Joaquín Rodrigo is one of the most celebrated composers from Spain. His works reflect a proudly self-declared neoclassical style notable for its strong commitment to melody and heavy allusion to his Spanish roots. Many of his them have becomes staples of classical repertoire around the world, particularly for the guitar and piano, the instruments with which he was most comfortable.
Early on, Rodrigo’s life was marked by tragedy. At the age of three a diphtheria epidemic rampaged through his native city of Sagunto, and although Rodrigo survived he was left blind. Rodrigo’s family, including his ten older brothers and sisters, moved to the town of Valencia the next year, allowing him to enter a college for blind children. He quickly began to show an interest and music and literature, two areas that he could enjoy aesthetically even without his sight. He began his musical studies with Francisco Antich, of the Valencia Conservatoire, although he never enrolled there as a student. Throughout his early years Rodrigo was fortunate to have the constant assistance and friendship of Rafael Ibáñez, whom his family initially hired to look after him. Ibáñez would become a powerful force in Rodrigo’s life, reading him the great works of Spanish literature, poetry and philosophy, and eventually helping dictate his work and write the scores.
By 1923 Rodrigo was an accomplished concert pianist and was devoting more and more time to his composing. That year he completed his opus 1, Two Sketches for violin and piano, as well as several other chamber works and began writing his first piece for large orchestra, Juglares, which was premiered by the Valencia Symphony Orchestra conducted by Enrique Izquierdo. Soon after, Rodrigo moved to Paris, having a strong desire to be in one of the epicenters of the arts where many of his heroes, including Isaac Albéniz, Manuel de Falla, and Maurice Ravel, had gone before. He studied for five years under the tutelage of the great composer and educator Paul Dukas, who described Rodrigo as being one of his most promising students. It was during this time that he met the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi. The two married in 1933 and remained constant companions until her death almost 70 years later.