Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) - composer and arranger for guitar

Francisco Tárrega photo 1 Francisco Tárrega was an influential Romantic-era composer and guitarist. He did much to promote the guitar as a solo instrument in concerts and recitals and became known as the "the father of classical guitar". Tárrega was born in Villarreal in Northern Valencia in Spain, and an early influence on his future career was his father who played guitar. By all accounts his childhood was not altogether happy or stable. He injured his eyes as a boy and his father enrolled him in music classes with blind teachers, fearing that his son might also lose his sight. The young guitarist also seemed to have a habit of running away both from home and from school and made his own way for a time in Barcelona and Valencia. Nevertheless as a teenager he had become skilled in the guitar and the piano, and in 1874 he entered the Madrid conservatory to study composition, and was persuaded to drop the piano and focus solely on the guitar.

Francisco Tárrega photo 2 By the late 1870s, Tárrega was both teaching the guitar and giving regular concerts locally. This led to various tours of Spain and he started to compose and perform some of his own works for the instrument. He met and later married María José Rizo and toured other countries within Europe visiting both Paris and London for example. It is said that he composed Lagrima (meaning "teardrop") while feeling homesick in London. To broaden his repertoire and no doubt to better engage with European audiences he became an avid transcriber and arranger of works by other classical composers including Handel, Bach, Joseph Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann and others. In some ways Tárrega's music for guitar parallels the music of Isaac Albeniz for piano, in their blend of classical techniques with Spanish folk influences. The two composers met and became friends in Barcelona where Tárrega settled under the patronage of a wealthy widow, Conxa Martinez. She took him to Granada, which inspired him to compose his most famous work Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra), which he dedicated to his friend the French composer Alfred Cottin.

Francisco Tárrega's influence, compositions and transcriptions:

By the time of Tárrega's death in 1909 the guitar had become much more popular as a recital instrument, and other composers and performers were inspired to use the instrument. Many of his original compositions have become "standards" in the repertoire for the instrument and include:

  • Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) - downloads: Sheet Music, MIDI or MP3 files
  • Lágrima (Teardrop) - downloads: Sheet Music, MIDI or MP3 files
  • Lots of Preludios (Preludes) - short pieces in different keys following the example of Bach, Chopin & other composers
  • A number of Estudios (Studies) - one of these was used in the film "The Killing Fields"
  • Gran vals (Big Waltz) - a section of this was used as the well-known Nokia ring tone
  • Francisco Tarrega: Guitar Music played by Mats Bergstrom - album cover
  • Capricho árabe (Arab Capriccio)
  • El columpio (The Swing)
  • Cajita de Musica (The Music Box)
  • Danza odalisca (Odalisque Dance)
  • Danza mora (Moor Dance)
  • La mariposa (The Butterfly)
  • Las dos hermanas or "hermanitas" (The Two "Little" Sisters)
  • Other pieces with familiar names such as: Mazurka, Minuet, Waltz, Tango, Pavane or Variations
  • The Carnival of Venice - a set of variations
  • María - a gavotte and a tango with this name
  • Adelita - a Mazurka
  • Marieta - a Mazurka
  • Sueño - another Mazurka
  • Rosita - a Polka
  • Pepita - another Polka

Among Tárrega's transcriptions are the following. It should also be noted that it is not always straightforward to transcribe piano music for guitar, so considerable re-arrangement is sometimes required to adapt the music making it playable. In other cases Tárrega used themes by other composers as the basis of a different work, e.g. a "study" or "fantasy" or "set of variations".

  • Claro de Luna (1st movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata for Piano) - downloads: Sheet Music, MIDI or MP3 files
  • Nocturno - transcription of Chopin's best-known Nocturne op. 9 no. 2 - downloads: Sheet Music, MIDI or MP3 files
  • Oremus (Latin for "Let us pray") - transcription of part of Robert Schumann's "Phantasietanz" op. 124 no. 5
  • Preludio en la menor sobre Tres piezas cortas no. 2 - transcription of the 2nd of "3 short pieces" by Schumann
  • Estudio sobre una sonatina de Prudend - Study on a Sonatina by French composer Émile Prudend
  • Variaciones sobre El Carnaval de Venecia - Variations on Paganini's The Carnival of Venice
  • Barcarola Veneziana No. 1 - transcription of Mendelssohn's Venetian Boat Song
  • Transcription of Schubert's song Adieu
  • Study on a Theme of Mendelssohn
  • Study on a theme of Wagner
  • Prelude in Am - based on Schumann's Presto Op. 99 no.2
  • Fantasía sobre La traviata - Fantasy on Verdi's La traviata
  • Isabel - a Waltz based on music by Johann Strauss
  • Transcriptions of various works by Isaac Albeniz

There is an online Spanish digital library called the "Biblioteca Digital Hispánica" which stores scans of sheet music among other things. You can find sheet music by Tárrega using this search.

Francisco Tárrega - Recommendations:

Here are some sheet music suggestions for those interested in guitar music by Tárrega. All the music is available from Sheet Music Plus:

For those occasions when you simply want to listen to good guitar music played by the experts, here are some recommended CDs available from Amazon online stores.

  • Tarrega: Guitar Music [Preludios/ Las Dos Hermanitas/ Recuerdos De La Alhambra/ Gran Vals/ 32 works in total] played by Mats Bergstrom - or
  • Tarrega: Jota [14 original works and 5 transciptions by Tarrega] played by Michael Erni - or
  • Tarrega: Complete Solo Guitar Music [on 2 CDs] played by Giulio Tempalini - or
  • 19th-Century Guitar Favourites [by composers Fernando Sor, Dionysio Aguado & Francisco Tárrega ] played by Norbert Kraft - or