Tarrega - Adelita

Interpreting the Music

Adelita was originally composed for guitar and ideally a performance on piano should have the same character and mood as a performance on guitar.

Julian Bream demonstrates here just how beautifully this piece may be interpreted, in terms of bringing out the melody line and managing the tempo changes and rubato.

Many student performances on piano fail to characterise the delicacy and lyricism of this piece because the LH chords are too loud, because the phrasing is not convincingly supple in use of rubato and sometimes because the pace not relaxed enough. This is a thoughtful, graceful piece that needs sensitivity in interpretation, as demonstrated here:

Teaching & Learning the Piece

Tárrega: Adelita

• C minor/C major
• Mellow Romantic guitar music
• LH leaps and chords
• RH lyrical melody
• Requires rubato and sensitive phrasing
• Suitable for small hands

Francisco Tárrega’s music was influential both in Spain and in the world of guitar playing. At a time when the piano dominated, he made a successful career as a guitar virtuoso and counted Albéniz and Granados among his friends. More recently, a single phrase of his “Gran Vals” has received worldwide exposure as the Nokia mobile phone ring tone.

His lovely guitar piece “Adelita”, transcribed here for piano, is often described as a mazurka, although not by the composer. It has a deeply romantic mood and echoes the wistfulness of some of Chopin’s Mazurkas, although the rhythm is more relaxed than the “textbook” mazurka rhythm.
Adelita is played on guitar here by Magnus Gutke on Swedish television (begins at time 1:44).

The most effective performances will be technically secure and sensitively phrased with flexible rubato. There will be a real sense of communication from the performer to the audience, with feelings freely expressed. Those feelings could range from sweetness to sadness, with the major-key middle section providing a mood change that could be contentment or nostalgia.
Fingering is mostly straightforward. At bar 14 there is a potentially tricky moment but the pedal will help, and the pause allows time for a finger change to keep the legato to the F sharp.

It is easy to overlook the dynamic markings given for the LH underneath the stave in bars 1, 9, 13 and 17. They clearly show that the RH must be supported by the LH and never drowned out. The dynamics are marked in detail, including plenty of bars containing a diminuendo. These are not cumulative, in the sense that the first line would start mp and end pianissimo after three diminuendos; rather it means that within the bar the sound will fade slightly and be renewed in the next bar. In bar 16 the very low C, although given a forte marking, should not be struck at all hard. The whole effect of the dynamics in the piece will be gentle and comfortable, with no jarring or surprises.

The RH melody should be given a full singing tone, with carefully-graded arm weight to reflect the dynamics. The more relaxed the hand and arm can be, the more mellow a sound can be produced. A feeling of softness, freedom and flexibility should be the aim. For students who have not played in this way before, plenty of demonstrating will be needed. A very slow and meditative approach can help, with the student taking time to feel their arm and fingers as they play and experiment with different amounts of relaxation. If they try out and listen to the effect of playing too firmly or with too little strength, this can lead them to find their own best way to make a beautiful soft-edged but singing sound with just the right amount of effort.

Pedalling is essential. Careful listening will be needed to ensure there is not any blurring of chords. Add pedal early so that it can be coordinated at slow speed with the movements of the hands.

LH leaping is very much a feature of this texture. Remind your students not only to practise the leaps between beats 1 and 2 in each bar but also the leap from 3 to 1 across the barline. For those who are unable to find the right notes without looking, it may be best to memorise the music so that there is no risk of losing one’s place on the score or the keys.

Rubato – a flexible approach to timing – is vital to give this music its full expression. A metronomic triple metre is unlikely to be heard anywhere in a good performance. The markings in the score give a starting point (rit and poco rit, molto tenuto, and the pause (fermata) in bar 14.) As it is impossible to describe rubato clearly in words, make sure the student hears plenty of examples, whether demonstrated during their lesson or found in recordings, including the guitar version. Singing the melody and enjoying the way it swoops around will also help to liberate the playing.

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