Classical Guitar Masterpiece – “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”

I recently relearnt “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” the Fransisco Tarrega masterpiece which is maybe the guitar’s flagship and showcase piece.

If you ask which piece marks the solo piano’s high point there would be plenty of candidates: Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin and Debussy all wrote masterworks for the piano, there are so many other composers that make that list… a very long one, the piano has an embarrassment of riches.

The guitar by comparison has a smaller body of works but those good works are outstanding and “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” is something really special in the guitar’s repertoire and definitely rates highly on the “likeable” scale.

I recently read Aiden Levy’s biography of the Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins who has been called the world’s greatest improviser.

The book’s title tells the story “The Saxophone Colossus” and it’s one of the most uplifting bio books I’ve ever read.

Sonny Rollins is a force of nature and his story is inspirational.

Sonny Rollins Biography by Aiden Levy

There are a couple of interesting references to the guitar in Levy’s biography.

He quotes Sonny saying that he wanted to be the Andres Segovia of the saxophone.

He meant that he had an ambition to give solo saxophone concerts with no accompaniment, just like Segovia would give solo guitar recitals and completely capture the audiences attention for an hour or more. Since Segovia was Tarrega’s heir, Sonny could equally have wanted to be the Tarrega of the sax.

Aiden Levy also writes about the time that Sonny Rollins lived in Chicago, only for a short time, telling how he was regularly going to the Blues Clubs and listening to acts like Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters.

Of course he was seeing Buddy Guy on guitar with Muddy Waters, and Hubert Sumlin playing guitar with Howlin Wolf.

Both Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin were huge influences on Jimi Hendrix and it’s an interesting thought, how much influence they had on Sonny Rollins…

Francisco Tarrega

Francisco Tarrega

Tarrega was born in 1852 at Villarreal.

He started guitar and piano lessons at the age of 8 going on to become one of the guitar’s most important personalities.

Apart from his compositions for the guitar he made arrangements of a lot of popular piano pieces for the guitar and became a prominent figure in the Spanish music scene.

Conception Gómez de Jacoby

Both he and his wife were highly regarded guitar performers and teachers.

They mixed with the cream of Spain’s musicians like Albeniz, Granados, Joachim Turina (Spain’s Impressionist composer) and the great cellist Pau Casals.

During a concert tour he met a wealthy music connoisseur who became his patron, Concepcion Gomez de Jacoby.

Alhambra Palace

In her youth Concepcion had been a singer of some repute who, with her sister, had moved from Spain to Mexico where she experienced considerable success and married a wealthy Jewish businessman Luis Jacoby.

Alhambra Palace

The marriage failed and Concepcion returned to Spain as a wealthy patroness.

After attending one of Tarrega’s concerts it seems Concepcion wanted to study the guitar with the maestro and she even had Tarrega, with his wife and family, move into her mansion.

While in Granada Tarrega visited the Alhambra Palace with Concepcion which inspired him to compose his masterpiece “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” which means recollections of the Alhambra.

The Alhambra Palace had been built in the 1200’s during the Muslim occupation and is today one of Spain’s most popular tourist attractions.

The incredible thing is that they had plumbing back then so wherever you’d go in the Alhambra there were fountains with the sound of water trickling which is what Tarrega tried to capture through his constant tremolo running all the way through the piece.


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