Joaquín Rodrigo was born in Sagunto (Valencia) on St Cecilia's day, the patron saint of music, 22 November 1901. At the age of three he lost his sight as a result of an epidemic of diphtheria. From the outset of his career Rodrigo wrote all his works in braille, dictating them subsequently to a copyist.
In 1927, following the example of his predecessors Albéniz, Falla, Granados and Turina, Rodrigo moved to Paris to enrol at the École Normale de Musique, where he studied for five years with Paul Dukas, who had a particular affection for his Spanish pupil. Rodrigo wrote his Sonada de adiós for piano in memory of Dukas in 1935. He soon became known as both pianist and composer, and became friendly with Honegger, Milhaud, Ravel and many other musical celebrities of the time, among them Manuel de Falla, whose advice and support would be decisive in his career. In 1933 he married the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi, who thenceforth until her death in 1997 became his inseparable companion and the most important collaborator.
He continued his studies of musicology in France at the Paris Conservatoire and at the Sorbonne and also worked in Germany, Austria and Switzerland before returning to Spain in 1939 to settle permanently in Madrid. In 1940 the world premiere took place in Barcelona of the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra, a definitive example of his musical personality and a work which would bring him world-wide fame.
The music of Joaquín Rodrigo is a homage to the rich and varied cultures of Spain. No other Spanish composer has drawn on so many different aspects of his country's spirit as sources of inspiration, from the history of Roman Spain to the work of contemporary poets. His music is refined, luminous, fundamentally optimistic, with a particular predominance of melody, and with original harmonies. His first works reveal the influence of composers of his time such as Ravel and Stravinsky, but the personal voice is quickly heard which would go on to create a notable chapter in the cultural history of Spain in the 20th century, where the originality of Rodrigo’s musical inspiration goes hand in hand with a devotion to the fundamental values of his tradition.
Joaquín Rodrigo’s numerous and varied compositions include eleven concertos for various instruments, more than sixty songs, choral and instrumental works, and music for the theatre and the cinema. A number of distinguished soloists commissioned works from him, among them Gaspar Cassadó, Andrés Segovia, Nicanor Zabaleta, James Galway, Julian Lloyd Webber and the Romero guitar quartet. His numerous writings on music reveal a profound understanding of his art and include subjects as varied as sixteenth century polyphony, the symphonic poems of Richard Strauss, and the art of the conductor.
Throughout his life Joaquín Rodrigo was frequently honoured by governments, universities, academies and other civil and musical organizations in many different countries like Gran Cruz de Alfonso X el Sabio, Doctor honoris causa of several universities and Director of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. In 1991, to celebrate his 90th birthday, concerts of his music were given throughout the world, and Joaquín Rodrigo was raised to the nobility by H M Juan Carlos I, King of Spain, with the title ‘Marqués de los jardines de Aranjuez’. In 1996 the composer was honoured with Spain’s greatest distinction, the Prince of Asturias Prize, awarded to a composer for the first time.
Joaquín Rodrigo died at his home in Madrid on the 6 July 1999, surrounded by his family.
“Courtesy by Victoria & Joaquín Rodrigo Foundation”