Virtual Class with José María Gallardo del Rey at Música en Compostela – Part 2

Courtyard of the Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos. Festival classes are held in adjoining rooms.

José María Gallardo finished his presentation on the second day with a discussion of the “Suite Compostelana” by Frederico Mompou (see 2:08:00) which was composed for the festival in 1962. Gallardo keeps a copy of the score signed in swirling script by Mompou himself at home but brought working copy to share on this video. Although he was already over time, Gallardo did want to say a few things about the Mompou: that one should listen for the church bells in the Preludio (1:50). All across medieval Europe, three times a day, when one heard the bells of the “angelus” ringing from cathedrals and churches, one stopped working to pause and pray.

One can also hear, amidst the minimalist repeated notes in the Preludio, the drizzle that is so characteristic of Compostela. Indeed, in the opening clip of the video, it is raining in the medieval courtyard of the festival site (0:41). The third movement of the Suite Compostelana is a lullaby: Cuna translates as cradle in Gallego – the native language spoken in this part of Spain. There’s a nice summary of the Suite’s six movements here. My favorite movement is the last one: the Muñeira, which is a dance performed to the Celtic bagpipes (called a Gaita). The characteristic hop of the muñeira gives it a distinctive lilt that is very charming! Spain is a mosaic of different cultures and this beautiful suite – inspired by Galicia, the northwest region of Spain – presents a different face of this marvelously diverse country.

A group of teachers and benefactors from about the period when Gallardo was a student at the Compostela festival. José Tomas is in the back row, second from the left; Mompou is fifth from the left, and just in front of him in the center is Margarita Pastor, the visionary patroness who contributed much of the funding for the festival.

Gallardo devoted this second day of Música en Compostela to instruction. He demonstrated several warm-up exercises, moving both right and left fingers across all six strings in a zigzag pattern. Gallardo starts high on the neck where the frets are closer together to ease into warming up the hands which makes a lot of sense.

He also discussed finding a good sound. He finds playing too close to the bridge to be too metallic, preferring to develop a good solid sound in the middle range between the bridge and neck which he then can vary according to the music. Gallardo gets a strong, clear tone using a “semi-apoyando” approach, hitting the string in the same place between flesh and nail regardless of whether one is playing rest or free strokes (demonstrated at 15:04). He advises cultivating a good base sound. It is more important, he added, to cultivate a penetrating sound that carries out to the furthest corner of one’s audience rather than simply aiming to be loud.  

Gallardo also noted how much he learned from watching other students having their lessons with José Tomas many years ago. He observed that when he was a student himself at the Compostela festival, it was often easier to learn as an auditor without the pressure of performing. In his own practice now, he often records himself to step back a bit and hear his playing at a distance.  

Gallardo offered a wealth of ideas on how to play De Falla’s “Hommage au Tombeau de Debussy” with a seriousness appropriate to a piece commemorating the death of a friend. For example, at 47:30, one must take care to follow the melodic line, maintaining a continuous sound with the fingers of the right hand even though the tune is played on different strings. Gallardo recommended listening to the orchestral version of the Hommage to get a sense of the variety of tone colors one should aim for when playing this haunting piece. Also, notice silences: for Debussy, the music could be found in “the silence between the notes.”

Much of the piece “Sevilla” by Albeniz sounds like a rowdy fiesta, with catchy dance rhythms, but Gallardo notes that parts of it should be played delicately. Impressionism – in music as well as in the visual art of Albeniz’ day – suggests rather than declares. However, Gallardo continued, even when playing with a languid rubato as might evoke the hazy colors of impressionism, “don’t lose the heartbeat” of the movement. In Albeniz’ “Granada,” for example, there is an underlying Flamenco rhythm that should carry through even while playing freely with the melody (which Gallardo sings at 1:28).

Parts of “Sevilla” break into a classic Spanish dance called the “Sevillanas.” Gallardo recalled Tomás once asking him to dance a section of the Sevillanas for a Japanese student who had not seen it before. Gallardo’s mother was a fine Flamenco dancer and even though Gallardo does not claim to be a dancer, he certainly has the dances of his native country in his bones!

Gallardo discussed the music of Joaquín Rodrigo at length. It is important, Gallardo cautioned, to remember that many of the legatos and fingerings in scores are added by editors later. So it is a good idea to find original scores to study the intent of the composer. Indeed, since Rodrigo was blind, every note and indication took a great deal of work to write down, thus Gallardo advised working through Rodrigo’s music with special attention to details.

Along the way, Gallardo presented a technique quite new to me: displacing a finger of the left hand with another finger, one can keep a note ringing while making a shift (see 48:01). I have not tried this in practice but would be interested in hearing if other players use this technique. Unlike a wind or bowed string instrument, each note on the guitar begins to decay as soon as it is plucked so it’s great to have another tool for extending the length of a note!

Virtual Class with José María Gallardo del Rey at Música en Compostela – Part I

Our last post described the Música en Compostela International Spanish Music Festival. The guitar classes were offered online this year. This post describes the first of two classes which were live-streamed on December 17, 2020. Enjoy!

In José María Gallardo’s first class, he started with a performance of Spanish dances by the seventeenth-century composer, guitarist, theologian, poet and philosopher, Gaspar Sanz. Starting at 9:20, you can hear Gallardo’s interpretation of these dances – Españoleta, Gaillarda, Sarabanda, Passacailla, and Canarios – each evoking a different part of Spain, from the flamenco rhythms of the southern Spain in the Españoleta to the courtly Sarabanda (southern roots but typical of the high plains of Castile) to the lively Canarios. The Canarios hails from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa where Spanish ships bound for Latin America usually stopped to replenish supplies. The influence of popular songs from Latin America can be heard as the Canary Islands were a cultural meeting place between the continents.

Gallardo credits his first teacher, America Martinez, with his solid technique which proved a great foundation for his later studies with José Tomás. He felt fortunate that he never had to drastically change his technical approach to the guitar given his excellent early instruction. We had not heard of America Martinez before but apparently she was an admired maestra at the Conservatory of Sevilla. If you know more about her, please add this to the comments below!

In his discussion, Gallardo emphasized the importance of being a musician first and then a guitarist. A musician, he explained, needs to develop buen gusto (good taste). A musician should be interested in all aspects of culture in order to contextualize the music played: poetry, literature, visual arts, theater, dance, etc. The musical score, he explained, is not the music; it is the path to the tesoro (treasure) which is the performance of music.

When playing music by Santiago de Murcia (, Gallardo demonstrated different ways to add interest to a repeated section (33:45) for example, with a cross string trill rather than a single string ornament. One should play with the ornaments, he advised, demonstrating with a snap of the fingers at about 53:50. His masterful performance of a piece by Murcia can be found at 54:09.

When discussing the Capricho Árabe by Tarrega, Gallardo emphasized the underlying pulse of Arabic music (1:43). He pointed out that the guitar was the same instrument played by Flamenco and Classical guitarists in the late nineteenth century, when Torres was building his iconic instruments at the end of the nineteenth century. During this period, there was a much closer relationship between guitarists of these different traditions as they were playing the same instruments and shared a similar approach to the guitar.

Much of Gallardo’s discussion focused on finding ways to play Spanish music that brought out the folkloric underpinnings of music – music that would have been heard on the streets and in the bars. We found it interesting that in post-colonial Spain, it was the music of vanquished peoples that proved most characteristic of Spanish music. In 1492, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile were hardly paying attention to Columbus lost at sea. They were united in a campaign to expel Arabs and Jews from southern Spain. Gypsies too were oppressed under Spanish rule (there is a long and complicated history there), but in the nineteenth century, it was Gypsy music (Flamenco) with its Arabic and Jewish influences, that proved to be the most Spanish.

We’ll post on the second day of classes soon!

Música en Compostela – revisiting the international Spanish Music Festival

Students in Santiago de Compostela Guitar Course with Jose Luis Rodrigo (front row, fourth from the right).
Tamara & Neil Caulkins are in the back row on the right.

Santiago de Compostela in the northwest of Spain is not only famous as the destination for a pilgrimage route from all corners of Europe, but is also the site of an international music festival dedicated to the study of Spanish music. We received scholarships to participate in this course many years ago where we first studied with José Luis Rodrigo-Bravo, a consumate musician and brilliant teacher.*

In lieu of the cancelled festival, José María Gallardo del Rey, the newly appointed guitar maestro at Música en Compostela, presented two days of lecture/demonstrations online last week. Gallardo is a dynamic teacher and performer as well as a wonderful interpretor of Spanish music. He hails from Andalucia, the heartland of Flamenco music and dance, and it is evident that Gallardo, who has played with Paco de Lucia, has a deep appreciation for musical folk roots – both of Spanish flamenco and Latin American popular music.

Gallardo’s course was conducted entirely in Spanish – one of Tamara’s students described his Spanish as a blur! – so we thought it might be helpful to share some of the highlights from his presentation. The class was recorded and you can find the videos for Dec. 17 here and Dec. 18 here: each day ran about two hours although on the second day, Gallardo went over about 20 minutes because he had to say something about Mompou’s Suite Compostelana, a suite written for the festival.

Each video starts with Gallardo offering an homage to Andres Segovia, who started the festival in 1958 along with diplomat José Miguel Ruiz Morales. The video begins with a stunning view of the enormous cathedral on the main town plaza. Legend has it that the body of James, the brother of Jesus, is interred in Compostela – hence the name: his body is literally “composting” there. Pilgrims who made it to Santiago were often in rather bad shape by the time they made it to this distant town, so they recovered in the castle-like hospital that is now a “Parador” (restored luxury hotel). Festival classes are held on the main floor. In this same room, we participated in the course many years ago.

In addition to the Spanish guitar repertoire, students from all over the world come to the festival to study Spanish music for piano, organ, voice, and strings, as well as musicology and composition. It is worth saying a bit about Spanish organ music as Spanish organs – and many organs in Latin America – include idiomatic reeds amongst the usual organ pipes which give Spanish organ music a particular (and wonderful!) quality as can be heard in this example.

* Many of José Luis Rodrigo’s former students – including Eulogio Albalat, Juan Carlos Lorenzo Vila, Angelito Agcaoili, Virginia Yep, the Caulkins Guitar Duo, and others (please let us know if you should be on this list!) – were planning a concert in memory of our beloved maestro José Luis, for August 12, 2020. This has been postponed due to the pandemic – stay tuned!