Listen to a Podcast of this Post: Here on Podomatic
A suave gentleman with graying temples stands in front of the latest “luxury” gas-guzzler from Detroit. The scene takes place in a courtyard in what looks like Seville, Spain. The man, actor Ricardo Montalban, rolls his Rs as he unctuously gushes about the “fine Corinthian leather” seats. On the soundtrack, strings swell up into a very Spanish sounding melody.
I find it odd how almost every popular American television sitcom ridicules classical music and musicians. Conductors are painted as long-haired, temperamental brats; children who play instruments are portrayed as four-eye geeks; and composers are tortured souls detached from reality. Yet the Madison Avenue advertising firm that dreamed up this ad would have you believe that buying this over-priced deathtrap will bestow “class” upon you, almost like knighthood. And they use classical music to cement that connection.
It doesn’t matter that it’s all a lie. For example, I once heard an ad executive laughing about that very car commercial with Moltalban. He said they had just made up the term “Corinthian leather.” There is no such thing. All smoke and mirrors.
There is nothing classy about a factory assembly line. (Believe me, I’ve worked on a few.) Even less so when then brunt of the work is done by robots, which completely does away with the human touch. No class at all in building a product that wastes fossil fuel, which kills over 30,000 people in the US alone every year, and which is a major source of pollution. (Been to Bangkok or Istanbul lately?)
Does that mean that I’d be prepared to say that a hand-crafted car like the Rolls-Royce is classy? Not really. Think about the people who buy them. Prince Charles, for example, had as tawdry a personal and romantic life as any soap opera character or inbred, hillbilly yokel from Podunksville. Please explain to me, please, how saying to your mistress “I want to be your [feminine hygiene product]” connotes class.
Actually, what is classy is the craftsmen who make the Rolls-Royce by hand, the millionaire who gives away his money, the person who does not blame others or wallow in self-pity because of setbacks or disabilities. Like today’s composer.
Joaquin Rodrigo was born in 1901. At the age of three, a measles outbreak in Spain blinded him. Despite this disability, he went on to be an accomplished pianist and then studied composition with Paul Dukas (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) in Paris. In the “City of Lights” he became friends with Ravel, Milhaud, Honegger and Manuel de Falla. He stayed there for five years before returning to Spain in 1933. From then until his death he traveled lecturing and performing (piano). He live in Madrid until the ripe old age of 97.
Rodrigo composed the Concierto de Aranjuez in 1939 and it became an instant success. Oddly enough, he did not play the guitar. He composed on the piano and his wife transcribed the piece for guitar. He wrote 11 concertos for different instruments, but in the US he’s known primarily for the Concierto de Aranjuez and another work, Fantasia Para un Gentilhombre. Rodrigo said the first movement was inpired by their visit to the gardens of the 16th Century Palace of King Philip I of Spain in the city of Aranjuez. His wife later wrote that the emotive second movement was the composers response to the miscarriage of their first child.
I first heard the piece on a local classical music station when in high school. Of course, I checked it out of the library immediately and played it about a million times. Though very short, at around 21 minutes, it really packs a punch. The first movement is very upbeat and sounds technically challenging for the performer. The second movement is the one that appeared in the car commerical, and which you often hear in elevators. It sounds almost stereotypically Spanish. The guitar begins the last movement and echos itself, almost like a light fugue. By the time it’s over you feel, well if not like “fine Corinthian leather,” then like a finely tuned Spanish guitar.
By the way, here’s the kitchy commercial with Ricardo Montalban: