Thursday, October 11, 2012

Townsend: Zapateado by Rodrigo

Asturias (Leyenda) and Recuerdos de la Alhambra are in the repertoire of every guitar virtuoso, and with good reason. But there are other, equally good, and also virtuosic pieces, that are heard much less often. One of these is Zapateado by Joaquín Rodrigo (1901 - 1999) one of the very finest composers for guitar. Rodrigo is the composer of the most famous guitar concerto, the Concierto de Aranjuez, which may also be the most popular concerto - for any instrument - of the 20th century. It's a real bear to play though. Well, actually, just about every piece he wrote is a bear to play! Wikipedia has a nice article on Rodrigo, who was blind from the age of three.

Perhaps the leading exponent of the music of Rodrigo has been Pepe Romero, the only guitarist to not only play, but also record, all of Rodrigo's concertos. Recognizing that I could use a little coaching in playing Rodrigo, I spent a summer working with Pepe at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria.

Pepe Romero and myself in Salzburg

I just worked on a couple of pieces with Pepe that summer--but they were substantial ones. First of all, all three movements of the Aranjuez (and Pepe was an enormous help). After that, a large Fantasia by Fernando Sor. Just as hard as anything in the Aranjuez, but shorter, are Rodrigo's Tres Piezas Españoles for solo guitar consisting of a Fandango, a Passacaglia and a Zapateado. My clip for you today is my performance of the Zapateado.

Wikipedia tells us that:

The zapateado is a dance of Mexican Indian origin characterized by a lively rhythm punctuated by the striking of the dancer's shoes, akin to tap dance. The name derives from the Spanish word zapato for "shoe": zapatear means to strike with a shoe.
The dance was introduced by the natives of Mexico and then taken back to Spain where the Spanish claimed it as their own.
Here is the piece:



Nathan Shirley said...

Another fine piece (from another composer not afraid to write good music) and excellent performance, many thanks for putting these up.

I'd love to see an article on why so many Latin American (and Spanish) composers resisted (and continue to resist) the trend to write "academic" music. Does it have more to do with the culture, or perhaps something to do with the guitar being a folk instrument...?

Rodrigo's music will be performed long after the last performance of a Webern piece, no doubt.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks again, Nathan. I very much appreciate it. Rodrigo has long been a favorite of mine as he seems to have carved out his own harmonic space and, yes, wrote a lot of good and evocative music.

That sounds like a good idea for a blog post. But let me take a little stab at it. All the Latin-American and Spanish composers in the first half of the 20th century seemed to follow much the same path. After showing early promise, they often attended a local (and very conservative) music school. Perhaps became interested in local folk traditions. But after that, if they continued to a higher level of study, they always went to Paris where they studied with someone like Nadia Boulanger. In any case, they were shielded from the real avant-garde that was being promoted in Germany and Austria. But I'm afraid that, in Mexico at least, young composers now go to the US and come back sounding a lot like whatever was fashionable last week!