Rodrigo's Passacaglia under the loupe. Anomalies explained

Following the many requests received since the publication of the blog on Rodrigo's Fandango, today's blog will deal with the second of the "3 Piezas Españolas", the Passacaglia.

Indeed, there are here some odd anomalies which will be worth discussing together in order to achieve a performance not only more adherent to Rodrigo's writing but also, for this reason, more convincing and engaging for the listener and the performer. As usual, for some passages alternative solutions to the Schott version will be proposed as well as technical suggestions to master them.

The Theme

Contrary to all the rules of rhetoric, the best (or better: the worst) is found here at the beginning and not at the end. In the first variation, in fact, in the Schott we find twice an incredible mistake that completely disrupts the harmonic scheme, which instead should firmly be established by this variation since it is based exclusively on the harmonization of the Theme:

The manuscript leaves no doubt about the position of the sharps in the chords highlighted in red:


The harsh dissonant harmony of Dmin7+ is transformed into an extravagant, in this context, augmented 6th chord.

The grip of the first chord doesn’t cause absolutely any problem, while in contrast, the second, in its original guise, seems to be almost unplayable. Few hands in fact possess the elasticity necessary to perform it, without the F of the Theme ceasing to resonate:

The following solution would make it playable but would leave us not completely satisfied due to the switching off of the F on the second beat of the bar:

In such cases lateral thinking offers to us a good solution to the problem: the C# is simply performed as an octave harmonic:

The thumb of the right-hand touches lightly the corresponding fret (16th) on the {5} string while the index plucks the same string simultaneously to the other two notes (F and D), in arpeggio, as indicated by the composer.

Even if the C# would last only for a quarter note (because of the A on the same string on the 3rd beat), yet, the priorities of preserving the right length of the F of the Theme and the color of the Dmin7+ would be achieved. I think it's an excellent compromise.

However, an analysis, even superficial, of the harmonization of the theme would have been enough to realize the absurdity of the harmony present in the Schott. Indeed, these are the harmonies used (we exclude the Amin in brackets):

As we can see, the distinctive 'Rodrigo-like' second minor interval (which had already colored the harmonies of Fandango) also unequivocally characterizes the harmonization of the Theme. For this reason, the C#/D clash of the third chord of the example is logical and correct.

Among other things, if we analyze the harmonization of the corresponding bars in the immediately following variations we see that (with the exception of the second, which uses a diatonic harmony) is the the clash C#/D which is preserved (and not C/D#). All the others variations never make use of the harmony with the augmented 6th, except the last one (before the Fugato) in which an E flat (enharmonic for D#) appears in the chord of F, however, only as a result of the overlapping of fourths (F -B flat -E flat - A / C - F):

Here the variations with the C#/D clash.

  • 3.Variation:

  • 4.Variation:

Note also the perfect symmetry of

diatonic and chromatic (dia-chro-chro-dia):

  • 5.Variation:

Evidently, for a reason we will never know, Schott printers have read the sharp on the D and in this form the chord has made its way for more than half a century, facilitated in this also by the fact that the fingering present in the Schott edition clearly refers to an incorrect note (D# with the 2) of the harmony in question (so, also Segovia apparently misread it). Maybe it's time to re-propose it with its true identity.

The drunk Theme

Going to analyze the 5.Variation we must keep in mind the absolute lack of idiomaticity of Rodrigo's writing and therefore the urgent need for the reviser on duty to find solutions, sometimes extreme, to make in some way feasible passages which are absolutely unplayable in their original form. Here the variation as published in Schott:

The intervals of the Theme seem to represent the performance of a drunk player.

Here is the Theme in its original form:

  • In the 1st part of this variation (without the repeated notes) the intervalic structure of the melody is:

  • In the 2nd part of this variation, when the soprano's voice takes the theme over from the bass, the melody resounds in this way:

(The penultimate note of the Theme (A, in red) is substitute for a D

and included into the harmony one octave lower)

The ostinato (in blue) also undergoes an abrupt change of octave at the end of the variation (E-F squared in red in the first example):

As we can easily see, the structure of the melodic intervals of the Theme is absolutely arbitrary with respect to its original shape. One very important thing to keep in mind now is that the manuscript is without a doubt a fair copy (corrected, as stated on the frontispiece) of the 'original' manuscript, and served as the basis for publication. In consideration of this, we should first attempt a reconstruction of the very original version and then come up with a solution for this problem. That's what we are going to do in the next chapters.

Hangover treatment (first part)

Knowing Rodrigo's predilection for the second-minor interval, I shouldn't be very far from the truth in guessing the 'original' version of the first part of this variation:

  • Possibility 1

  • Other possibility:

(btw, on the piano both proposals sound totally convincing)

Obviously, no manually able-bodied guitarist is able to perform the passage the way I proposed it. The question is then: can we arrange it in such a way as to preserve the intervallic structure of the Theme and to color the harmony with as many minor second-chords we can? The most important question is: What is the most urgent priority? Certainly, in a form like Passacaglia the line of the melody on which the piece itself is based is fundamental. Let's see how we can preserve it in this passage.

This solution safeguards both the intervallic structure and the discordant color of the minor second, while remaining relatively easy to perform.

Hangover treatment (second part and ostinato)

The second part of this variation might originally have looked like this:

We observe in this reconstruction the symmetrical positioning of the minor second interval on the 1st and 3rd beat of the bars:

A possible arrangement of the passage could be in that case the following:

I am quite sure that the change of the red squared chord/ostinato had been caused by its slightly higher degree of difficulty.

Not completely satisfactory (the lack of the second minor in the first chord of the third measure is painful) but certainly closer to how Rodrigo probably conceived this passage.

2 consecutive descending 4ths

Two variations later we find a very clear reading error (and not printing), also confirmed by the finger 2 placed over the wrong note:

However, the manuscript leaves no doubt that the right note is D:

On the other hand, a quick analysis of the interval structure of the first quadruplets of the two bars reveals a clear succession of 2 descending 4ths, thus confirming the rightness of the D in the second bar:

A mysterious measure

Towards the end of the same variation we find a measure that leaves us somewhat perplexed due to the bizarre structure of the intervals of the Theme, caused by the consecutive use of three open strings:

In fact, we would expect in the bass the following sequence of notes:

Did Segovia want to take advantage of an open strings effect or was it meant by Rodrigo himself? Everyone can decide whether or not to correct this bar.

The Rasgueados

In the variation with the Rasgueados we encounter two discrepancies with the manuscript. The first concerns the dominant chord. In the Schott edition we meet in the following way:

In the manuscript, however, the harmony is more complex and intriguing thanks to the addition of the augmented 4th (A#), which in the edition is replaced by an E on the first line of the pentagram:

In the last bar of the variation, however, the edition shows that chord with its correct harmony. yet, the rhythm is completely different from that of the manuscript:

  • Edition:

  • Manuscript:

The Fugato

The last part of the Passacaglia, the Fugato, shows in the manuscript a very important indication that, if it had been reported in the edition, would have avoided more than half a century of incorrect articulation of the theme of the Fugato itself:

  • Edition:

  • Manuscript:

The indication "stacc" (staccato, red squared) leaves no doubt that the following articulation of the theme is the one desired by the composer:

However, we are used to listen to it articulated in the following ways (among many others):


By the way, it remains to be established what the indication of "8va" (in blue) wants to indicate. Higher or lower octave? But most importantly: what should be performed octaved? A mystery, the arduous decision is left to you.

The last 2 bars

The last 2 bars involve a rather difficult instrumental/musical realization of the same:

Many questions arise: how to play the chords "plaqué", in PP and perfectly balanced, while highlighting the F # (like a horn), giving it a sweet and warm color? There is no question that these 3 chords cannot be performed with an arpeggio, otherwise the last chord, indicated arpeggiated by the composer, would lose its particular color given to it by the fact that, indeed, it must be performed with the arpeggio (after the three "plaqué" chords).

Never like this time does lateral, creative, out of logic thinking help us solve an apparently unsolvable problem:

The F #, being performed with only the thumb of the right hand, will receive a color and balance otherwise impossible to obtain with another alternating-finger fingering. In addition to this, thanks to the characteristic type of attack of the thumb, it can stand out above the Emaj chords with extraordinary clarity and intelligibility. Moreover, the chords themselves will sound very balanced too, due to the fact that it will not be necessary to use a double finger-pluck (except for the first one, where the double ‘a finger’-technique will anyways guarantee a perfect sonorous balance).

This solution, therefore, not only allows us to perform the passage completely adhering to its musical content, but also to obtain a very warm and enchanting sound on the {6} string, since it is now plucked with the pulp of the 3 fingers of the left hand. All of this creates a 'polyphony' of colors that results in an 'iper-color' of great beauty. A truly nice and elegant solution!


I thank you heartily for having read until the end of this blog and hope it will be of some use and interest to you. Please, share your thoughts on this topic in the comment section below, they are very welcome! Take care, see you next time and don’t forget to give a look to my other blogs ;)!



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