Recuerdos de la Alhambra
The musical influence of Tárrega (1852-1909) on the subsequent generations of guitarists is hard to overestimate. It has long been established that his teaching and inventive compositions in miniature for the guitar sustained it through a long drought in the latter half of the 19th c., so that it could re-enter the musical mainstream in the hands of Miguel Llobet, Andrés Segovia and Emilio Pujol. This work is one of those that almost every guitarist plays, and in a class I attended as a young student, it was referred to by the great teacher Alexandre Lagoya, as "la Marseillaise de la guitare" (loosely, the guitarist's national anthem). Tárrega's work is full of his zeal for the Classical and early Romantic authors, in his Minuets, Preludes and Mazurcas, and not least in his great transcriptions of works by Bach, Mendelssohn and Schubert for the guitar. This particular piece reflects the influence of Chopin as it is actually a Barcarolle, a Gondolier's song, typified by a simple ABA structure and the lapping wave motion of its melodic material. Though intended to recall the Moorish palace of the Alhambra, it does so more in the the title than in the substance. Occasional lowered seconds typical of Spanish composers for centuries, are heard, but the connection to the architecture and decoration of the palace seems incidental. In playing the work from the point of view of a musician whose roots are in musical execution on historical instruments rather than their modern equivalents, I have taken the opportunity to remind the listener that Tárrega played smaller guitars, without nails and on gut strings. Therefore the tremolo technique heard (rapid re-iteration of the same pitch, reminiscent of the mandolin, hence the connection with Venice) throughout the piece is rendered entirely as a background, and not at all as I was taught, the main melodic material of the work as it is heard when the piece is played with nails. The guitar does more of the work. This unique instrument sustains sweetly and clearly in the upper voice entirely based on the way that the naked fingers stick to the gut strings.
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