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Wood, Metal and Skin

This page is dedicated to some of our favourite pieces of classical music.


Concierto de Aranjuez, 2nd Movement, Maestro Rodrigo

Two different ways of performing this awe-inspiring Adagio:

By Narciso Yepes:

By Paco de Lucía:

This concert was originally composed for guitar (1939). Joaquín Rodrigo was born in Sagunto (Valencia, Spain) on St. Cecilia’s day, the patron saint of music (22nd November, 1901). At the age of three he lost his sight almost completely as a result of an epidemic of diphtheria. This misfortune undoubtedly led him to towards music. He never could see the beauty that he described in his pretty compositions. Maybe, this is the reason why his music is full of strange nostalgia.

Maestro Rodrigo

At the premier in 1940, the Concierto de Aranjuez was an immediate success, and won Joaquín Rodrigo immediate popularity, mainly on the strength of the second movement. After the concert, he was carried through the streets by a huge crowd of followers, and was hailed by the press as the greatest Spanish composer of modern times.
For many years following the premier, the public and the media would ask Rodrigo about the inspiration behind the second movement, and ask him to describe the sentiment behind it. According to his wife, Rodrigo would shrug his shoulders and say it was just general thoughts and feelings, the ‘wind in the trees’ from around Aranjuez. Only relatively recently has the real impetus behind its composition been divulged.
The piece was written under a very special circumstance: during what Rodrigo and Victoria would later call the saddest time of their lives. The first and second movements however, are full of happiness and vigour, looking back to what were very happy times. Halfway through writing the concerto, Victoria, who was pregnant with their first baby, fell seriously ill. She was admitted to hospital in Madrid, and at one stage Rodrigo was told that both she and their baby would most likely die. After he heard this news, Rodrigo returned home, sat down at the piano, and composed the beginning of the second movement of the concerto. Victoria was to live. Their baby did not. The whole composition is devoted to this unborn son.

From “A chat with Sharon Isbin”, by Raymond Tuttle:

“I asked Isbin to comment on the “urban legend” that guitarists were forbidden by Rodrigo’s family to perform the famous slow movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez by itself. Isbin has heard the story too and says, “It’s not quite as simple as that. Rodrigo himself arranged the middle movement for voice and guitar and called it Aranjuez, ma pensée. In fact, I recorded it with Susanne Mentzer on our Wayfaring Stranger CD. Also, I’ve played and recorded Laurindo Almeida’s arrangement for three guitars with Larry Coryell and Almeida, and Rodrigo’s family didn’t seem to mind that. The issue that you raise came up about eight years ago. At that time, my brother was very ill – he was dying of AIDS. I was asked if I would play the Adagio of the Concierto de Aranjuez in a concert with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. It was going to be part of a multifaceted evening in Washington, DC that included everyone from Aretha Franklin to pop singers, so in terms of timing, it was not an option to do all three movements. I don’t quite remember how this happened, but when Cecilia Rodrigo, the composer’s daughter, got wind of this, she said no. This woman has been just wonderful in overseeing the publication of her father’s music and ensuring that it is there for the public. I had come to know her over the years, and so I called her and explained the situation. I told her that it would be so much better for a huge new audience to hear this music than to take it off the program. I had played the complete concerto hundreds and hundreds of times, and this was the first time I’d ever been asked to play that one movement by itself with orchestra. She was concerned that if performers started doing this, then they wouldn’t bother with the first and third movements. I reassured her that this wouldn’t be the case with me, and then she gladly gave permission.
Shortly before he died, my brother told me that he wanted my recording of this same music to be played at his memorial service. Then he passed away two days before the concert in DC. I wouldn’t have dreamed of performing in public so soon after his death were it not for this coincidence. It was as if it were commanded from above.
“When you think of the origins of this movement, it makes sense that it has become such a beloved hallmark in the classical repertoire. It captures such a sense of passion, longing, loss, and beauty.

When Rodrigo began writing the concerto, his wife was expecting what would have been their first child; they both were in their early thirties at the time. Then she had a miscarriage and was very ill. Rodrigo returned from the hospital in despair, mourning the loss of his child and unsure if his wife was going to live or die. He was unable to sleep, so he sat at the piano and began to play, and what emerged was this beautiful theme, which became the slow movement of the concerto. He titled it Concierto de Aranjuez because Aranjuez is where he and his wife had taken their honeymoon. As he composed this theme, he remembered what it had been like walking hand in hand with her through the same beautiful gardens where Spanish nobility had walked centuries before.
The music was imbued with the tremendous personal drama that was occurring his life at that time, but that drama became really quite universal and cosmic because it speaks to people of all cultures about celebration, pain, sorrow and loss. The music is in the tradition of the cante jondo in Spanish flamenco, in which the vocalist passionately sings tales of oppression, embellishing them with melismatic twists and turns in the melodic line. That’s what the guitar does in this movement; it is a story-teller, and what a story it is. I think everyone can find their own personal connection with it.
People are very moved when they hear this music, and it invariably makes them cry”.

First time with lyrics sung by Richard Anthony in 1967


Golden sky_019

 Piano Concerto no.1 op.23 (Part 1), Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky

The Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor,Op. 23 was composed by Tchaikovsky between November 1874 and February 1875. It is considered one of the most popular of Tchaikovsky’s works and among the best known of all piano concerti.

The well-known theme of the introductory section to the first movement is based on a melody that Tchaikovsky heard performed by blind beggar-musicians at a market in Kamenka.


Hungarian Dances

Hungarian Dance No.5,  Johannes Brahms

The Hungarian Dances (German: Ungarische Tänze) by Johannes Brahms are a set of 21 lively dance tunes based mostly on Hungarian themes. Only numbers 11, 14 and 16 are entirely original compositions. In fact, number 5 was based on the csárdás by Kéler Béla titled “Bartfai emlek” which Brahms mistakenly thought was a traditional folksong. They vary from about a minute to four minutes in length. They are among Brahms’ most popular works, and were certainly the most profitable for him. Each dance has been arranged for a wide variety of instruments and ensembles. Brahms originally wrote the version for piano four-hands and later arranged the first 10 dances for solo piano. The most famous Hungarian Dance is No. 5 in F♯ minor (G minor in the orchestral version).


Don´t miss Charles Chaplin in “The Great Dictator” :



The Ride of the Valkyries, Richard Wagner

“The Ride of the Valkyries” (German: Walkürenritt), is the popular term for the beginning of Act III of  “Die Walküre” by Richard Wagner. The main theme of the ride, the leitmotif  labelled “Walkürenritt” was first written down by the composer on 23 July 1851. The preliminary draft for the Ride was composed in 1854 as part of the composition of the entire opera which was fully orchestrated by the end of the first quarter of 1856. Together with the Bridal Chorus from “Lohengrin”, “The Ride of the Valkyries” is one of Wagner’s best-known pieces. It stands out in part because of its references in popular culture, where it is used to represent stereotypical Grand Opera and, perhaps more, to accompany military-like exercises in film and television.

 The Ride of The Valkyries has been used to accompany moving pictures since the earliest days of Hollywood. The original score for D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation (1915), compiled by Joseph Carl Breil and Griffith, used the music in the climactic scene of the third act, when “The former enemies of North and South are united again in defense of their Aryan birthright” against liberated former black slaves after the end of the American Civil War. The beleaguered white group are rescued by the Ku Klux Klan to the sound of the music.

Since then, “The Ride of the Valkyries” has been used in a scene in “Apocalypse Now “where a squadron of helicopters attacks a Vietnamese village. Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), commander of the 1/9 AirCav, orders its use because “Charlie hates Wagner!” In the 2009 film Watchmen, it is used in a similar scene portraying Dr. Manhattan and the Comedian’s service in Vietnam.

In “Apocalypse Now”:                             

A group of German tanks are said to have played “Ride of the Valkyries” on their shortwave radios just before an assault launched in World War II. The scenario is described in the book “The Forgotten Soldier”, written in late 1940s and first published in French in the 1960s, which claims to be a personal account of the author, Guy Sajer, and his experience as a soldier of the German “Großdeutschland Division”. He describes standing next to the tanks in the Battle of Memel (now Klaipeda) where he was gathering together with a ragtag force to attempt a breakout from a surrounded position, and says in the book that it was “a fitting accompaniment to supreme sacrifice”.

“Ride of the Valkryies” was used to accompany several editions of “Die Deutsche Wochenschau”, the German wartime newsreel. The films in question were typically narrated by Harry Geise and featured sequences of Luftwaffe bombings.

Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer. During World War I, it is reported, he carried Wagner’s music from Tristan in his knapsack. Often Hitler had Wagner’s music performed at party rallies and functions. Wagner’s music was uncompromisingly serious, and intensely Teutonic. It was not only Wagner’s music that ‘struck a chord’ with Hitler, but also his political views. Wagner wrote a violently antisemitic booklet in the 1850s called “Das Judebthum in die Musik” (Judaism in Music) insisting the Jews poisoned public taste in the arts. He founded the Bayreuth festival, which in the 1930s and 1940s was used by the Nazi party as a propaganda tool against the Jews.


girl looking at the sky

The Lark Ascending, Ralph Vaughan Williams

The Lark Ascending is a popular piece for violin and orchestra, written in 1914 by the British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was inspired by George Meredith´s 122-line poem of the same name about the skylark.  The composition is intended to convey the lyrical and almost eternally English  beauty of the scene in which a skylark rises into the heavens above some sunny down and attains such height that it becomes barely visible to those on the ground below.


Picos de Europa_146

Adagio for Strings, Samuel Barber   
At a very early age, Barber became profoundly interested in music, and it was apparent that he had great musical talent and ability. At the age of nine he wrote to his mother:

“Dear Mother: I have written to tell you my worrying secret. Now don’t cry when you read it because it is neither yours nor my fault. I suppose I will have to tell it now, without any nonsense. To begin with I was not meant to be an athlete. I was meant to be a composer, and will be I’m sure. I’ll ask you one more thing .—Don’t ask me to try to forget this unpleasant thing and go play football.—Please—Sometimes I’ve been worrying about this so much that it makes me mad (not very)”.

He wrote his first musical at the early age of 7 and attempted to write his first opera at the age of 10. He was an organist at the age of 12. Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” originated as the second movement in his String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11, composed in 1936. In the original it follows a violently contrasting first movement, and is succeeded by a brief reprise of this music.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2013 8:04 am

    My eyes are a mess because my soul has melted so finely that your words in cupped hands can not hold me.
    I want to excuse my out pour of emotion but I can not. So very beautifully you’ve caressed my heart with your strings.
    Thank you

  2. January 7, 2013 10:02 am

    Great post – and I recognise some of my favourites there!

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