Rodrigo’s Famous Adagio

Pacific Symphony’s first concert in December—Miloš Plays Rodrigo (Dec. 1-3)—features Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. Written in 1939, the work could be considered Spain’s most famous musical export. Not only is the Concierto a stunningly beautiful work for guitar and orchestra, but its second movement has become something of a pop phenomenon, hailed for its poignant beauty. The melody is so lush and gorgeous that artists have adapted it to many genres, including pop, classical, jazz, hip hop, fado, rock, and more. The piece was featured to good effect in the 90s British comedy-drama, Brassed Off. In the film, a young euphonium-playing Ewan MacGregor falls head-over-heels for flugelhornist Tara Kennedy when she plays the slow movement of what the bandmaster calls the “Concerto d’Orange Juice.”

Jazz great Miles Davis was inspired to reinterpret the Concierto’s Adagio movement on flugelhorn for his Sketches of Spain album. His arranger Gil Evans commented, “We hadn’t intended to make a Spanish album. We were just going to do the Concierto de Aranjuez. A friend of Miles gave him the only album in existence with that piece. He brought it back to New York and I copied the music off the record because there was no score. By the time we did that, we began to listen to other folk music, music played in clubs in Spain… So we learned a lot from that and it ended up being a Spanish album. The Rodrigo, the melody is so beautiful. It’s such a strong song.” Miles Davis said of the Adagio: “That melody is so strong that the softer you play it, the stronger it gets, and the stronger you play it, the weaker it gets.”

Santana, one of the best-selling rock bands of all time, interpreted “En Aranjuez” with its trademark fusion of rock with Latin American jazz. American jazz trumpeter Chris Botti included his version of “En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor” on his album Impressions, which won a Grammy Award for “Best Pop Instrumental Album” in 2013. The arrangement of the Adagio by popular Croation cellist Hauser shares the spotlight with a guitarist.

Lyrics in Spanish—“En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor”—were given to the second movement and were sung by Jose Carreras, Andrea Bocelli, Jose Feliciano, and many others. In French “Aranjuez, Mon Amour” were popularized by European singer Nana Mouskouri and the famous Portugues fado diva Amalia Rodrigues.      

Perhaps the most striking adaptation of Rodrigo’s Adagio is that of the Lebanese singer Fairuz sung in Arabic. “Li Beirut” (“To Beirut”) was released at the height of the Lebanese Civil War. It is a heartfelt plea for healing of the conflict that divided her hometown. The lyrics express nostalgia and longing for a lost world.