In the locale of Aranjuez , south of modern Madrid, the royal family of one of the world’s greatest empires placed their spring home to celebrate their spectacular power and wealth. At the end of the 15th century, with the Castilian monarchs having finally ended 700 years of Moor colonization of the Iberian peninsula, the confident rulers of Spain and Portugal saw no issue in dividing the entire world between them. In the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, the lands of the New World (minus Brazil) and the Far East were considered to be in the Spanish sphere of hegemony, Africa and the Indian islands the province of Portugal. No one of course bothered to tell any of the indigenous peoples, but such was the air of supreme authority that Spain spent the next two centuries taking this divide very seriously and proceeding to exploit their sphere with dominant conquest. For a time the inhabitants of Aranjuez injected intense catholic religiousity and the Spanish language into a third of the planet, and absorbed unimaginable wealth.
Spain became Europe’s most intense empire, its explorers Conquistadors, its religious intellectuals Inquisitors, and its monarchs supreme authoritarians. The intensity was felt throughout the culture, in the intensity of linguistic expressions, the power of its religious art, and particularly the music. The home of Flamenco, Andalusia, married the supreme confidence, intense romanticism, faint mysticism, and woven rhythms of Moor culture into an erotic and powerful cultural dance and music that survives to this day. The family of plucked stringed instruments of the renaissance, the lute and the mandolin, particularly appropriate for solo expression, proved inadequate to the Flamenco artist until idealized in the the form of the guitar. The guitar deepened the resonation of the sound and the scope of the available expression. Although the inherent strengths of the guitar attracted many composers of many nationalities , it was in the venue of Spanish culture that the instrument seemed to be invented for. The dry heat, the vast plains, the inescapable power, and the apparently eternal nature of Spanish influence long after the supreme monarchial power was gone, seemed to resonate through the guitar.
By the twentieth century, the spectacular reach of the Spanish Monarchs and the pilgrimage of the world to the Gardens of the palace at Aranjuez
to seek their blessing was a faint memory. The intensity and sense of mysticism that was Spain flowered in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as the empire’s power collapsed. The music of De Falla, Tarrega, Sor, and Granados all found beautiful expression through the guitar, but it was a mid-twentieth century composer who achieved the perfect expression of unique Latin passion, intense and expression, and maybe, a real dignity that the true conquistadors never had. November 22nd was the 112th birthday of Joaquin Rodrigo, who managed to compose the unrivaled king of guitar concertos as an homage to his homeland and the magnificent gardens at Aranjuez. The modern concert hall is deficient without at some point performing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, the perfect expression of the guitar’s musicality, dignity, and capacity for expression. The second movement in particular, in which the guitar is sublimely echoed by the English horn , cousin of the oboe, expresses the composer’s love for his homeland vistas better than any photograph could provide, and the depth of the Spanish soul that one great guitar performer after another has attempted to make their own.
In this quiet last week of leading to the celebration of fall’s harvest bounty before winter sets in, we wish Joaquin a happy birthday, a immerse ourselves in the splendor of Spain.