One of Spain's most honored twentieth century composers,
Joaquin Rodrigo is best known for raising the guitar to the level of a
distinguished concert instrument through his ever-popular Concierto de Aranjuez. He was born in Sagunto, Valencia on November
22, 1901. At the age of three, however, he was left almost completely blind
after contracting diphtheria. When he began to compose music in the early
1920s, he composed in Braille and then laboriously dictated his music to a
Rodrigo's early music studies included piano and violin, and
later on, harmony and composition. He studied under Francisco Antich in
Valencia from 1920 to 1923 and then with Paul Dukas at the École Normale de
Musique in Paris from 1927 to 1932. While in the French capital, he became
acquainted with many of the most prominent composers of the time, including
befriending his fellow Spaniard, Manuel de Falla. He returned briefly to Span
in 1934, but with Falla's help, he won the Conde de Cartagena Scholarship and
returned to Paris to study musicology with Maurice Emmanuel at the prestigious
Paris Conservatoire. However, the following years were difficult for Rodrigo.
With his home country thrown into civil war, his scholarship was canceled. He
and his wife, the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi, lived a meager life during
these years, scraping by my giving music and Spanish lessons in France and
At the close of the 1930s, Rodrigo's fortunes began to turn.
In 1939, he composed his famous Concierto
de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra, which premiered the following year in
Barcelona. Though he was a pianist, Rodrigo wrote so effectively for the guitar
that the work is well-nigh solely responsible for elevating the instrument to a
status worthy of the concert stage and it remains a staple of the guitar
repertoire. That same year, he was also able to return to Spain. The concerto
was the composer's first great success and was only matched by his 1954 Fantasía para un gentilhombre composed
for Andrés Segovia. Several commissions followed the success of the Concierto de Aranjuez from some of the
world's leading soloists for concertos.
Over the succeeding years, Rodrigo was the recipient of many
awards in honor of his music. Six honorary doctorates were bestowed upon him.
In 1991, the year of his ninetieth birthday, he was raised into the Spanish
nobility by King Juan Carlos I with the hereditary title "Marqués de los Jardines de Aranjeuz." He was later awarded the
Prince of Asturias Prize for the Arts in 1996 by the Spanish government and
Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government in 1998.
Rodrigo died on July 6, 1999 at the age of ninety-seven.
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