Aranjuez, ma pensée
November 2, 2014 – Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano; Sharon Isbin, guitar
Rodrigo, blind since the age of three, showed great musical talent and was sent to Paris to study, where he became a student of Paul Dukas. In the 1930s he traveled extensively in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany, returning to Spain with the outbreak of war in 1939, the year he composed his famous guitar concerto, Concierto de Aranjuez. Although he was highly regarded by Dukas and also by his friend Manuel de Falla, he did not receive public recognition until the premiere of the Concierto in November 1940 by Regino Sainz de la Maza. Rodrigo became famous overnight.
In addition to composing over the next six decades, Rodrigo wrote many articles about music, toured and lectured, gave piano recitals, and received numerous awards. His musical style was conservative yet imaginative—he called it “faithful to a tradition.” The successful combination of Classical influences with nationalist idioms was enhanced by his ability to write inspired melodies.
One of these, from the slow movement of his famous Concierto, became the basis of “Aranjuez, ma pensée,” arranged in 1988 by the composer himself with lyrics in French by his beloved wife Victoria Kamhi. She frequently translated or adapted anonymous texts for many of his songs in addition to contributing her own poetry. They invited Sharon Isbin to meet them in 1979 after she won the Queen Sofia Competition playing the Concierto, and they maintained a warm friendship for two decades—Kamhi died in 1997 and Rodrigo two years later. Ms. Isbin writes that Rodrigo composed this melody “during the sleepless nights spent grieving over the stillborn birth of his first child and his wife’s ensuing illness. He wrote it as they reminisced about their honeymoon in the majestic gardens of Aranjuez, the magnificent eighteenth-century sight of kings and courtiers. It is both a love song and a song of painful yearning.”
After many unauthorized arrangements of this ultra-popular theme appeared, some instrumental and some supplied with texts, the Rodrigos tried to reclaim the rights in court in 1967, but lost. Finally in 1987, Cecilia Rodrigo, their daughter, won the rights and it was she who encouraged Kamhi to pen the lyrics.
© Jane Vial Jaffe