanish choreographer Pilar Lopez.
Segovia requested with restless insistence to his fellows composers to keep writing music for guitar solo and guitar and orchestra. On his list there were composers like Juan Manem , Moreno Torroba, and Turina among many others. For a while he played with much success the concert of his Italian friend Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco, who he had met in 1932 in Venice during an international event of contemporary music. Castelnuovo accepted to write several pieces for guitar including some quintets. Among his first pieces that Segovia played we can mention Homage to Bocherini and ´Variazioni a traverse I secole´. (Variations through the centuries). Castelnuovo concerto in D major Op. 99, (play along version here) was written around 1939, year in which the composer left Italy to live in USA where he developed a career as a film composer in Hollywood. The same year of 1939 Segovia performed the concerto in Montevideo and became a very constant work in his concert programs. At the same time he asked Mexican composer Manuel Ponce to write a concerto that he was expecting to perform in the same evening along with the one by Castelnuovo Tedesco!
After several years of communicating with the composer and suggesting changes in each movement (and even advising what should be the best way to send the scores, etc), Segovia finally premiered the Concerto del Sur by Manuel Ponce (play along version here) in Montevideo (his homeland at that moment) on October 4th 1941. This concerto was also a great success and the concert received outstanding reviews from critics and audiences. Both artists had met in 1923 when Segovia played for the first time in Mexico. Since then, Ponce wrote an important number of works for guitar that became an important reference for guitarists.
Heitor Villa-Lobos also offered to the guitarist of Linares the Estudios for guitar written around 1929 when he was in Paris, and years later in 1940, the Six Preludes. In 1951, he composed a “Fantasia concertante” for which Segovia requested that the Brazilian composer to add a cadenza. The concerto was premiered by Segovia with the Houston Symphony Orchestra on February 6th1956, under the conducting of Villa-Lobos himself.
This concerto also became very popular and after the index taken by the Indiana University there are at least 50 recordings registered of this concerto.
Rodrigo and Segovia likewise developed a deep friendship and their families spent time during their travels where they coincided mainly in North America and Spain. The composer dedicated many works to Segovia, such as ‘Tres piezas españolas’ (Fandango, Passacaglia, Zapateado). In 1951 he asked Rodrigo to compose a concerto for guitar and orchestra. Victoria Kamhi, in her book ‘In the hand with Rodrigo´ stated that after the great success of Aranjuez concerto he did not feel great desire to compose another concert. However he thought over it and he decided to create a Suite on themes collected by Gaspar Sanz, the Spanish composer from the baroque period. The title would be Fantasia para un Gentil Hombre (Fantasy for a Gentleman) – (play along version here) and he would also dedicate this work to Andres Segovia as a tribute expressing his great admiration for the guitarist. The Fantasia´s movements are: Villano-Ricercare, Españoleta y Fanfare de la Caballeria de Nápoles, Danza de las hachas, Canario.
At last, Segovia premiered Fantasia para un Gentil Hombre on March 5th 1958, with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Enrique Jordá.
On that evening, Segovia closed the first part playing the Fantasia and opened the second part of the concert playing some Solo guitar pieces by Bach, Villa-Lobos and Albeniz. The orchestra finished the program with Ralph Vaughan Williams, Symphony No. 5. (dedicated to Sibeius). Rodrigo composed a great number of concerts for guitar like Concierto para una fiesta, Concierto Madrigal, (2 guitars) Concierto Andaluz.(4 guitars).
The years of the apparition of these emblematic concertos opened the path to universal composers such as Malcolm Arnold, Lennox Berkeley, (concertos dedicated to Julian Bream), Maurice Ohana, Jacques Bondon, Leo Brouwer, Ernesto Cordero and Zamuel Zimman, to mention just some of the large number of magnificent worldwide composers who have now devoted their inspiration to this ensemble.
Classical guitarist Irene Gómez regularly contributes to Strings By Mail through her teaching and performance videos as well as articles. She is a Strings By Mail Sponsored Artist, teaches guitar at the National University in Bogotá, Colombia, and performs worldwide.
Victoria Kahmi, Hand in Hand with Rodrigo, Latin American Literary Review Press
Miguel Alcazar, The Segovia-Ponce Letters, Editions Orphee Columbus
Corazon Otero, Manuel Ponce and the guitar, The Bold Strummer Ltd.
Alfredo Scande, Don Andres and Paquita, the Life of Segovia in Montevideo, Amadeus Press