Fantasía para un gentilhombre

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        For composers not of the ranks of the immortals it is rare to have the privilege to create the one composition that--almost alone of their works—seems to take on a life of its own, and becomes cherished by the whole world.   We can think of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, for example, and perhaps Alford’s Colonel Bogey March, for another.  Certainly, Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez for solo guitar and orchestra falls into this category.  Rodrigo lived a long life as an honored and distinguished composer, but he will always be remembered for this one composition.   He composed many other works, of course, and during his lifetime he became one of the most distinguished composers that Spain has ever produced, along with Albéniz, Falla, Granados, and Turina.  Born in Valencia, he contracted diphtheria when he was three years old and permanently lost his eyesight.  He studied piano and violin early, and then advanced subjects at the conservatory in Valencia.   In 1927 he moved to Paris where he became a composition student of Paul Dukas.  He also studied musicology, which prepared him for his career in Spain as a professor of music history, as well as that of a music critic.  He and his wife lived in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland until the events leading up to World War II forced their return to Spain, where they settled permanently in Madrid.  For the rest of his life he was active as a composer, and was showered in honors and recognition.  His musical style is steeped in traditional Spanish harmonic and melodic elements, and deep evocations of Spanish cultural elements.  His education in Paris exposed him to Ravel, and the sophisticated subtleties of his own style reflect this.   There is a sheen and beauty to his music that stems directly from his melding of French and Spanish characteristics.

        After the Concierto de Aranjuez, surely his next most well known composition is the Fantasía para un gentilhombre, also a concerto for guitar and orchestra.  In this case, it was commissioned by and dedicated to the esteemed virtuoso, Andrés Segovia—who is the “gentleman” in the title.  Composed in 1954, it followed the earlier masterpiece in the genre by fifteen years.   Much of the material in this concerto is based upon dances by Gaspar Sanz, a seventeenth-century Spanish composer and guitarist.  The four movements vary considerably:  The first movement is a sunny, bucolic setting of a villano (dance song), while the second is a meditative españoleta that features a brief fanfare for the cavalry of Naples (the Spanish ruled there during the seventeenth century).  The third movement—“Danza de las hachas”—is a virile dance in which torches or candlesticks are carried by the dancers.  Finally, the last movement is a traditional canario, a fast dance in triple metre.

        This gentle and ingratiating concerto is yet again compelling evidence of the authenticity of the individual voice in art, often to the exclusion of the mainstream musical style of the rest of the world.   It is eloquent testimony that it is still possible to create moments of beauty in a modern world of confrontational art.

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2015 William E. Runyan