Tárrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra - a New Edition
by Stanley Yates
© 2000 by Stanley Yates
This short essay on Recuerdos de la Alhambra (ca. 1899) by Francisco Tárrega's (1852-1909) serves as a preface to my online edition of the piece. (The score may be downloaded by following the link at the end of this article.)
Before discussing Tárrega's evocative tremolo piece, Recuerdos de la Alhambra, I would like to briefly share the story of how I first came to look seriously into Tárrega's music. In the late 1980's I was invited to give a recital at the first Wirral Guitar Festival (later the Euro-Wirral International Guitar Festival and the Guitar Festival of Great Britain). The festival organizers had obtained a two-volume, leather-bound manuscript collection of Tárrega's music known as the "Leckie Collection" (after the Scotsman Walter Leckie, a student and patron of Tárrega), and had approached me with the idea of giving a recital of Tárrega's music based on the versions contained in the two volumes. Working from the manuscripts was a wonderful experience. Tárrega had written out a good many of his compositions and arrangements for Leckie, along with various studies and exercises, and in fine detail. Several colored inks had been used and it was obvious that the maestro had annotated the pieces during the course of Leckie's lessons with him, perhaps over a number of years. In several cases, Tárrega had written technical exercises in the page margins or on the reverse or facing pages.
Although Tárrega's iconic tremolo piece Recuerdos de la Alhambra was one piece not included in the Leckie manuscripts I felt compelled to include it as an encore at the recital.
I must to admit to having always found this piece to be not only very beautiful but also quite awkward! In my experience the difficulty relates not simply to the tremolo technique used, but just as much to the left hand fingerings indicated in published versions of the piece. Not only are many of the left-hand positions difficult in themselves, but connecting one to the next is often difficult as well (figure 1):
Like so many other players, I found it necessary to revise Tárrega's published fingerings for my own performances.
More recently, I have had the opportunity to examine an early manuscript version of Tárrega's famous work which appears to be the first version of the piece (or, at the very least, an early one). The title is as follows:
"Improvisation !A Granada! Cantiga Arabe
It is dedicated to Sra. Da. Conchita G. de Jacoby, and is dated Malaga, December 8th, 1899, with further dedicatory prose at the end of the piece (my translation):
This early version of the piece includes quite a few differences from published ones, for example (figure 2):
The manuscript is unfingered, with the exception of the passage shown above, and the following spot (figure 3):
In contrast to published versions of the piece, this fingering places the tremolo on the first string. Perhaps Tárrega originally fingered the rest of the piece in this obvious manner (he didn't indicate any unusual positions in the manuscript)?
Other differences include the tempo marking - Andantino instead of the published Andante.
With this in mind, I though I might publish online a revised edition of Tárrega's famous piece, not as a scholarly edition but as a suggestion for a more comfortable way to perform this wonderfully evocative piece.
I would like to bring attention to a few aspects of the left-hand fingering (please refer to the score):
Although this is not intended as a full discussion of tremolo technique, I would at least like to provide a few ideas that may be useful for those still developing the technique.
Think of the tremolo (p-a-m-i) as comprising three units: the "compound" a-m, i and p. Use the following practice sequence to help develop the technique:
1. a-m play a compound-stoke - as a single unit - but are "staggered" so that m plays after a. This can be achieved by holding m a little further away from the string, as well as by introducing a little tension into the m finger to help time its stroke. Practice a-m alone, in short bursts.
2. Add the i finger to produce a-m + i. Practice in short bursts, alternating between a version that places a short pause between a-m and i and one that plays through.
3. Add the thumb p. Again, alternate between a version that places a pause between a-m - i and p, and one that plays through.
4. Add a second round of a-m to produce a-m - i - p - a-m. Then add i, then p and so on, until you have a tremolo!
(By the way, a-m return to the string as p plays.)
Practice the ornaments in such places as measure 11 as short bursts of p - a-m, without the left hand at first.
Although there's much more to be said about tremolo than this, I do think that practicing in this way can be helpful.
The edition presented here does not reproduce any copyrightable elements of the manuscript version discussed above.