It seems that I’m becoming more comfortable with embracing challenges these days. With that in mind, I’m embracing the A-to-Z Blogging challenge, by writing about the things that I most closely associate with being alive, when I show up and engage with life as fully as possible.
And with that, I give you:
CONCIERTO DE ARANJUEZ
A little over 26 miles south of Madrid, Spain lies the town of Aranjuez. At one time, designated a royal residence, it gave its name to my favourite piece of guitar music, bar none: The Concierto de Aranjuez, by Joaquin Rodrigo. Composed in Paris (of all places) in 1939, 2015 marks the 75th anniversary of its first public performance. That Rodrigo was almost blind when he wrote the concerto and wasn’t really a guitarist to begin with (he was renowned as a pianist) only adds to magic and wonder that surround this piece for me.
The opening movement is boisterous, giddy with possibility and energy. To watch a master guitarist attack this movement is a thing of beauty to behold. I can’t really explain it very well, but the piece demands to be matched passion for passion. There is no “halfway” with the 1st movement. The guitarist MUST commit to the piece every ounce of energy and strength and exuberance she has. The synergy between the guitar and the violins, is matched only by the playful interaction of the guitar and oboe. It isn’t an easy piece to play by any stretch of the imagination. Sharon Isbin, one of the finest guitarists in the world (who, incidentally, studied with Rodrigo before his death) now uses a pick (Oh the sacrilege!) to play the 1st movement. She once tore a fingernail early in a performance and had to play almost all 22 minutes of the concerto with a bloody hand, she decided she had paid her dues and was entitled to a short cut. Anyway, it wasn’t like she had never played it “properly.” From start to finish, the 1st movement is all passion and fire and lust for life.
And then comes the second movement. Oh dear God what can I say about the 2nd movement except that it is the most heart-breakingly beautiful piece of music I have ever heard, particularly following the rambunctious joy of the first movement. The first time I heard the 2nd movement, I was driving home from work. I literally had to pull off the road and stop for a while, tears rolling down my cheeks. And then I heard the story behind its inspiration.
His wife, Victoria, herself a gifted pianist, was pregnant with their first child. Something went wrong, as they sometimes do, and she miscarried. Rodrigo spent all day at the hospital with her, returning to their home only when forced to leave, ordered to get some sleep. But sleep would not come and, in his anguish, he was known to pace the halls until, invariably, he would find himself in the conservatory, seated at his piano. There, he poured out his grief and fear and heartache. The result of that long dark night of the soul became the foundation of the 2nd movement of his masterpiece.
The third movement is a far more hopeful piece. It is a release from the agony of the second movement but it is not a relief. It is a dance but it is more restrained somehow. Rodrigo called it “courtly” but it feels mature, somehow. Not old but without some of the frivolity I hear in the 1st movement. It holds the promise that the sun will continue to rise and if the laughter is not quite as carefree as it once was, at least it has returned.
The maestro said the entire concerto was inspired by the Palacio Real at Aranjuez: the magnolias, the songbirds, the gardens. I hear life itself. I hear passion and heartache, laughter and tears. The only question is: Is it my life I hear or is it life collective? And in the end, does it really matter?