Suzanne Rhodes DRAYER

A Singer’s Guide to the Songs of JOAQUÍN RODRIGO

Scarecrow Press Inc., 266 pages,

ISBN 0-8108-4408-7


Joaquín Rodrigo’s life spanned almost the entire 20th century. He was born in 1901 and died in 1999. But his fascinating, melodic music is by no means typical of the 20th century and after the 2nd World War he is a composer who has seemed out of step with current movements. Instead he went his own way, drawing on the myriad forms of Spanish music as inspiration. Virtually blind from the age of 3, he always wrote music in Braille, subsequently dictating the music to a copyist (a role not infrequently played by his wife).

Rodrigo trained in Paris with Paul Dukas and joined the band of émigré Spanish composers resident there, becoming friendly with Manuel de Falla as well as Honegger, Milhaud and Ravel. His wife was the Turkish pianist, Victoria Kamhi. Also a gifted linguist, she was Rodrigo’s collaborator in his work for the rest of his life. The Spanish civil war meant that it was not until 1939 that the Rodrigos were able to return permanently to Spain.

Apart from a handful of famous concertos, most people would be hard put to name many works by Rodrigo. So that a flippant response to the title of this book would be, ‘Oh, did he write any’. The answer of course is that he did write quite a number of lovely songs which are scarcely known by singers. There are two principal problems preventing the dissemination of Rodrigo’s songs, they generally set Spanish texts and getting hold of the music is difficult. It is to help alleviate these problems that Suzanne Rhodes Drayer has written this useful little book. She includes full details of the publishing house Ediciones Joaquín Rodrigo, which was founded in 1989 by Rodrigo’s daughter Cecilia, as they now publish all of Rodrigo’s music. For American readers she also includes details of a music shop in New York who can supply much of Rodrigo’s output. At the back there is a select discography, but I would not like to estimate how many of the discs are currently available.

The first two chapters of the book consist of a short biography of Rodrigo and a complete list of his work and a short biography of Rodrigo’s wife, an important and interesting figure in her own right.

But the bulk of the book is a series of chapters dealing with Rodrigo’s vocal works. Each song or song cycle is given a brief description which includes details of the origin of the text and some performance information, along with full listings of the relevant instrumentation, duration, author of the text and vocal range. Then the complete text is given line by line along with phonetic versions of the text and word by word translation of the line. This line by line text is then followed by a more idiomatic translation.

This is all beautifully useful and will help singers immensely in approaching this repertoire. But, given that Rodrigo’s songs are so unknown outside Spain, I did feel that Ms Drayer could have done a little more and written a little something about each song, telling us more about the music, what the song’s special qualities are and why someone might want to sing it.

Robert Hugill


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