Classical Guitar Study: Madronos – Federico Moreno Torroba

“Madronos” – A Trinity College Licentiate Diploma Piece

As a teenager my guitar teacher at the time lent me a record by John Williams, the great Australian classical guitar player.

I recorded it onto a cassette tape and I listened to it a lot, in fact I wore the tape out!

I hadn’t written the names of the pieces down so I didn’t know what I was listening to but the music was superb and of course John Williams’ playing was ridiculously good.

I now know that it was an album of standard concert repertoire for the solo guitar with pieces like: “Canarios” by Sanz, Granados “Spanish Dance No. 5”, “Asturias” by Albeniz.

Also including all the big concert pieces made popular by Segovia in his crusade to make the guitar an important concert instrument with the same status and respect that the violin or piano held.

One of my favourite pieces on the album, I learnt much later, was “Madronos” by Federico Moreno Torroba, I have recently found the time to learn to play it and I’m really enjoying it all over again, this time playing “Madronos” myself.

John Williams

Who Was Federico Moreno Torroba?

I just got through reading Torroba’s biography “Federico Moreno Torroba; A Musical Life” by Walter Clark & Craig Krause.

It’s a very good biography and account of Torroba’s life and career. In fact I’d go as far as saying that it’s essential reading for anyone interested in the guitar.

Apart from being a really interesting and good telling of Torroba’s life it gives a vivid, informative and engaging history of Spain in the 19th and 20th centuries, in doing so we see the importance of Torroba’s work in context.

Torroba was a composer of Zarzuela which is basically the Spanish equivalent of the Broadway or London’s West End Musical.

Federico Moreno Torroba

Think “Les Miserables”, “Evita”, “Phantom of the Opera” or “Sound of Music” but in Spanish with Spanish dancing, Spanish themes and characteristic Spanish music.

Torroba was the most successful and popular Zarzuela composer of his day.

Segovia at the time was busily promoting the guitar through concerts and recordings. He was also appealing to the composers that he liked, asking them to compose pieces for the guitar to extend its repertoire

Musical Composition In Context

In his quest to procure great music for the guitar Segovia asked Torroba to compose for him.

That would be the equivalent of John Williams or Julian Bream asking Andrew Lloyd Webber (the composer of “Cats” & “Jesus Christ Superstar“) to write guitar music for them. Why not?!

Torroba liked the idea… so he got to work and wrote some of the most important music for the guitar like “Suite Castellana” (which I did for my A.Mus.A. diploma) and “Castles of Spain” which is a set of 26 pieces; each a musical description of a famous Spanish castle and also Madronos which is a Licentiate diploma piece so it’s a real workout.

Certainly the guitar would be poorer without Torroba.

He was extremely proud to be from Madrid and a “Madrileno”.

The 2nd chapter of Krause & Clark’s bio is titled “Madrileno” and I’d like to quote it’s opening paragraph –

“What is a madrileno? In simplest terms, it’s someone who hails from Madrid. Yet, clearly the word connotes more that that. Someone who just moved from Barcelona to Madrid yesterday would not suddenly metamorphose, in Kafkaesque fashion, into a madrileno. Not now, perhaps never. To be a madrileno is to be a product of, or at least significantly reflect in one’s life and work, the culture of Madrid”.

Madrono Tree (Arbutus Undo)

Madronos: A Musical Homage To Madrid

I wondered why Torroba named this great work “Madronos”…

so I did a little research and it seems a ‘Madronos’ is a type of tree with red berries and interestingly enough Madrid’s coat of arms depicts a Modronos tree with a bear standing on his hind legs ready to eat those red berries.

The Spanish soccer team Atletico Madrid have this as the club’s logo on their jerseys.

The Madrid Coat Of Arms

So why did Torroba give the piece the name “Madronos”?

Even Segovia didn’t know when asked. Just maybe, like “Castles of Spain”, it’s a musical depiction of Madrid and expresses his pride in Madrid.

Anyone who’s visited Madrid will understand that pride.


Shopping Cart
Skip to content