Tuesday 20 March 2018

From Mozart to the Nokia ringtone -- saluting Tárrega

It isn't the whole of Francesco Tárrega's dance that everybody knows, just a snippet of 13 notes from four bars that round off a pretty motif that's become part of the soundtrack of everyday life.

Tárrega was the man who developed the modern technique of playing the classical guitar, and he wrote music to take advantage of it. You might be familiar with his 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra' (Memories of the Alhambra).

He was a bit of an evangelist for his instrument.

Back at the beginning of the 20th Century, it was Tárrega's music that was behind a resurgence of interest in it.

He would adapt tunes by the masters. If you've ever listened to material by Mozart, or a beautiful piece by Beethoven or Bach on the guitar, Tárrega was most likely the arranger.

Chopin was a particular favourite and had a big influence on him. He used the original piano man's Grande Valse Brillante as the starting point for a piece of his own, doffing his cap in Chopin's direction by giving his dance for guitar the simple Spanish title Gran Vals.

Tárrega's 13-note fragment cropped up recently during a solo recital in Slovakia. Luká Kmit was playing the viola. Somebody's mobile went off. It was a Nokia.

Unfazed, Kmit picked up the metaphorical baton and ran with a rendition of the ringtone, those four bars of Tárrega's dance. The audience laughed, then they applauded. As you'd expect, it's on YouTube.

Nokia have been using that snatch of waltz for over 20 years, since they became the first to produce a musical ringtone on a mobile.

A shame we're not so familiar with the piece in its entirety, for it's as attractive and endearing as anything in 3/4 time. Maybe not with the same depth as something by Chopin, but good enough to lend itself, in true Tárrega style, to transcription.

Just as he took others' music and turned it into something special for guitar, Valdo Preema, an Estonian percussionist and composer, has woven magic with the Spaniard's six-string original in a version for keyboard.

If the all-too-familiar ringtone has finally got to you, a couple of minutes in the company of the 21-year-old prize-winning German pianist Adrian Brendle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G3hhIdehwow) will restore your faith in Tárrega's Gran Vals.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 9.30 each Saturday morning


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