Concierto de Aranjuez

This is a concerto for guitar and orchestra, written by the Spanish composer Rodrigo, in 1939. It has a classical feel, but is not Classical Music, so please do not be put off, if you are not a Classical fan. You may think that you have never heard it, but I am certain that you will recognise it immediately, as it has been  used in many soundtracks, TV advertisements, and covered in many and diverse ways, by numerous other artists.

I first came to this work by buying a Miles Davis record, called ‘Sketches of Spain’. I had long been a fan of this legendary Jazz trumpeter, and got this record some years after its 1960 release. I was immediately captivated by the first track on side one, which lasted for almost 17 minutes. It had the feel of the music heard in western films, when they are in Mexico, and it sounded like it should be played at a funeral. Reading the sleeve notes, I saw that it was called ‘ Concierto de Aranjuez’, and was arranged by Miles Davis and Gil Evans, but not written by either man. The introduction was played on a flugelhorn, before going on to trumpet, and the tone was just marvellous. Hours after hearing it, I was haunted by this track, and could not get it out of my head.

I was determined to seek out other versions of this work, and keen to hear it played as intended, on guitar. There were literally hundreds to choose from, and I vacillated for ages over which one to buy. For some reason, long forgotten, I never did buy that record. However, many years later, I bought the CD version of ‘Sketches of Spain’, and this prompted me to get the original work on CD also. I absolutely adored it. The Spanish guitar, the wall of sound as the orchestra comes in, following the single guitar solo, and the mournful notes, so well remembered from that first time I had heard it.

Since then, I have enjoyed it many times, and never tire of listening to the piece. It has been covered by some unlikely musicians over the years, as well as by Miles Davis, and the many talented solo guitarists. The cheesy ‘Manuel and the Music of the Mountains’, released a single record version, which got into the British Top Ten, in 1976, and two years later, The Shadows also released their version in the UK. Parts of the concerto have been ‘sampled’ into other works, by artists such as Chick Corea, Led Zeppelin, and The Grimethorpe Colliery Band.

It was this last recording that introduced the concerto to a new and much wider audience, as it was used in the soundtrack to the film ‘Brassed Off’. This 1996 film, starring Ewan McGregor and Pete Postlethwaite, tells the story of the closure of a mine in Yorkshire. The colliery has its own band, not uncommon at the time, and they resolve to enter a national competition, as the swansong to their years together. They recruit their first female member, (Tara Fitzgerald) and to prove her worth to the rest of the band, she plays the introduction to the concerto, in their practice room. Postlethwaite’s band leader introduces the piece as, ‘Concerto D’Orange Juice’, in a nod to the fact that few English people would ever know how to pronounce the Spanish tongue-twister of a title.

If you have never heard this orchestral piece, I would hope that you would give it a try. In the computer age of today, it is not as if you even have to buy a copy, as I am sure you will find a version for free, somewhere on the Internet. If you have varied musical tastes, I am sure you will want to explore further, and obtain a copy recorded as the composer intended. Here are two examples, for your listening pleasure.

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