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Roberto Capocchi, guitarist: Blog

Liner Notes for "Spanish Guitar Music CD"

Posted on June 30, 2010 with 1 comment

Notes by Aaron Grad


Stringed instruments to be plucked or strummed developed in the world’s earliest civilizations, and variants of those primitive lutes and lyres spread throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. The Greeks called one such instrument the kithara, a name that came to describe certain offshoots of the lute family from the time of the Renaissance. But it was not until the mid-19th century that this instrument reached its maturity, when the guitar maker Antonio Torres perfected what we now call the classical guitar. This ancient instrument of the people finally had the power and range to fill a concert hall, and a rich solo repertoire and recital tradition soon followed.


It is no coincidence that the defining instrument builder and the leading composers and performers in this new Romantic guitar style were all from Spain. Conquered by the Romans, invaded by Germanic Visigoths, occupied for more than 700 years by Muslim forces from Northern Africa, and finally retaken by Christian Europeans after centuries of war, Spain bears the traces of each of its ruling powers. Smaller groups made significant impacts, too, especially the Sephardic Jews whose presence dates back thousands of years, and the Romani people of Central and Eastern Europe (commonly known as “Gypsies”). The mixing of these cultures produced dynamic new folk traditions, especially in the southern region of Andalucía, where the Moorish influence was strongest, and where the Arab oud (a fretless lute) launched the evolution of the guitar. That region’s style of dance and music, flamenco, provided the exotic melodies, vital rhythms and strummed textures that formed the core of the Spanish guitar repertoire.


One of the composers most closely identified with the birth of the classical guitar never actually wrote for the instrument. Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) composed mostly for the piano, but his style drew heavily upon Andalusian folk traditions, including the guitar-rich flamenco sound. One of his most recognizable compositions, Leyenda, first appeared as the Preludio in an 1892 piano suite, Chants d' Espagne, written while Albéniz was living in London. After the composer’s death, his publishers re-titled the movement Asturias, with the subtitle Leyenda (“Legend”), and added it to an earlier collection, Suite española. (Unfortunately, Asturias is a glaring misnomer: This music has no relation to that mountainous region in the very north of the country, and instead exudes the hot-blooded energy of Andalucía.) The Spanish guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia was not the first to transcribe Leyenda for guitar, but his performances of the work beginning in the 1920’s made it a classic. The piece begins with the haunting texture of a modal melody snaking around a repeated note, a sound that expands and intensifies with daredevil flair before ushering in Gypsy-tinged ruminations and vigorous dance patterns.


Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) belonged to the generation of Nationalist composers that followed Albéniz. He also studied and lived abroad, and strove to blend continental sophistication with the local sounds of Iberia. His 1932 work Homenaje a Tárrega — or Hommage à Tarrega, in its common French translation — is the last entry in Turina’s small but important catalog of music for solo guitar. The piece pays tribute to another founding father of the Spanish guitar tradition, Francisco Tárrega. The two movements take up traditional flamenco sounds, including the tapping of the guitar’s body in Garrotín and the shifting rhythmic emphasis in Soleares.

The city of Cádiz, one of the southernmost ports in Spain, sits on a narrow strip of land jutting into the Atlantic Ocean. The storied town inspired Isaac Albéniz to include this movement for solo piano in his Suite española, and like Leyenda it has joined the essential guitar repertoire via transcriptions by others. This musical postcard seems to sway with the lilting waves, and only hints at a more distressed state in the central section.


Regino Sainz de la Maza (1896-1981) was one of the finest guitarists of the 20th century. He taught at the Madrid Conservatory, and premiered the blockbuster Concierto de Aranjuez by his compatriot Joaquín Rodrigo. Sainz de la Maza also enriched the guitar repertoire with his own compositions, including these two miniatures. Petenera plays with a typical flamenco cross-rhythm, alternating groupings of three beats and two beats. Zapateado is another flamenco adaptation, in this case referring to a fleet-footed dance style (“zapato” is Spanish for shoe).


Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), a contemporary of Albéniz, was a prolific composer and a legendary guitarist. He is credited with composing and transcribing more than 200 pieces for the guitar, and his concert performances around Europe helped establish the solo guitar recital as high art. One of his quintessential showpieces was Capricho árabe; the title “caprice” matches the music’s improvisational flourishes and flights of fancy, while the “árabe” descriptor stretches beyond hybridized flamenco to the distant strains of Muslim Africa.


Tárrega composed dozens of short solo works, many simply titled Prelude and some affixed with more colorful names. Lágrima is one such prelude; the title word “teardrop” captures the bittersweet tone of the piece. Adelita is in the form of a Mazurka, a Polish style that likely had more to do with Frédéric Chopin (from whom Tárrega made some of his most exquisite guitar transcriptions) than the original folk context. The Prelude that follows is one of many untitled examples, but its music is no less evocative.


Recuerdos de la Alhambra (“Memories of the Alhambra”) is one of Tárrega’s signature compositions, merging technical command of the guitar with heartbreaking emotion. The title refers to a 14th-century Moorish citadel, and the music hovers in a state of misty nostalgia that evokes the grandeur of the fort and its bygone rulers. The technical trick that creates the sustained melody is tremolo, in which the fingers of the right hand continually re-articulate the highest note.


One of the great mysteries of the classical guitar repertoire is the anonymous Romanza. That simple and timeless melody could have been written by any number of musicians; some of the more novel theories claim that it came from Fernando Sor, an early 19th-century bellwether of Spain’s guitar explosion, or that it is really a Ukrainian folk song. Wherever it originated, the Romanza circulated widely in the 20th century, especially thanks to its performance by the Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes in the 1952 French film Forbidden Games.

Returning to
Isaac Albéniz, we visit one more city originally featured in the Suite española, Sevilla. This capital of Andalucía, long a center of trade, politics and religion, comes to life in active and bustling music. The subtitle, Sevillanas, names a flamenco style, but it also refers to the female residents of Sevilla. Albéniz (or his publishers) surely intended the musical meaning, but there is something charming in the thought that this piece serenades the ladies of a region responsible for inspiring so many immortal compositions. For little else in classical music has the raw, seductive allure of the guitar, a renegade instrument that maintained its earthy roots even as it entered the concert hall.



Copyright © 2010 Aaron Grad.

Roberto Capocchi

June 30, 2010

I just thought I'd post the liner notes for the new CD. Aaron did a great job, and I think the notes enhance a first listening of the album