Francisco Tárrega is unanimously considered as the father of the modern guitar repertoire. He was the one thanks to whom the guitar acquired a stable reputation as a cantabile, singing instrument, capable of lyricism, poetry, enchantment. He had a meek and gentle personality, beloved by colleagues and students alike; his modesty, which endeared him so much to his contemporaries, was however a source of major disappointments for posterity. Being uninterested in issuing in print many of his works, he thus condemned them to oblivion and to the possibility of being lost – a fate which happened to many of them, unfortunately. Being a great guitar virtuoso, acclaimed throughout Europe, he still cherished the pleasures of family and home, and was keen to return to his affections once the tournees were over. His attitude had so much of religious asceticism that Andres Segovia nicknamed him “San Francisco Tárrega”, and spoke of his “severe monastic rule”, while affirming that Tárrega’s example had led him to an oath of faithfulness to that same “rule”.
Even though he lived at a time when many sociological, political, philosophical movements were causing turmoil all across the Continent, both his personality and his music seem alien from such turmoil; there is a beautiful correspondence of personality and music in his entire oeuvre, which never reveals the underlying tensions experienced by so many of his contemporaries.
For this reason, also the integration between the folklike elements of many of his works with the “cultivated” tradition in which he wrote is always seamless, even though it may sound slightly naïve to certain of his harshest critics. His gaze was turned mainly backwards, toward the great tradition of Romanticism (with particular attention to pianists-cum-composers such as Schumann or Chopin), to that before it, i.e. the Viennese Classicism, and also to Johann Sebastian Bach, to whom he dedicated some memorable transcriptions.
Tárrega had been born in 1852 in the Valencia region. His family was modest, and the boy, in his childhood, seemed condemned to blindness. For this reason, and in order to give him a future, his father entrusted him to the guidance of two blind musicians: Eugenio Ruiz, who taught piano and solfège, and Manuel Gonzales, also known as “El ciego de la Marina”, with whom Francisco learnt to play the guitar.
The encounter with famous performer Julián Arcas marked indelibly the personality of a then ten-y.o. Tárrega. On the one hand, by listening to the famous virtuoso, the boy was definitively enthralled by the instrument and by music in general. On the other, when Arcas listened to him, he earned the great musician’s praise and some valuable advice for his future.
Still, and even though Arcas had recommended that Tárrega complete his musical education at the prestigious Conservatory of Barcelona, his adolescent years were characterized by something very different from the serious discipline which is normally required of music students. He loved to play rather than to practise, and also to earn something; therefore, he could be heard playing the guitar or the piano at all kinds of places.
When eventually he received a bursary for studying at the Conservatory of Madrid, it was still uncertain that he would become first and foremost a guitarist, since his talent at the piano was undeniable. Nevertheless, his superiority at the six-stringed instrument was so evident that both faculty members and fellow students encouraged him to dedicate himself fully to the guitar.
From then on, his activity as a guitarist took off spectacularly, and, after his 1881 debut in Paris and London, he toured Western Europe extensively, to the most enthused acclaim of audiences and critics alike. He was particularly appreciated for the warm, soft sound of his guitar, for the variety of the nuances he was able to draw from his instrument, and for the clarity and precision of his performances.
His career as a touring virtuoso, however, was destined to an early and abrupt ending, since in January 1906 Tárrega’s right arm was paralyzed. Actually, he was able to resume some concertizing, but a few years later, in 1909, he would die prematurely, much regretted by his loved ones and his pupils, as well as by the world of music in general.
His large guitar output was praised and acclaimed by his contemporaries and by those of the following generations, and it includes some groundbreaking transcriptions, which reveal the full timbral potential of the guitar, which could now claim a new status as a complete instrument, capable of revealing the full palette of an orchestra’s sounds or those of a piano. Another major heritage of Tárrega’s creativity is constituted by his Preludes, which are among the finest examples of guitar works written at his time.
He was also an innovator as concerns both the guitar’s performing technique and its building. Different from the tradition supported mainly by French and Italian guitarists, who promoted and advocated the extension of the guitar’s range by increasing the number of strings (up to ten) or by lengthening the fingerboard, Tárrega and Arcas were rather in quest of a greater subtlety in terms of sound, timbre and dynamics. Needless to say, the latter approach would be the most successful, since it corresponded to the Romantic aesthetics and to the principles ruling the music and art of the time.
Another field in which Tárrega’s activity should not be underestimated is that of teaching, since he had a large number of disciples who received his heritage and disseminated it in turn. Some of the particular performing techniques he developed would become iconic landmarks of guitar techniques: one has merely to think of the spectacular repeated noted of Recuerdos de la Alhambra.
Tárrega is also remembered for a large output of dance pieces, on which this volume of his complete works is mainly built. They mirror his interest in piano literature. As has been mentioned before, Tárrega had been hailed as a distinguished pianist for a long time, before focusing almost exclusively on the guitar. Still, his deep acquaintance with the piano and its repertoire allowed him to master the genres and forms of Romantic piano literature, as well as the typical writing of some important keyboard composers, such as Frédéric Chopin and Robert Schumann. Both of these composers were particularly appreciated for their aphorism-like works: cycles of very short miniatures, in which – once more corresponding to a distinctive feature of Romantic literature – an entire world unfolded within the space of a few minutes.
Tárrega was particularly fascinated by Chopin and the poetry he displayed in his short piano works. For instance, Chopin had virtually “created” the mazurka – meaning that he had given dignity and renown to a dance typical for the rural areas of Poland, and brought it not only to the concert stages or refined salons, but actually to the heights of piano literature. Tárrega adopted Chopin’s model, even though the mazurka was not traditionally a Spanish dance. Yet, Tárrega’s mazurkas demonstrate his full understanding of this particular dance, which only superficially resembles the waltz, but is in fact dramatically different from it in terms of rhythmical organization (the three semiminims are far from equal!) and of overall poetic atmosphere.
Chopin’s influence is also found in other dances, including the waltzes and polkas recorded here. A clear homage is found in the Gran Vals, which echoes Chopin’s Grande Valse brillante; yet, for today’s listener, this Gran Vals is certain to become memorable for reasons quite extraneous from Chopin’s influence. Not far from the piece’s beginning, in fact, we are suddenly and unexpectedly thrown in the midst of our twenty-first-century popular culture, as we hear the unmistakable “Nokia Tune” – the short musical phrase which has been indissolubly associated with cell phones since the beginning of the twenty-first century. And which, in fact, is derived from Tárrega’s composition, mainly unacknowledged by the myriads who are familiar with it.
This album also comprises one of Tárrega’s most iconic compositions, i.e. his splendid Capricho Arabe. It is actually one of the best-known guitar works in absolute terms, and fascinatingly, skillfully alternates long held notes with vaguely shaped melismas. It has been argued that this piece might have been conceived as a serenade for an unknown lady; still, if it is a serenade, then it is entirely atypical for Spain since the Spanish serenades are always in a 3/4 time, whereas the Capricho is in the common time. References to the paso doble are not missing, but the presence of a descending semitone in the bass line suggests that Tárrega might have alluded to a particular subgenre of the paso doble, i.e. the paso doble morisco, typically found in Alicante. There, Holy Week sees the contraposition of staged battles between Moors and Christians, and these are frequently danced on the paso doble steps.
Similarly “exotic” is the inspiration of the Danza mora, which is said to have been inspired by Tárrega’s journey to Algiers, in 1900. There, he witnessed the performance of traditional musicians on traditional instruments, and was enthused by the repetitive rhythm played by one of them. Other influences from the Arabic or Eastern traditions are found in the Danza Odalisca, with its enigmatic intervals and pace. Less “exotic” but also marked by an unusual inspiration is the Cartagenera, which derives from old styles of fandango; in particular, here reference is made to the miner area of Cartagena, in the Southern province of Murcia.
Together, these works certainly will provide hours of pleasant listening experiences to those who are seduced by the warmth, sympathy, elegance, and refinedness of Tárrega’s music and of his handling of the musical material.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2023
Vincenzo Sandro Brancaccio: Vincenzo Sandro Brancaccio is a classical guitarist from Napoli, the city where he had his musical formation with the world famous concertist Aniello Desiderio. Awarded as young talent of guitar at the age 15, he graduated in 2005 at conservatorio "Sala" in Benevento. In 2008 he was awarded with scholarship "Stipendium fur Kammermusik" at the Koblenz International Guitar Academy, where he continued his studies and graduated in 2010 with a brilliant execution of “Concierto de Aranjuez” with the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie, performed during the festival days. In 2014 he graduated with honors in guitar teaching at Conservatorio "Tartini" in Trieste. He had the opportunity to attend masterclasses with Hubert Kappel, Zoran Dukic, Carlo Marchione, Alvaro Pierri, Pepe Romero, John Dearman and many more world famous musicians.
Has won over ten awards at both national and international competitions in the course of his career, and has predominantly performed as a soloist in Italy and abroad, including concerts for TV channels such as Sky cinema, Rai sat and BRTK, which attained him acclaim from both the audience and the critics alike.
For BRTK, the Sanatin Sesi TV show produced two reports on his participation in the NEU international guitar festival 2017 and 2018, broadcasting the concerts and masterclasses he held at the University of Nicosia with over 20 reruns.
Francisco Tárrega (y Eixea)
(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.