Classical Guitar Studies: Capricho Arabe

The Evolution Of Spanish Culture The Guitar

If the question is “which piece best represents the Spanish Guitar”? For me it’s Capricho Arabe.

Its composer, Francisco Tarrega, was the quintessential Spanish guitarist, composer and Late Romantic figure.

Tarrega did considerable research into regional Spanish music and so with Capricho Arabe he wanted to celebrate Spain’s Moorish or Moroccan heritage.

Spain is an incredible ethnic mix and all of the different people that came to Spain have left their distinguishing mark culturally and music is a significant part of their contributions.

When we think of Spanish music, Gypsies and Flamenco come to mind, although originally, Spain was mostly Celtic but with Greeks setting up “trading settlements” the ethnic diversity began.

Fransisco Tarrega

Ethnic Diversity, Colonisation In Spain

In Catalan the city of Empuries (which means trading place in Greek) was founded in 575 BC by the Greeks.

Next came the Phoenicians (from modern Lebanon) with their western Mediterranean capitol at Carthage they had a 300 year presence in Spain until their big showdown with Rome.

After defeating Carthage, the Romans colonised Spain calling it Iberia which brought people from all over their multicultural empire with them.

Three of Rome’s emperors, Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius were born in Spain.

As Rome receded several Germanic tribes invaded.

Depiction of a Reconquista battle, from the 13th century Cantigas de Santa Maria

The Alani and Vandals had been pushed out of their lands in the east so they came to Spain looking for a new home.

A later Germanic tribe, the Visigoths, followed and pushed the others out making themselves Spain’s overlords for 250 years.

In 711 AD North Africans invaded and conquered, establishing Spain as a Muslim Caliphate.

Called Moors the African Muslims ruled Spain for 800 years until they were eventually expelled in 1492.

Known as the “Reconquista” Spain became Catholic again.

We must remember that with each invasion the defeated people would have suffered terribly with many probably sold into slavery and a life of misery.

Wikipedia’s article on slavery in Spain states ” slavery in Spain can be traced back to the Phoenician and Roman eras.

In the 9th century Muslim Moorish rulers and local Jewish merchants traded in Spanish and Eastern European slaves”.

Im so glad I live today but I often think that the conquered people may have taken solace in their music.

Fransisco Tarrega And The Renaissance

Fransisco Tarrega was born 21 November 1852 at Villarreal in Castello province.

His father was a guitarist so Fransisco grew up with the guitar being very important to his family.

Today we might spend our free time watching tv, online or playing computer games but in previous generations families would sing or play music together.

As a young child Tarrega ran away from his nanny and fell into an irrigation channel which damaged his eyes leaving him with poor eyesight for the rest of his life.

His father was concerned that his sight might deteriorate further which led him to decide that Fransisco should study music seriously so that he might have a career despite his vision.

His father found other music teachers that were blind and insisted that he study piano as well as guitar and we know that Tárrega was equally accomplished on both.

His knowledge of the piano was to prove very useful later as he was able to compliment his repertoire with his guitar arrangements of piano works by Chopin, Schumann, Schubert and other great composers of the Romantic era as well as his own compositions like Capricho Arabe.

Tarrega was very much a composer of the Romantic period and an ethos which was about intuition and emotion over intellect, the expression of sentiment and powerful ideas.

It is said that in the “Romantic” period artists had a strong belief in the importance and inspirational qualities of nature.

Nationalism was also a feature of the Romantic period which ran thru the 19th century and into the early 20th as a movement.

So composers from countries that had been dominated by bigger nations would look to music of their homeland for inspiration to empower their compositions like the Czech composer Bedrich Smetana’s “Ma Vlast” which is translated as “My Country” or “My Fatherland”.

Like Ma Vlast “Capricho Arabe” is a great tribute to the composer’s homeland as well as a great piece of music.


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