Composer of the month: Francisco Tárrega
Welcome to Composer of the Month!
Each month, we celebrate the anniversary of a composer by highlighting their work and history, and giving you nice arrangements of some of the artist’s most iconic pieces that you can download directly to your Newzik library!
For this first article of the series, we take you to Spain for a great time of guitar vibes with the father of Spanish classical guitar, Francisco Tárrega!
“One can’t compose for this instrument if one does not play it itself”
As always, we have crafted a Newzik Setlist for our Premium users with all the pieces we will study in this article. If you are a free user, don’t worry: you can also download the pieces you want from our selection later in the article.And if you are not a Newzician yet, download Newzik for free on the App Store to check out these arrangements!
If you are a free user, be aware that if you import the entire Setlist (9 files), you might reach the 15-file limit of your free account. Subscribe to Newzik for unlimited import!
A brief history of the classical guitar
The ancestor of the guitar was born during the 15th century and was made of a sounding board, a neck and four double strings.
During the Renaissance era the instrument isn’t very prominent due to the success of the lute which is very popular. The beginning of the Baroque period marks the apparition of a 5th double string. The end of the Baroque era (circa 1750) leaves the instrument under its actual form with six simple strings. Its timbre and its acoustic qualities are undeniable and increase its popularity, especially in Spain, where most of its most popular pieces will come from. During the Classical period a few pieces come to life but no composer truly stands out. However, during the Romantic period, the guitar still has a hard time gaining popularity especially among higher classes. The privileged “classical” instruments remain the ones taught at music school and unfortunately the guitar is not one of them.
The success of the instrument comes from Francisco Tárrega who put the instrument under the spotlight through its work and its particular way of playing. This rise in popularity is also facilitated by numerous prestigious performers such as Andres Segovia, Narciso Yepes, and Julian Bream.
Biography of Francisco Tárrega
The early days of Francisco Tárrega
Francisco Tarrega was born on November 21st 1852 in Villarreal, Spain near Valencia and died in December 1909 in Barcelona. We definitely owe him the blossoming of the classical guitar. It is after a tragic episode (the passing of his mother) that the Tarrega family moves to Castellon, a town closer to Valencia. It allows the young Francisco to attend music classes during which he rapidly caught Julian Arcas’ attention. In 1862, Arcas convinces his father to let Fancisco go to Barcelona where he will be able to start a full musical training.
However Arcas soon has to leave to go on tour, leaving Francesco without guitar lessons. Despite his young age — 10 years old — he runs away from home willing to start a career by playing in several bars and restaurants. Brought back to the family house by his father repeatedly, these fugue episode show Tarrega’s willingness to play. In 1894, he understands that his bohemian life is not a lasting solution and decides to enter the conservatoire of Madrid.
Francisco Tárrega : “the Sarasate of the guitar”
Tarrega’s guitar is from Seville and was made by Antonio Torres. The qualities of this instrument are key in the work Tarrega will conduct to find the sound and the style he wants in his compositions. During this period he also abandons the piano in order to be more focused on the guitar.
He plays all over Europe and composes a lot. Seen as the new Sarasate of the guitar, he writes numerous recital pieces. His work gathers 78 original pieces, among which the very well known Gran Vals (1984) which became Nokia’s official ringtone and was used in several TV Ads! He also transcribed 120 pieces including the famous Asturias originally composed for the piano by Isaac Albeniz.
In 1902, Tarrega cuts his nails and thus softens his musical style, which makes it a major characteristic of his disciples. The end of his life is tarnished by a paralysis of the right side of his body he strongly has to fight to find his past level of performance. Without ever ceasing to compose, he died in Barcelona after writing his last piece Oremus (“Let us pray”), a transcription of Schubert’s Phantasietanz.
And now, the music!
We have selected our favorite pieces written by Francisco Tárrega, and found some nice arrangements that you can recover directly in Newzik!
If you don’t play the guitar, don’t worry: we have arrangements for other instruments as well!
Lágrima was composed during the 1880s during a tour in London where, not supporting the climate, Tárrega was longing for his country. He used sixteenth notes to evoke tears that bead in the corner of the eyes and roll on the cheeks. Constantly going back and forth from e-Moll to e-Dur, Tárrega wants to share his Andalusian memories.
Alternating between joyful reminiscences and sadness caused by the distance, Lágrima is a marvellous and relatively easy piece that will nevertheless ask you to work on your left hand moves. Follow this link to download the guitar part and tablature in your Newzik library (make sure Newzik is installed on your device).
This piece dedicated to the composer and conductor Tomas Breton, a contemporary of Tarrega, was composed in the 1900s in Valencia. Thus the work finds itself in the convergences of all the cultures that shaped the city: Muslim, Castilian and Christian. The composer recalls dark moments in Spain, a country that remained under Arab domination for 700 years, and the region of Granada was the last bastion of Moorish kings.
This famous piece was composed in 1900. Danza Mora follows a journey from Tarrega to Algiers and is inspired by the haunting rhythm of an Arabic drum with a simple [two eight notes – one quarter note] that punctuates the whole piece. The theme comes upon it and depicts Andalusia thanks to eighth notes triplets.
This piece requires a real work of desynchronization of the mind and hands to ensure that we hear almost two interpreters. One is very focused on the Arabian rhythms which is meant to be stable, and the other one singing an Andalusian theme as legato as possible.
What would have Nokia done without this piece written in 1902 that came to life precisely when he cut his nails and changed its method by going to a softer and warmer. It became famous worldwide when Finnish corporation Nokia incorporated an excerpt of measures 13 to 16 in their ringtones selection in the 1990s, becoming the first musical ringtone on a mobile phone. It has since then been sampled and reused many times by different artists from different genres, but the original is still the best version to us!
Here is a nice guitar part if you want to give this iconic piece a try. (make sure Newzik is installed on your device).
Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Ok, so you most likely know this one already. Recuerdos de la Alhambra is definitely one of the most iconic classic guitar tunes ever written, and a classic exercise for guitar students.
Composed in 1896 in Grenada, this piece requires a real work on the tremolo technique that needs to be fully mastered to let the theme come to life. It is a sound postcard of the Alhambra, this set of Andalusian palaces, superb relics of medieval Islamic architecture echoing the famous Great Mosque of Cordoba.
We decided to give it a different twist by showing you a great performance of the tune by international violinist Ning Chen, as well as two string transcriptions: one for the violin and one for the viola. We also have a bonus piano part if you’re interested! (make sure Newzik is installed on your device).
We hope you liked this Composer of the Month and that you will have a great time practicing these tunes! Don’t hesitate to tell us in the comments about your personal favorite pieces from Francisco Tárrega. See you in December for our next article in which we will cover the work and history of the great Hector Berlioz.
Disclaimer: all the scores provided in this article were found online and all listed as either Public Domain or Creative Commons and encouraged to be shared freely by their creators. If you want to learn more about the best online sources for legally getting sheet music, go ahead and read this article. Also, if despite our best effort to respect the will of the original creators, you are one of these creators and disagree with our use of your work, please contact us.