Bust of the Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo, with an image of his wife, the pianist Victoria Kamhi, in the background. España Park, Rosario, Santa Fe Province, Argentina. Phoot by Mrexcel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

We’re celebrating the Classical California Ultimate Playlist with a series of fun and informative blogs about the music you love.

It’s been said that Beethoven once spoke fondly of the versatile guitar, calling it “a six-string orchestra.” Herr Beethoven got that right. Hands down the most popular work for the classical guitar is not from Ludwig van Beethoven but rather the magnificent work by Joaquín Rodrigo known as the Concierto de Aranjuez.

From Andrés Segovia to Miles Davis, performers have recognized the originality and depth of this Spanish masterpiece. For guitarists and guitar lovers, it is the Mount Everest of the instrument’s literature. Amazingly, this fabulous piece was not written by a guitarist. The composer Rodrigo played the piano but had a perfect ear for the sounds, colors, and distinctive voice of the guitar. While in Paris, he wrote this piece as a celebration of Spain and the guitar.

This work is extremely difficult for a guitarist to pull off—not for the faint of heart. Rodrigo’s brilliant Concierto de Aranjuez never lets the orchestra overpower and dominate the subtle volume of the graceful classical guitar. The stunning second movement, the Adagio, is one of the most famous melodies in music. After his death, Rodrigo’s widow Victoria broke the couple’s long silence about the inspiration for this slow, passionate movement. She said her husband was feeling a combination of happy moments from earlier in their life, the sadness of a miscarriage, and the ongoing revolution in their native Spain.

There was always a rumor that Rodrigo wrote the piece for Segovia, who was at the time the hottest guitarist on the planet. Not true. The Concierto was written before World War II for the guitarist Regino Sainz de la Maza, who first performed the work in Madrid and Barcelona in 1940.

Every guitar player worth his or her salt knows how important it is to get these legendary twenty-two minutes under their belt. All the top six-string soloists have taken their crack at this deceptive beauty—Segovia, John Williams, Pepe Romero, Xuefei Yang, David Russell, Ben Verdery, Milos, Jason Vieaux, Sharon Isbin. Piano players have their Grieg A-Minor Concerto, while violinists know their Beethoven and Bruch concerti; so it is for top classical guitarists with Rodrigo’s gem. This one is a flawless celebration of the world’s most popular instrument. Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is a delicious Iberian high-wire act.

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