Elegía para un gentilhombre / Elegy for a gentleman

(On the death of Joaquín Rodrigo. Article published in the newspaper El País. Madrid, July 7, 1999)


With the death of Joaquín Rodrigo -news that this same newspaper gives me, along with the request for a few lines about his figure-, Spanish and universal music loses one of the most distinguished and singular artists of the 20th century. Beyond the common place that could hide behind this outburst, what now matters is the emotion at the proximity of the death of a loved and admired artist, the awe at the void, impossible to fill, that his absence will leave between us, the original and arcane incomprehension before a phenomenon -death- as inexplicable as unfair.
But the stupor and rebellion against the inevitable must not cloud or hinder the hurried and, therefore, perhaps clumsy assessment of the artist and his work. And the first thing that is especially revealing about his figure and his aesthetic position is perhaps the curious fact that his dates of birth and death (1901-1999) have placed him in a privileged position with respect to the century that almost saw his birth and it has almost seen his death: without a doubt, the most agitated, capricious and bizarre century that the History of Art has known, that of ruptures, vertiginous changes and multiple aesthetic schizophrenias. But what would have made the delight of any artist at any time, in the 20th century it has also been the raison d'être of misunderstanding, intolerance, cruelty and contempt, underlying the adoption of the most radical positions, towards those who have not known or have not wanted to share them.
All of this, which has happened with particular virulence since the emergence of the avant-garde after the Second World War, only to crash into a crisis in recent years, has prevented the work of those artists who, in abundant number, have remained in an aesthetic line more directly heir to tradition, instead of opting for an active militancy in ground-breaking and experimentalist positions. That this inflation of transcendence has been especially harmful is clearly proven, at least for me, by the fact that figures such as Britten or Henze, to name just two composers extraordinarily represented in the current Madrid opera season, have been relegated in the assessment of the criticism, history and contemporary musicology, although they have always enjoyed widespread public favor.
Joaquín Rodrigo's music would fit fully into that aesthetic world, as it is difficult to specify how much is traditional and current in it, how symbiotically related both worlds are. In that sense, he is undoubtedly the Spanish composer most clearly committed to the past; and remember that this, which could seem like a boutade, was initially a markedly avant-garde position in the second decade of our century, at the hands of two composers as little suspected of being retrograde as Stravinsky in 1919 (Pulcinella) and Falla in 1922 (Master Peter’s puppet show). This avant-garde approach to tradition would reach its climax among us with the musicians of the Generation of 27, among whom Rodrigo should be placed due to his age, although his wide-ranging musical production cannot be considered until 1930. Chronologically between nationalism that has already perished and atonality that is still expanding, Rodrigo is one of those lucky composers who finds a personal and suggestive aesthetic and sound universe at a very young age in which they decide to stay and investigate for some time. The period can be a few years... or last a lifetime, as is his case.
The music of Joaquín Rodrigo constitutes one of those artistic productions that reveal in a surprisingly clear way the thought and obsessions of its author. It seems to me that, after the brilliant success of the Concierto de Aranjuez, with its immense popularity and its rapid international diffusion, Rodrigo immersed himself in delving into the reasons for all this, exploring the path opened by his masterpiece to the last corner. and producing an abundant quantity of music that, without ceasing to turn on itself, is always brilliant and effective. Which, in a certain way, would confirm the thesis that the artist writes a single work throughout his life, and of which his catalogue, as abundant as it may be, is nothing more than a list of the many ways and points of view in which the author has placed himself to try to reach, without ever achieving it, the ideal work to which he aspires, from which he is getting closer and closer and, however, moves away a little further with each attempt. Not succumbing to the effort, and continuing to write music until almost one hundred years old, is, above all, to give meaning to a life dedicated to creation and, with it, ridicule the ominous voices that have predicted for long time the end of Art.