In Aranjuez With My Love

Aranjuez, a place of dreams and love
where the sound of crystal
fountains in the garden
seems to whisper beneath the roses

Written by: Alfredo García Segura / Joaquin Rodrigo Vidre
Translator unknown

Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquin Rodrigo

Pronounced Cone-see-air-toe day Ah-rahn-who-ace
Or, you could just call it Rodrigo's Concierto d' Orange Juice, as the late great Pete Postlethwaite does in the film "Brassed Off" !
(Clip is less than six minutes).


    It doesn't seem like overstatement to say that Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez has become the gold standard against which other classical guitar compositions are measured. Composed in 1939, it is by far the best known of Rodrigo's compositions. It is worth noting that the guitar was not the composer's primary instrument. In fact, Rodrigo didn't play the guitar, he played the piano. Almost completely blind from the age of three, Rodrigo did his composing using braille. In December of 1991, Rodrigo was raised to the Spanish nobility by King Juan Carlos I with the title of Marquess of the Gardens of Aranjuez.


    There is some mystery as to the inspiration for this piece, particularly the poignant second movement. Where did so much emotion come from? Enquiring minds want to know, and Rodrigo and his wife weren't forthcoming with details. One story is that it was inspired by the gardens in the Royal Palace of Aranjuez which he and his wife, Victoria de Kamhi, visited on their honeymoon. Some listeners, apparently, were not satisfied with this. Another story was that the composition was influenced by the bombing of Guernica in 1937. Maybe the most compelling explanation for the powerful sadness and beauty of the melody is that it was the composer's expression of his loss when Victoria miscarried during her first pregnancy. The problem with this theory is that the miscarriage occurred six months after Rodrigo completed the concerto.


    Of the three movements, the second movement, the adagio, was the first written. It is also the best known so let's discuss it first. Written in B minor, the definite Spanish style of the entire concerto is no less evident here. Its melancholy sweetness has inspired covers by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis (Sketches of Spain, 1960), among many others. Miles Davis is quoted as saying that the melody line is so strong that, "the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets". The B minor key adds to the bittersweet tone as the movement begins with softly strummed guitar chords in drop-D tuning as a cor anglais (english horn, it's similar to an oboe) leads off with the melody line. If you are familiar with Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor you will recognize that, aside from the key, the first three notes of that melody are the same as the first three notes of this one. The resemblance ends there. The guitar and orchestra pass the melody back and forth in true concerto fashion until the guitar takes off on a long, varied and amazing solo. At this point let me say that I've personally never been a fan of dissonant chords on the guitar (or any instrument for that matter). The way they are used in this piece of music has changed all that. As the master guitarist nears the longest solo, the guitar chords between the arpeggios and runs grow more and more dissonant (off tonic) and the tension builds and builds. The entire piece is uniquely paced in such a way that the guitar is never overwhelmed by the full orchestra. At the end of the main guitar solo, the strumming reaches a fervent climax and the full string section, in preparation, joins together in one full pizzicato chord at the start of each of the last three measures of strumming. Now, and this is the best I can describe it, the master guitarist throws the melody back to the orchestra (which has been silent for some time now, aside from those three pizzicato beats). This is the first time the full power of the orchestra is put behind the melody and it can only be described as magnificent. The guitar closes the movement with tastefully understated single notes while the string section and woodwinds provide a soft ambient background.

Allegro gentile

    The third movement, the allegro gentile, is written in D major in mixed metre, using both 2/4 and 3/4 time alternately. It is as upbeat as the adagio is solemn. Rodrigo states that this movement, along with the second, sprang into the composer's mind virtually complete. All he really had to do was to put it on paper. Although not a dance tune, it seems to capture that spirit and is a fine pick-me-up to follow the weight of the adagio.

Allegro con spirito

    This first movement of the concerto was the last to be written. As mentioned before, the composer declares that the second and third movements came to him fully formed. Not so the first movement, which took effort. Also in the key of D major (like the third movement), it is a brisk 6/8 time and has a decidedly flamenco flavor.


    Although the first and third movements are amazing compositions in their own right, they really serve the important function of framing the second, the adagio. The adagio can, and often does, stand alone. It is often covered in arrangements for different instruments and different styles. One rarely hears the first or third movement performed without the adagio. Linked below is my personal favorite performance of the entire Concierto de Aranjuez featuring John Williams on classical guitar. John Williams, when compared to some guitarists, plays it straight. Some masters use a lot of string bends and this reviewer prefers this cleaner version but that really comes down to personal preference. I will also link to assorted covers of the adagio as I find them.

Concierto de Aranjuez John Williams, BBC Proms 2005 Full Concert HQ

"The Orange Juice Song" - Deep Purple (Keyboard solo 2:15)

"En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor" (In Aranjuez With Your Love) - Carlos Santana

Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones "No Quarter" tour 1973 (6:40 on counter)

Concierto de Aranjuez: Adagio - Miles Davis (Arranged by Gil Evans)

Last one (I promise!)Arrangement for harp and piano, surprisingly faithful to the original

This is a review of a review.

I decided to go listen to the piece after reading the writeup above by npecom, whose description is beautiful in itself.

My knowledge of classical and instrumental music can be written on one side of a cue card with space to spare. Evidence of my ignorance is that they are pretty much the same to me since they emphasize instruments rather than singing. However, I really like movie soundtracks and there is a portion of this piece that sounds familiar, I suppose it is the adagio. I cannot recall which movie it is though.

It is probably no surprise that since the composer and the piece both have Spanish names, the writeup should be linked in my mind with my (little) knowledge of things Spanish. However, what came most strongly to mind is James Michener's novel Mexico. That book was about bullfighting in Mexico. There is a Hispanic commentator in the book whose commentaries on the sport use the sort of affected language that is normally used in describing art. However, where such language seems pompous for art, and should be mocking when used for a sport as gory as bullfighting, in the book, that commentator makes it seem apt. It also reminded me of a book about boxing. It is a collection of essays called The Sweet Science by A. J. Liebling, who was a writer for the New Yorker in the 1950s. The essays were written in a simple style. But the writer's interest in and knowledge of his subject made the writing beautiful because it was so spare yet so rich. Like what I imagine a good wine would be. A subject which I know even less about than classical music.

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