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The Spanish Guitarist-Composer, Francisco Tárrega's Works and Life

Francisco Tárrega: Overview

  • Born: 1852 - Castellon, Spain
  • Died: 1909 - Barcelona, Spain
  • Historical Period: Romantic 
  • Musical Media: guitar, keyboard, songs 

Spanish guitar composer Francisco Tarrega

Francisco de Asís Tárrega y Eixea was born in Spain in the year 1852 when the Romantic era of musical history was in full bloom. His work as a guitarist earned him tremendous acclaim not only in his homeland but also around the world. As one of the most formidable musical champions of all time, his works include the Recuerdos de la Alhambra (1896). He died in 1909 after being affected by paralysis in the right part of his body since 1906. Tárrega’s final musical contribution was Oremus (1909). 

Francisco Tárrega: The Father Of Classical Guitar

His work comprises of a total of seventy-eight original compositions and a hundred and twenty transcriptions. Tárrega was extremely eager to mix Romanticism with Spanish folk music features, during which he was also involved in the transcription of many of his friend Isaac Albéniz 's work. 

Tárrega’s father is known to have played the flamenco and other styles and whose occupation was that of a watchman at a convent. Tárrega’s was called Quiquet as a child, and the future prodigy ran away from home once, only to accidentally fall into an irrigation channel, badly injuring his eyes. Following this, the family shifted to Castellón-de-la-Plana so that the young boy could learn music under Manuel González and Eugeni Ruiz, in the event that he ever became blind.

The year 1862 saw Tárrega perform in front of guitarist Julian Arcas, who was hugely enamored by the spirited youngster, advising his father to travel to Barcelona for higher musical education. At Barcelona, the young guitarist initially resided at a relative’s place before leaving it and joining up with other musicians, forming a group. These days were mainly marked with performances in pubs to earn money, rather than attend his classes to learn more about music. Tárrega’s father was furious and went to Barcelona to get him back home, but in 1865, the budding musician ran away for a second time, joining gypsies at Valencia. Even though his father managed to track and bring him back again, Tárrega ran away for a third time, once again to Valencia. The young man was efficient at playing both the guitar and the piano by his teenage years, despite his many escapades. 

The grim financial situation of Tárrega’s family compelled him to perform at a number of concerts at many villages before he was accepted as a pianist at Burriana's Casino. He alternated between guitar and piano during these years, when Antonio Canesa, a successful businessman, sponsored Tarrega for a journey to Madrid to the Spanish Music Conservatory. His student years were tough on the musician as the guitar had lost its former glory when compared to the piano. Since Tárrega was primarily a guitar specialist, he was not allowed to play at concerts. 

In 1874, Tárrega was admitted to the Madrid Conservatory, and was financially supported by Antonio Canesa. The former had a guitar made by Antonio de Torres, and its sonic output was so brilliant that it strongly inspired him in his music. At the Madrid conservatory, Emilio Arrieta taught Tárrega composition, advising him to put his focus on the guitar than the piano. Tárrega himself started tutoring others by the latter part of the 1870s with those such as Daniel Fortea and Emilio Pujol among his students, while also performing at concerts regularly. 

In the year 1880, Luis de Soria, a musician who couldn’t play at a concert due to illness, requested Tárrega to stand in for him at the show in Novelda, Spain. Once the concert was over, the guitarist was invited to listen to María José Rizo, a guitarist, while she played her instrument. A romance bloomed between the two musical personalities and they married in 1881.  

Tárrega performed at Lyon’s Opera Theatre followed by the Paris Odeon, in dedication to Pedro Calderón de la, and the concert was organized by an international committee presided by Victor Hugo.

Tárrega’s London experience was full of successful performances and a complete dislike for the weather and language. There is a legend that after one of his performances, he was asked by admirers what made him sad and if he missed his family. This prompted him to pen Lágrima (circa 1889) as a way to demonstrate his sadness at the time.  

He was also involved in the transcription of many exemplary piano works of masters such as Mendelssohn and Beethoven, which expanded his artistic repertoire. Although Tárrega journeyed to Madrid with the intention of setting up home, their infant daughter’s death made him move to Barcelona in the year 1885.

Some time from this incident, in one his concerts at Valencia, Conxa Martinez, who was a rich widow, agreed to back the guitarist as a patron, permitting him to take possession of a property at Barcelona. The period after is marked by Tárrega’s best works, which include Recuerdos de la Alhambra, but his subsequent shows were mostly staged only in Spain. 

The year 1902 was revolutionary for him, in that he cut off his fingernails to produce a guitar tune that would go on to become a trademark style of his. His preference was always towards small, limited performances over grand concerts, and he also composed Gran Vals (1902), which was utilized in the popular ringtone that Nokia used.

Francisco Tárrega was undoubtedly a conservative musician, in both style and performance, with strong similarities to that of the latter half of the nineteenth century. An absolute authority on the guitar, he is widely accepted as the one who built the foundation of classical guitar today. His moniker of “father of classical guitar” is, therefore, rightful in every way as Tárrega devoted his life to his art and to the upliftment of the guitar as a venerable musical instrument in the twentieth century. There have been many piano and violin masters who had followed trends of the nineteenth century but Tárrega himself was one who went against the tide, and despite odds stacked against him, persevered with the guitar.



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