1901–1999

Joaquín Rodrigo

Joaquín Rodrigo was one of the most significant figures in 20th-century Spanish music. A gifted composer, pianist, academic, and music critic, he cultivated a neoclassical style that blended Classical idioms with the rhythms, textures, and colors of Spanish music; he wrote music that was, in his words, “faithful to tradition.” 

Rodrigo’s eyes were severely damaged when he contracted diphtheria at the age of three, and soon after he lost his sight completely. (He wrote his pieces in Braille, and then had them transcribed for publication.) Despite this disability, he developed quickly as a musician. He started studying piano and violin at age eight, and ultimately became a piano virtuoso. 

His most famous work, however, is not for piano but for Spain’s national instrument: the guitar. Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, composed in 1939 and inspired by the 16th-century Royal Palace of Aranjuez, was wildly popular. Its second movement, an adagio lament that features a heartrending tune for English horn, is one of the most recognizable pieces of 20th-century classical music. (Miles Davis used the concerto as inspiration for his 1959 album Sketches of Spain, as did Chick Corea on his jazz piece Spain.) The adagio showcases his gift for melody, which is also ever present in his remarkable songs. 

Rodrigo, who lived to be ninety-seven years old, wrote around 170 compositions, including eleven concertos, numerous orchestral and choral works, two dozen pieces each for piano and guitar, ballet and theater music, and sixty songs. 

Additional Resources

Did you know?

Rodrigo married the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi in 1933; they were inseparable companions and collaborators until her death in 1997.

Video Recordings

Tenor Juan Antonio Sanabria and guitarist José Manuel Dapena perform Rodrigo's "Adela," from Tres canciones españolas (1951).
Mezzo-soprano Agnes Vojtko and pianist Brad Schultz perform the four songs from Rodrigo's Cuatro madrigales amatorios (1947).

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