Nobody can deny that there is a certain kind of allure that comes with the sound of a Spanish guitar. These instruments have their own unique sound, no doubt aided by the compositions they are used in.
There are many pieces that feature the Spanish guitar prominently. If you’ve been searching for the best, you’ve come to the right place.
Here are some of the most iconic songs to ever include the Spanish guitar. Your ears are going to be quite pleased!
“Asturias” by Isaac Albéniz
When it comes to the Spanish guitar, one of the most popular pieces is Isaac Albéniz’s Asturias. Believe it or not, it was written for piano, with the notation to mimic the sound of a Spanish guitar.
It was probably inevitable that Asturias would find its way to being played on the Spanish guitar. This piece has everything that most people think of when it comes to Spanish guitar compositions.
Throughout Asturias, there is an iconic melodic motif played in the bass/mid-range of the guitar. This melody descends with upward intervallic segments, accompanied by tremolo picking in the treble ranges, and chordal tension and release.
Asturias is definitely a piece that invokes a state of contemplation. You’re sure to be transported to a ruminative state of mind when listening to the sprawling notes of this piece.
“Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Francisco Tárrega
One of the most famous Spanish classical pieces is by far Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra. This piece has been featured in films and TV shows, including an episode of The Sopranos.
Recuerdos de la Alhambra features a very advanced form of tremolo picking in the treble range of the guitar. The piece’s melody lives in this tremolo technique, augmented by arpeggios in the accompaniment.
This is certainly a very moving song, with the melody truly tugging at the heartstrings of the listener. The piece has a melancholic feel to it, although it does have a section that has brighter and happier moments.
True masters of the Spanish guitar are best suited for this piece. An incredible amount of skill and practice is required to be able to pull this piece off perfectly.
“Romanza” by Anonymous
Any Spanish guitarist will likely tell you that learning how to play Romanza is a rite of passage. This solo piece is one of the most popular that budding Spanish guitarists learn and add to their repertoire.
Romanza is an incredibly famous song, reaching modern fame by being included in many films and TV shows. What’s baffling is that nobody really knows the origin of where this song came from.
As a composition, Romanza is a short piece consisting of 3 primary parts, with the first and last being similar. The piece has a sweeping descending melody that rises and falls against a rolling accompaniment.
In the middle section, the piece transitions from a minor key to a major key, changing the overall tonality. It is this section that evokes imagery of the nostalgic and innocent feeling of love.
“Allegro Con Spirito (from Concerto De Aranjuez)” by Joaquín Rodrigo
All of the pieces in this article up until now have been solo Spanish guitar pieces. Rodrigo’s Allegro Con Spirito is actually a section from an orchestral piece called Concerto De Aranjuez.
Right away, you’ll notice that Allegro Con Spirito has a certain stately, royal, and majestic sound to it. It’s been stated that Rodrigo was heavily influenced by a royal courtyard and this piece really does capture that feeling.
Allegro Con Spirito is evidence that music can truly transport somebody to a different place. For that reason, it must be given recognition as one of the most important pieces with a Spanish guitar.
“Gran Vals” by Francisco Tárrega
Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with Spanish guitar pieces, you’re probably familiar with Gran Vals. You might not recognize the name, but the piece has a classic phrase that was adopted by Nokia.
In fact, it was this section that helped to usher in the cellphone as a commonplace item in today’s society. It was even the first song to be applied as a ringtone, which further spread the song’s reach.
As a composition, Gran Vals is more of a waltz and it really does invoke that fun, amusement park feeling. The piece has a playful melody throughout, which uses that iconic line as a sort of punctuation.
There are a few sections to Gran Vals, but the composition form is relatively simple. It maintains that waltz throughout while returning to the main motif for an ending.
Take a listen to this song and try to think of what amusement ride you might hear this on. A Ferris wheel or a carousel are certainly viable possibilities.
“Una Limosna Por El Amour” by Agustín Barrios Mangoré
When it comes to the Spanish guitar, Agustín Barrios Mangoré is one of the most important composers. The entire genre of Spanish guitar refers to Barrios to the same high degree as Bach in classical music.
Not only was Barrios a true master of the instrument, but he was also a masterful composer. This is quite evident when taking a listen to the famous piece, Una Limosna Por El Amour.
An interesting thing to note here is that this would be the last piece Barrios would ever write. In a way, it seems as if he knew his life was drawing to a close when composing the notes.
The song overall has a very somber and serene feeling with a sort of atmospheric touch. There is insanely advanced tremolo picking in which the melody of this piece lives.
Upon listening to this, it’s likely evident that Barrios had a peaceful death. He dedicated this piece as being a final offering to his maker.
“Adagio (from Concerto De Aranjuez)” by Joaquín Rodrigo
Another excellent movement from Rodrigo’s Concerto De Aranjuez is the Adagio piece. This is a bit longer in comparison to other pieces on this list, but it is absolutely packed with emotion.
Adagio opens up with a very dreamy motif that invokes imagery of the sun setting on a long day. The Spanish guitar has quite a bit of conversation with the other orchestral instruments throughout.
You’ll find Adagio to be a very peaceful listening experience. But, don’t let that fool you, this is loaded with drama that could put any soap opera to shame.
Throughout the piece, you’ll be guided along easily as the song builds in intensity accompanied by sweeping guitar passages. There are many different motifs and sections within this particular movement, many featuring very difficult phrases.
The guitar itself ranges from single-note solos to cascading arpeggiated chords. You’re not going to experience this song without being absolutely dazzled.
“Granada (from Suite Espanola)” by Isaac Albéniz
Granada is another Albéniz piece that is incredibly important within the realm of Spanish guitar. While it was written for the piano, Granada holds up incredibly well as a solo guitar piece.
This song is loaded with tension and release. Each micro resolution builds into more tension, with a greater release.
For the most part, Granada takes on a thoughtful minor tonality, but it does have some major tonality mixed throughout. Take a listen, and you’ll definitely be swept up by the emotions within Granada.
“Lagrima” by Francisco Tárrega
One of Tárrega’s most famous pieces is Lagrima, which is a song that many advanced Spanish guitarists learn. The song itself is rather short but does contain an ABA sectional composition.
Unlike many other Spanish guitar songs, Lagrima has a very bright and major tonality. Where other songs might invoke contemplative rumination, this is loaded with pleasant emotion.
Compared to other Tárrega pieces, Lagrima might sound as if it is fairly easy to play due to its simplicity. Anyone who’s ever learned this will tell you that it is actually deceptively difficult.
Lagrima will likely always hold a place within the repertoire of Spanish guitar. It is the perfect embodiment of gently drifting off to sleep amongst puffy clouds and heavenly skies.
“El Columpio” by Francisco Tárrega
Tárrega has been mentioned quite a bit in this article, and it won’t be the last time, either. Quite simply, Tárrega is one of the most important Spanish guitar composers to ever grace the Earth.
Many of his compositions have iconic passages that are imbued with emotion and familiarity. The song El Columpio is a prime example of this.
El Columpio features melodic chord work set against a basic bass alternating between the root and the 4th. The song has a very elegant tonality that absolutely erupts into sweeping melodic passages.
These sweeping passages have a way of really elevating the composition as a whole. Meanwhile, the bass accompaniment remains simple and consistent throughout.
Listening to this piece is almost like watching a kite in the sky being taken by the wind. The melody wants to fly away (the kite) but the string to the ground (the bass) keeps everything in place.
“Malaguena” by Ernesto Lecuona
If you are looking for a true classic in the realm of Spanish guitar, look no further than Lecuona’s Malaguena. This piece has a very famous melody that ascends and descends.
In fact, Malaguena’s melody is likely one of the first things you might think of when thinking of Spanish guitar. It has a sound as you might hear in a Western cowboy movie.
The song’s iconic melody starts in the middle voicing, being set against a tremolo accompaniment in the treble. As the melody moves to the bass, the accompaniment becomes more pronounced, elevating the piece in intensity.
In the middle section, Malaguena takes on a more pared-down composition. As you might expect, the song then repeats the opening section for a final resolution.
Compositionally, Malaguena might be a little easier than some of the others on this list. However, it does still feature difficult techniques that employ different parts of the hand simultaneously.
“Bolero” by Maurice Ravel
Ravel’s piece Bolero is a massively famous song in the realm of classical music. It features a repeating melodic motif that is set against a droning accompaniment.
While Bolero is mostly known as an orchestral piece, it does hold up quite well on the Spanish guitar. The guitar arrangement really does make this well-known classic take on a different feel, providing a unique experience.
“Capricho Arabe” by Francisco Tárrega
Capricho Arabe was actually Francisco Tárrega’s first composition. It was responsible for helping society at the time fall back in love with the sounds of the Spanish guitar.
As a result, Capricho Arabe remains one of Tárrega’s most famous pieces and is often learned by Spanish guitarists. In true Tárrega fashion, Capricho Arabe has a deceptive simplicity in its composition.
Compositionally, this piece has 3 distinct sections, consisting of both minor and major tonalities. The middle major tonality section has a peaceful resolution which is dissolved in a revisiting of the opening minor section.
There are many excellent running passages throughout Capricho Arabe that sweep across the listener’s field of hearing.
This is a true classic when it comes to Tárrega and the Spanish guitar. The fact that it was played at his funeral should be enough evidence of the piece’s importance.
Top Songs With Spanish Guitar, Final Thoughts
Even if you aren’t a Spanish guitarist, there is a lot you can learn by listening to these pieces. Quite often, these compositions are filled with emotional tension and release that today’s music just simply does not have.
Whether you’re looking for a masterclass in composition and guitar playing or looking to relax, this music exceedingly fulfills that. May this style of music continue to live on, and may others continue to be drawn to this distinct sound.
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