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Capricho árabe

September 25, 2016: Jason Vieaux, guitar

At the age of ten Tárrega studied classical guitar with Julian Arcas, followed by training at the Madrid Conservatory, where he also studied theory, harmony, and piano. He soon began to teach and at the same time establish himself as a guitar virtuoso. His international reputation grew after successful appearances in Paris and London in 1880; he was acclaimed as “the Sarasate of the guitar.” Tárrega did much to promote the instrument at a time when the piano had almost completely overshadowed it. He not only composed some eighty original works for the guitar—Recuerdos de la Alhambra, Capricho árabe, and Danza mora are among his best-known solo pieces—but he transcribed over 140 works by other composers for one or two guitars, including pieces by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Granados, and Albéniz. Albéniz once stated that Tárrega’s transcriptions were better than his own piano originals!

Tárrega’s extremely popular Capricho árabe, composed after a trip to Granada, is dedicated to his friend and composer Tomás Bretón. A brief introduction—an isolated open fourth, an improvisatory riff, a brief chordal motive, all repeated—precedes Tárrega’s well-known melody with its signature beginning of two repeated notes. The accompanimental pattern of four bass notes with afterbeat chords is intriguing to follow as it changes harmonically to introduce new sections. The main theme alternates between presentations in minor and in major, with periodic improvisatory passages providing further contrast. A shortened return of the melody in minor closes the piece.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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