Joaquin Rodrigo wrote the most famous guitar ever.
Listen to the rendition below. You will recognize it. It has a wistfulness that sounds like a new morning, and an old place.
The composer of this was blind. I had no idea until listening to the radio two days ago. At 3 years he had diphtheria. Blindness is a rare outcome but Rodrigo suffered it.
Reader, it’s possible you have never heard of this disease. It was feared by every parent in the generation before me. A hundred years ago there were 50,000 cases of diphtheria in the UK each year and of them 5000 died, mostly the children.
But vaccination has made diphtheria rare in developed countries. This graph is from a group at Oxford University
Luckily I and my brothers were born after 1942, when the diphtheria vaccination program was introduced where we lived. You see how my parents were released from one deadly fear (althoughthere were many others of course), and why they thought (and I think) everyone should be vaccinated.
But more than 70 years later we still have work to do world wide and if am honest I feel ashamed about it. Why do we not help developing countries more with health care? Who can tell me?
However this post is not about diphtheria, it’s about a blind composer. How did Rodrigo work?
If you look him up, he wrote in Braille, but dictated his music to a sighted helper. I couldn’t follow this at first. I knew there is a Braille musical notation (invented by Louis Braille himself still a teenager at the time) but I was not sure how Braille is written or how Rodrigo and his collaborator worked and was puzzled at first.
After thought and research I see that Rodrigo (who was an accomplished pianist) probably composed at the keyboard, as I imagine most classical composers do. Then he wrote what he’d got down, and revised it as necessary.
But then he had to get the music from Braille into the non-Braille world. That’s where the dictation came in. He read his notes aloud from his Braille version, note by note, and they were transcribed into musical notation for the sighted.
This whole question of how to compose music, if you are blind, never properly occurred to me before. A chance hearing on a radio channel made me realize yet again how little I knew. I’m less ignorant now, but I’ll write more about music and Braille in another post.
Joaquin Rodrigo lived to be 99. Astonishingly, when researching for this post, I found a recorded interview with the composer