February 1940
volume LVIII
number 2
page 131, 135, 139

Francisco Tarrega

By George C. Krick

SPAIN MIGHT WELL BE PROUD , of having given to the world one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Francisco Tarrega. Unrivaled as composer of original music for the guitar, he also excelled all others in transcribing the works of the great masters in music, classic and modern for his favorite instrument.

Born November 29, 1852 (1854?) at Villareal, he died on December 15, 19O9 in Barcelona, mourned by a host of friends and pupils. In his youth Tarrega entered the Madrid Conservatory, and upon his graduation he received the first prize in harmony and composition. Visits to the most important continental cities brought him recognition as the greatest exponent of guitar playing during his period, and many honors were showered upon him. Possessed of a genial personality, an ardent temperament, and extraordinary intelligence, Tarrega devoted all these qualities, with fervent spirit, to his chosen art; and, throughout his whole life, he was imbued with the resolve to improve and develop the technic of guitar playing and thereby to gain recognition for his instrument from the severest music critics. HIs genius was equaled only by his modesty, and this, together with his retiring disposition, caused him to refuse offers to go out into the world where fame and fortune were awaitIng him. It is said that one of his admirers, a wealthy Englishman, offered to finance a concert tour around the world, but Tarrega declined. He was happiest when he and his guitar were amongst a few friends and disciples. On such occasions he would play for hours, producing on his instrument the most beautiful tones imaginable, and hold his listeners spellbound. It was on such occasions that his original "Preludes" and "Capriccios" took form. And how he played Bach, Beethoven, Schumann or Chopin! In his hands the works of these immortals were created anew, just as though they were originally composed for the guitar.

A Bold and Daring Spirit

Tarrega was an explorer and innovator, constantly experimenting, trying to find new beauties in his guitar. He would sit for hours producing a tone in different ways, first on one string then on another, striking the string with the first finger, then with the second or third, until he got what he wanted. As an example, let us take the note E on the open first string. The same note may be played on the second string, fifth fret; on the third string, ninth fret; or again on the fourth string, fourteenth fret. On all these frets we get the E of the same pitch, but the timbre, or tone quality, of each differs somewhat from the others. When we add to this note three or four notes to form a chord, we begin to understand the many varieties of tone color possible on the guitar, when in the hands of an artist; and it may be said that this is one of the secrets of Tarrega's music. This mastery of the guitar, his thorough musical training, and his acquaintance with the entire piano literature, all enabled him to transcribe many classic compositions to be found in the repertoire of the great guitar virtuosos of the present time. While lack of space does not permit us to give here a complete list of the Tarrega classic transcriptions, we cannot refrain from citing a few that are particularly interesting. Bach, Bourrée from the "Second Sonata," and Fugue from the "First Violin Sonata"; Beethoven, Scherzo from "Sonata, Op. 2," first movement of the "Moonlight Sonata" and Largo from "Sonata, Op. 7"; Chopin, Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2, Mazurka, Op. 33, No. 4, Valse, Op. 64, No. 1 and "Five Preludes."

Handel, Choral-Minuet; Haydn, Andante and Minuet; Mendelssohn, Canzonetta; Mozart, Two Minuets; Schubert, Adieu and Au Soir; Schumann, Fugue, Berceuse, Reverie, and Romanza. There are many more that could be included in this list, but these numbers show Tarrega at his best. We must not forget that he also transcribed quite a number of compositions of the two leading Spanish composers, Albeniz and Granados. It goes without saying that, to begin with, this Spanish music is guitaristic, and in these Tarrega transcriptions, when played by an artist, the real Spanish atmosphere reveals itself in a manner more effective than on any other instrument. Of these the Dance No. 5 of Granados, and the Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Sevilla and Torre Bermeia of Albeniz, have been popularized by Andres Segovia and others.

Originality in Creation

The original compositions of Tarrega are artistic creations of the highest order. Beautiful melodies and intriguing harmonic progressions, not found in the music of any other composer, combine to set these gems of guitar literature apart from all others. Whoever has once listened to the tremolo study, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, will always cherish it as a musical miracle. Another number of outstanding merit is the Capricho Arabe, a most delightful and effective piece showing the Moorish influence upon the music of Southern Spain. This has been successfully recorded by Julio Martinez Oyanguren, on Columbia record #69457D. The Danza Mora, Grande Jota de Concerto, Tango, and many others, may be found on the programs of guitarists; and altogether there were published over fifty original compositions of Tarrega, while many others remained in manuscript.

It Is a curious fact that the name Tarrega became best known in the musical world, through his pupils, amongst whom the late Miguel Llobet was the most celebrated. Others are Emilio Pujol, now residing in Paris; Garzia Fortea of Madrid; Domenicus Prat, in Buenos Aires; and a host of others still residing in Spain or having emigrated to South America. These men, imbued with the spirit of Tarrega, introduced his compositions and transcriptions to the world and caused the name of the master to become known to all interested in the guitar.

Much has been written about the new technic and the Spanish School founded by Tarrega. For long, until a few years before his death, he used the so-called nail stroke. This does not mean that he cultivated long finger nails and struck the strings with these exclusively. Information given the writer, by several persons intimately acquainted with Tarrega, may be taken as authentic, and a brief description is here submitted. The nails on the fingers of the right hand should project about a thirty-second of an inch beyond the fleshy part of the finger tip. As the finger tip strikes the string, the edge of the nail is the last part of the finger to leave the string, imparting a certain crispness to the tone. This system is used by Segovia and most of the other great artists. During the last few years of his life, Tarrega shortened his nails and played with the finger tips alone. When he played in this manner, some of his friends remonstrated with him, pointing out that while his tone was pure and round, it was not as powerful as formerly. To this Tarrega replied that he preferred less volume and more beautiful tone.

It was during this period that Emilio Pujol studied with him and adopted this nailless stroke. This method is also employed by Francisco Alfonso, said to be one of the finest of the younger generation of guitarists, now living in London, where he has given a number of recitals. In an article on guitar technic, which appeared in an English magazine, Alfonso expressed himself thus: "It is not so much a question of obtaining good tone by finger tips or nails; the question of temperament of each guitarist must be considered. There are nails equal to fingertips, and fingertips equal to nails. The ideal is a combination of both for the sake of variety. The 'Tarrega School' consists of 'caressing' the strings instead of 'striking' them, and of keeping the movement of the fingers at a minimum, striving always for beautiful tone."