(b Sagunto, 22 Nov 1901; d Madrid, 6 July 1999). Spanish composer. Blind from the age of three, he began his musical education at an early age and took lessons in composition with Francisco Antich in Valencia. In 1927 he moved to Paris as a pupil of Dukas at the Ecole Normale. After his marriage in Valencia in 1933 to the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi, he returned to Paris for further study at the Conservatoire and the Sorbonne. He lived and worked in France and Germany during the Spanish Civil War, and returned finally to Madrid in 1939. Soon after the première in 1940 of his first concerto, the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar, he began to be recognized as one of the leading composers in Spain. Apart from writing a great deal of music during the following years, he was active as an academic and music critic, writing for several newspapers and publishing articles on a wide range of topics. He also worked in the music department of Radio Nacional and for the Spanish National Organization for the Blind (ONCE). In 1947 he was appointed to the Manuel de Falla Chair of Music at Complutense University, Madrid, created especially for him, and in 1950 he was elected to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de S Fernando.
During these and subsequent years he made several tours throughout Spain, Europe, the Americas and Japan, teaching, giving piano recitals and lectures, and attending concerts and festivals of his own music. Amongst the most important of these were Argentina (1949), Turkey (1953 and 1972), Japan (1973), Mexico (1975) and London (1986). Distinctions awarded to Rodrigo included the Gran Cruz de Alfonso X el Sabio (1953), the Légion d’Honneur (1963), election as a member of the Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts of Belgium (1978) to the place left vacant on the death of Benjamin Britten, and honorary doctorates from the University of Salamanca (1964), the University of Southern California (1982), the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (1988), and the Universities of Alicante, Madrid (both 1989) and Exeter (1990). A series of concerts and recitals to celebrate his 90th birthday took place throughout the world during 1991 and 1992. Two significant distinctions of Rodrigo’s old age were the conferment of the hereditary titles ‘Marqueses de los Jardines de Aranjuez’ on the composer and his wife Victoria by King Juan Carlos I in 1992, and the award of the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Artes in 1996.
During the second half of the 20th century Rodrigo came to occupy a position in Spanish musical life close to that of Manuel de Falla in the first. Like his mentor, he cultivated a style far removed from the major currents of European musical development and, as with Falla, his music needs to be judged in the context of Spain’s classical and traditional music, art and literature. His compositions number around 170, including 11 concertos, numerous orchestral and choral works, 60 songs, some two dozen pieces each for piano and guitar, and music for the ballet, theatre and cinema. His published writings (1999) also demonstrate a remarkable breadth of knowledge of music and the arts. Rodrigo’s music attracted favourable attention from both critics and performers from the start of his career, first in Valencia and Paris and subsequently worldwide. His first two guitar concertos, Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasía para un gentilhombre, also achieved remarkable popularity. From the late 1970s onwards, however, appreciation of his music began to broaden. Wider knowledge of his music demonstrated that the charge that Rodrigo merely repeated the formula of his first concerto in later ones could no longer be substantiated, and recordings showed the quality of such works as the symphonic poem Ausencias de Dulcinea (1948), the Scarlatti-inspired piano suite Cinco sonatas de Castilla (1950–51), the Invocación y danza for solo guitar, written in homage to Falla (1961), the austere Himnos de los neófitos de Qumrán (1965), the brilliant Concierto madrigal for two guitars (1966), based on a Renaissance love-song, or the serenely beautiful Cántico de San Francisco de Asís (1982). Happily the composer’s 90th birthday was also the occasion for thoughtful and appreciative critical re-evaluations of Rodrigo’s music.
Rodrigo’s music was fundamentally conservative, ‘neocasticista’, or ‘faithful to a tradition’, to use the composer’s own words. His first works revealed the influence of composers such as Granados, Ravel and Stravinsky, but his individual musical voice was soon heard in the songs, piano works and orchestral pieces composed during the 1920s and 30s. As he matured, his wide knowledge of and sympathy with the music and culture of earlier times bore fruit. His forms were traditional, but appropriate for his purposes, and his musical language, drawn from both Classical and nationalist sources, underpinned a melodic gift of remarkable eloquence. He made many of the finest settings of classical Spanish poetry, his guitar pieces are in the central repertory, and his concertos are the most significant such works composed in Spain.