Recuerdos de la Alhambra

Recuerdos de la Alhambra

by Francisco Tárrega

John Baez

September 26, 2005

Francisco Tárrega, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, played by André Segovia on disc 2 of André Segovia: A Centenary Celebration.

This famous guitar piece by Tárrega, with its impossibly long and elaborate tremolo holding the melody line over a slow-moving bass line, evokes the shimmering water in the pools of the Alhambra:

You don't need to read music to see what I mean here: the visual image speaks for itself.

Thanks to the extended use of tremolos where the first three fingers of the right hand move rapidly to create a shimmering effect while the thumb plays a slow bass line, this piece is famously hard to play - see Stanley Yates' discussion to get a sense of this. But, despite its virtuosic nature, when played well it sounds peaceful as the rippling waves of a fountain. To me, its wistfulness conveys nostalgia for the ancient heyday of Moorish Spain, as the title ("Memories of the Alhambra") suggests. In fact, it reminds me of the scene in the movie Lawrence of Arabia where Prince Feisal is speaking to Lawrence:

Feisal: I think you are another of these desert-loving English... No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees, there is nothing in the desert. No man needs nothing. Or is it that you think we are something you can play with because we are a little people? A silly people, greedy, barbarous, and cruel? What do you know, Lieutenant? In the Arab city of Cordova, there were two miles of public lighting in the streets when London was a village...

Lawrence: Yes, you were great.

Feisal: ...nine centuries ago...

Of course the Alhambra is in Granada, not Cordova, and it seems unlikely that Tárrega had nostalgia for Islamic Spain in the days before the reconquista, but the imagination is not bound by such petty details.

I wish I knew more Spanish guitar players: I can't even be sure Segovia's rendition is what I'd call the perfect version of this piece. But the good thing about Segovia is that he plays this, like everything, in an understated and soulful rather than show-offy way.

Francisco Tárrega composed Recuerdos del Alhambra around 1899. You can learn more about him and hear a rather mechanical MIDI rendition of this piece here. If you know how to edit MIDI files, maybe you can download this one and improve it! Also, Stanley Yates has prepared a new score for the piece, designed to make it easier to play.

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. - Aldous Huxley
© 2005 John Baez

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