When I was at uni., a fellow student (Hi, Bob) was learning classical guitar. While others were raving about Hendrix, I would be sat at Bob’s feet. Discounting the descant recorder, on which I was really proficient as an elementary school pupil, I’ve never mastered a musical instrument. However, apart from jazz, my favourite genre is the classical guitar, and I’ve sat in bliss at concerts by Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream (interview), and John Williams (interview).
I got to recognise many ‘classic’ classical compositions by Isaac Albeniz, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Malcolm Arnold et al . But there’s been just one constant since then: the composer Joaquín Rodrigo (1901 – 1999). His 1939 composition Concierto de Aranjuez is arguably one of the most popular concertos of all time, thanks in no small measure to the extraordinary beauty of its central Adagio, which has been arranged for everything from mouth organ to brass band (video).
Rodrigo wrote: “I heard a voice inside me singing the entire theme of the Adagio at one go, without hesitation.”
The first version I heard, and bought, was by Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes.
“What can I say about Narciso Yepes? What can I say about the guitarist to whom we owe the international success of the Concerto de Aranjuez? Yes, it was in Paris in 1947 where Ataulfo Argenta, Yepes and the Spanish National Orchestra met to illuminate my unique opus at a time when no one knew its true future. From then on, the Concierto de Aranjuez took on a new nature, and it is for this same reason that I am grateful to Narciso Yepes for the fruit of an intense collaboration that has brought us to travel our musical trajectories side-by-side. I will not say that Yepes was the best nor the worst. He has simply been my guitarist par excellence. My guitarist.”
(Joaquin Rodrigo in ‘El Mundo’ May 4, 1997)
There can be few who haven’t heard Adagio and been moved. Jazz fans probably have Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain and Jim Hall’s Concierto, but may not have heard the versions by Dorothy Ashby, MJQ, Jan Akkerman with Niels Henning Orsted Pederson on bass. Or by Indonesia’s Agam Hamzah and Ade Irawan (here – video)