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Francisco Tarrega’s Capriccio D’arabe: An Analytical Insight to Performance - Network4Musicians


Francisco Tarrega’s Capriccio D’arabe: An Analytical Insight to Performance

Review Articles ◦ Musician
Created by: Kevin Robb
Tue, February 11 2014
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Francisco Tarrega’s Capriccio D’arabe:

An Analytical Insight to Performance

            As history has shown, and the present exemplifies; musical composition progresses and changes throughout time. However, there will always be two basic elements in music to be viewed from an analytical perspective. From the earliest of music, to the Baroque and Classical periods, to the Romantic era and beyond - these two pillars of musical composition are and always will be Harmony, and Form. Although some new music seems to contradict this statement, it doesn’t change the fact that we as humans hear and see music within these bounds. However simplistic or advanced the music is, it can always be reduced to harmony and form. Even music that tries to escape these traditional bounds (and succeeds) is still being viewed in their relationship to, or departure from, harmony and form. It is the intermingling of these two principles that creates music - not just as an acoustic phenomenon, but as a platform in which an analyst can unlock and identify the more specific elements of this mysterious and wonderful combination of controlled (or uncontrolled) sounds that we call music. The intent of this paper is to inform the reader of the crucial relationship between harmony and form, and the role they occupy within the context of performance; using the “Capriccio D’arabe” by the Romantic Guitarist and Composer, Francisco Tarrega as a vehicle in which to display this relationship of harmony andform and the role they play in performance in general.
            In Plato’s masterwork “Republic”, the reader is given a question: “What makes a just person?” In the realization that it is too specific an idea to hone in on, Plato creates a broader category in which to display justice, and asks: “what makes a just city?”. From the broadening of context, he finds it easier to then hone in on the individual. We can take this ancient platform that Plato created, and apply our own version of it - identifying Form and Harmony, in the larger context of a whole piece. Although this piece is rather short and intimate, it provides us with a clearer view of what we are trying to achieve, than that of a longer, perhaps more complex work. With that being said, we can begin the exploration of how harmony and form can influence each other, and thus influence the way we listen to, and perform music.
 The playful relationship that form and harmony can have within any piece of music is on full display in Tarrega’s Capriccio D’arabe. What we will find is that there is a rather simple overall form; yet within it, are references to past harmony via form, and vice versa. The imposition of parallel and relative harmonic areas within sections of the overall form is quintessential to this piece, as will be described in full detail later. In a general sense, we find in this piece that there is an inescapable bond of harmony and form – we hear the form just as we do the harmony, and in that there is much exploration to be done in detail.

 The piece begins in D minor, and ends in D minor. The overall form can be described as such:

{ Introduction } - {A (repeats) } - { B (transitional) } - { C (repeats) } -  {A (‘)}
        [ d:  i  ]         -        [ d: i  ]      -         [  F:  III  ]        -       [ D: I  ]       -  [ d: i ]

Between the opening and finishing material we find ourselves diverged in rich and elegant arabesque melodic material full of lavish ornamental figures, set atop of familiar Romantic harmony; which along the way is in constant reference to itself. Although we hear these overall references as different sections (B and C), it is only because of the shift in harmony that they are considered separate sections. There is a bass line introduced at the last two bars of the introductory section, on which the majority of the harmony in the piece is derived. These two bars will serve as musical “columns” that separate the larger sections, and will remarkably also function as transitional areas - moving the piece in a new harmonic direction on the repeats. In this bass line we are given scale degrees 1^, 3^, 2^ 5^. It is a standard progression of notes upon which Tarrega varies melodically, and substitutes harmonically throughout the piece. This bass line is essential in all sections of the form, including the transitional section (B), which is also based upon this succession of notes. After the bass line is established at the tail of the Introduction, the A section begins. Tarrega repeats the pattern in ostinato, so as to serve as an accompaniment beneath the inner textures of the middle register, and the mostly ornamental melodic material. After four bars, the bass pattern is interrupted, and we are suddenly tonicsizing iv. After a brief tonicsization, we end up on a dominant harmony, which is elaborated on top of, by a descending ornamental figure leading to a cadence on the dominant. At this point, the “column” returns – now with substituted harmonies and brings us back to the beginning of the A section. We repeat the A section exactly, until the “column” returns – at which point the function of the “column” changes from a divisionary section, to a transitional one. Keep in mind, the bass line is still the same, and the harmonies are either substituted, or true to the original column; this makes for an interesting aspect of the piece, displaying how interconnected the form and the harmony really are. Just before the next section begins, the substituted VI chord of the “column” is pivoted on, and becomes IV of F major, which leads to a CMm7, thus setting up the modulation to the relative major in section B. (As was stated earlier, the musical material here is of a transitional nature. It doesn’t repeat as a section, nor does it really keep a sturdy harmonic framework. Its’ main purpose is leading us to the parallel major of the home key-section C).Before we get too ahead of ourselves however, one of the crucial elements to the point in this paper is on display in section B: We have modulated to the relative major – a new harmonic area, thusly given a new letter name. However, if we are to examine the score, or even just listen to a performance it is a clear nod to the section of the overall form. We cannot call this section A’ because it isn’t a cohesive section on its own – it is harmonically indecisive as we are toniscising other key areas, using juxtaposed arpeggios along with elaborate displays of chromaticism melodically, and no general sense of meaningful harmonic direction. This illustrates the intertwining of harmony and form, in that the form is defined by the harmony – even though the general musical material is essentially the same as the previously stated section A, we call it B because of harmonic implications. Moving on, after a large chromatic scalar ascent, we are brought into section C. This ascent travels in semitones from A3 (open fifth string of the guitar) to A5. The interesting thing in this ascent is that it distorts the direction of the harmony even further than it already had been, and when we arrive in section C, the relief of a stable tonality over-rides the shock of suddenly being in the parallel major of the home key. This deceivingly smooth change of key is an interesting phenomenon in this piece if you consider that the new key is in a chromatic third relationship to the previous section. To sum up how and why this is unique, it is simply a matter of retracing our steps: The transitional B section beginning in F major, is recalling the material of the first main D minor section A - yet it leads us to section C, which is in the parallel major to the home key – a smooth transition into a key a chromatic third away. All of the music up to this point is emphasizing the same bass pattern, and other essential musical material that is stated in the introduction and section A, yet the form is so farA A (‘) B, making perhaps an even stronger case of displaying how much the harmony influences the form. Moving along to section C, we find that the whole section can be viewed as two references to previously stated material (A and C) presented together as a coherent section. We have moved into the key area of D major, and much like the A section, we have four bars of our now well recognized bass pattern with harmonies inserted which reflect the new key - yet do not deviate from the same melodic material, nor do they stray from the fundamental bass line. At the fifth bar, much like in section B, we find an interruption in the bass line and a deviation from the main harmonic area, which begins to tonicsize the dominant. After a bit of melodic wandering, we end up with a similar event to that in the B section: a scalar pattern which brings us into the repeat, although in contrast to the chromatic rise in B, this scalar passage descends diatonically, to conclude the first ending. After an exact repeat of the first five bars in C, we reach the second ending, and what seems like a cadential 6/4 pattern, which concludes the C section with an A Mm7 chord. Here we have another return of the “column” that brings us back to the beginning of section A, and a play through of the original minor material that all of the major material has been based from. On the conclusion of the return of A in the home key of D minor, we end with yet another “column” which rather than staying on the (A) dominant seventh, resolves to a tonic chord of D minor to finish the piece, thus reiterating in detail, the form illustrated above.
            After a lengthy discourse displaying the integral relationship of the interconnectedness that form and harmony have within the Capriccio D’arabe, one may beg the question: “how does all of this mean anything beyond analysis?!” – We will find the answer in performance. Musicians know that in sight reading, it is hard to really look beyond the one or two bars that are being played – yet it is an ultimate goal to look at a piece and right away realize distinct sections, and differentiate them in order to play the piece with purpose and finality. This principle is true in the larger scale of a whole piece, in the context of quality of performance. This idea of realizing and understanding the implications that form and harmony have on each other, and ultimately on the piece itself, is what separates mediocre performances of standard repertoire, such as the Capriccio D’arabe, from the truly bewildering interpretations that have become classic recordings of a favorite tune. If we listen to Pepe Romero’s version, we will find that his cadences are strong, emphasizing the sectional elements of the piece, yet he blazes through the music in a way that illustrates his technical facility in his own style. If we look at Sharon Isbin’s version, we will notice how strict to the music her approach is, and how truly sectional the piece is – especially evident in a true to the score performance. Michael Beauchamp (who recorded a set of Tarrega’s complete guitar works) takes an approach that brings the piece to a hault at almost every cadence, which suspends the rest of the music, seemingly in mid-air, since he plays it at such a slow tempo. Even at a melancholic tempo the cadences are strong. Lastly, we listen to Virtuoso Julian Bream’s recorded version. Bream plays with such consistently unique and beautiful tone, personal flare, and presupposition of pre-conceived beauty in music, that it both humbles and bewilders his audience. Breams’ recorded version of Capriccio D’arabe is a constant tug and pull between tempo, accents, dynamics, and every subtlety one can imagine – yet he makes an absolute distinction between phrases and especially the larger formal sections, because that is one of the most important factors in music, as is obviously noted by such a virtuoso as Bream.

Now that we have analyzed Francisco Tarrega’s classic work Capriccio D’arabe in detail, as well as looked at some different performers’ renditions of the piece, we have reached a conclusion. If the introductory paragraph of this paper was not taken to heart, and exemplified by the analysis and examples, this is the point in the paper where the reader will find the sign:

*Da Capo.

If on the other hand the reader did take the introduction to heart, and realized it to be true based on the content of the essay, this is where the reader will find the sign:


 In music we will find it evident that no matter how different one players’ personal style is to the next, there are two essential elemental pillars to which we listen to and understand music. These two pillars areharmony and form. This essay has proven that there will always be a benefit in the fundamental understanding of the harmonic and formal context in which music is played, and it is this understanding that separates the truly great performances, to the mediocre.

Francisco Tarrega’s Capriccio D’arabe: An Analytical Insight to Performance


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