Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Townsend: Recuerdos de la Alhambra

In Granada, on the hill of the Assabica, did Badis ben Habus a stately pleasure-dome decree. Well, actually a palace/fortress. The Alhambra, from Arabic el-Ḥamra, is a spectacular example of Moorish architecture, originally constructed in the mid-10th century with some latter additions. The overall theme was "paradise on earth". As Wikipedia says, "Column arcades, fountains with running water, and reflecting pools were used to add to the aesthetic and functional complexity. In every case, the exterior was left plain and austere. Sun and wind were freely admitted. Blue, red, and a golden yellow, all somewhat faded through lapse of time and exposure, are the colors chiefly employed." The whole Wikipedia article is excellent.

It was the inspiration for one of the most famous pieces in the classical guitar repertoire, the Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) by Francisco Tárrega (1852 - 1909). Tárrega was the greatest guitar composer of the late 19th century and responsible for a lot of the technique used on the modern guitar. His Recuerdos is constructed using a technique called tremolo, which simply means "repeated notes", something the guitar does quite well. In the right hand, throughout, the thumb plays the moving bass line while the three fingers, ring, middle and index, play all the notes of the melody that float above. Consistency and evenness take a lot of work to achieve! But the end result is one of the most beautiful pieces for the classical guitar. I have accompanied my performance with a series of pictures of the Alhambra. It is easy to see the connection between the intricate stone carving of the interior of the Alhambra and the intricate busyness of Tárrega's setting.


RG said...

Yes, I seem to recall (20110508) you were explaining attack, decay, sustain, release) you referred me to (even busier?)
Joaquin Clerch - La Espiral Eterna (Leo Brouwer)

My question: When the piece is very busy like this, is every "attack" written separately or is the direction merely to "make a lot of them"?

Oh, and thanks again for putting up samples of your own performance.

Bryan Townsend said...

La espiral eterna by Brouwer is also quite busy, but in a different way.

There is a shorthand notation that is sometimes used, but in the case of Recuerdos de la Alhambra, every one of those notes is written out!

You're welcome! Judging by an increase in traffic the last two days, I think lots of people are enjoying the music.