The Kennedy Center

Aranjuez ma pensée

About the Work

Joaquin Rodrigo Composer: Joaquin Rodrigo
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Though Joaquín Rodrigo, born on November 22, 1901, at Sagunto, Valencia, on Spain's eastern coast, lost his sight from diphtheria when he was three, he early showed a pronounced aptitude for music. His parents enrolled him in a school for blind children in the nearby city of Valencia, and at age eight he began formal lessons in harmony, piano and violin; his teachers in composition included Francisco Antich, Enrique Gomá, and Eduardo López Chávarri. During the 1920s Rodrigo established himself as a pianist with performances of challenging recent works by Ravel, Stravinsky, and other contemporary composers, and he began composing seriously in 1923 with the Suite para Piano and the Dos Esbozos ("Two Sketches") for violin and piano. His first work for orchestra, Juglares (written, like all of his scores, on a Braille music typewriter and then dictated to a copyist), was played in both Valencia and Madrid in 1924; his Cinco Piezas Infantiles, also for orchestra, won a National Prize the following year. In 1927 he followed the path of his compatriots Albéniz, Granados, Falla, and Turina, and moved to Paris where he enrolled at the Schola Cantorum as a pupil of Paul Dukas. Rodrigo immersed himself in the musical life of the city, befriending Honegger, Milhaud, Ravel, and other Parisian luminaries, receiving encouragement from Falla, and enjoying success with a performance of his orchestral Prelude for a Poem to the Alhambra, whose subject matter and distinctly Spanish idiom established the style that consistently characterized his creations. In 1933 he married the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi. A Conde de Cartegena Grant the following year enabled him to remain in Paris to continue his studies at the Conservatoire and the Sorbonne. The outbreak of civil war in Spain in 1936 prevented Rodrigo from returning home, and he spent the next three years traveling in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and living in the French capital. He returned to Madrid after the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, and established his position among the country's leading musicians with the premiere of the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra the following year. His prominence in Spanish musical life was recognized with many awards, honorary degrees and memberships, and in 1947 the creation for him of the Manuel de Falla Chair at the University of Madrid. In addition to teaching at the University, Rodrigo also served as head of music broadcasts for Spanish Radio, music critic for several newspapers, and director of the artistic section of the Spanish National Organization for the Blind. He died in Madrid on July 6, 1999.

Rodrigo's beloved Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) took its title and inspiration from the small town of Aranjuez, 30 miles south of Madrid on the River Tagus, a green oasis in the barren plateau of central Spain that provided a verdant summer retreat for the Spanish court. "The Aranjuez Concierto" Rodrigo said, "is meant to sound like the hidden breeze that stirs the tree tops in the parks, and it should be only as strong as a butterfly, and as dainty as a veronica." In 1968 Rodrigo made an arrangement for voice and guitar of the haunting theme from the work's slow movement titled Aranjuez, ma pensée ("Aranjuez, My Thought"), after the French poem provided for it by Victoria Kahmi, the gifted Turkish pianist who abandoned her own career when she married him in 1933 to devote the rest of the 64 years of their marriage to being his helpmate and the literary collaborator for many of his vocal works. She wrote of their life together in Hand in Hand: My Life at the Maestro's Side.