(b Villarreal, Castellón, 21 Nov 1852; d Barcelona, 15 Dec 1909). Spanish guitarist and composer. When he began the study of the classical guitar with Julian Arcas in 1862, the instrument was at a low ebb throughout Europe, overshadowed by the piano. Tárrega’s father insisted that the boy study the piano as well, and he became accomplished on both instruments at an early age. In 1869 he had the good fortune to acquire an unusually loud and resonant guitar designed and constructed by Antonio Torres, the famous luthier, then living in Seville. With this superior instrument Tárrega was to prepare the way for the rebirth of the guitar in the 20th century. He entered the Madrid Conservatory in 1874, and received a thorough grounding in theory, harmony and the piano. By 1877 he was earning his living as a music teacher and concert guitarist; he gave recitals in Paris and London in 1880, and was hailed as ‘the Sarasate of the guitar’. He married María Josepha Rizo in 1881 and they settled in Barcelona in 1885. Within a few years he displayed a repertory that included, besides his own compositions in the smaller forms, piano works by Mendelssohn, Gottschalk, Thalberg and others arranged for the guitar. The Spanish ‘nationalist’ composers, Albéniz and Granados, were his friends; many of their works were first transcribed for the guitar by him. He also adapted movements from Beethoven’s piano sonatas (including the Largo of op.7, the Adagio and Allegretto from the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata) and half a dozen preludes of Chopin. During the years 1885–1903, Tárrega gave concerts throughout Spain. He toured Italy in 1903. At the height of his fame, in 1906, he suffered a paralysis of the right side from which he never fully recovered. He did, however, appear publicly, and to loud applause, in 1909.
Tárrega’s influence on the 20th century, through pupils who included Emilio Pujol, Maria Rita Brondi and Josefina Robledo, has been tremendous. His compositions for solo guitar, not all of which have been published, comprise approximately 78 original works and 120 transcriptions; he also made 21 transcriptions for two guitars. Among his most famous solos are Recuerdos de la Alhambra (a tremolo study), Capricho árabe and Danza mora.