Dedicated to Women Guitarists and Bassists
legends tarrago feature

The Legends: Renata Tarrago

June 21, 2017
Written by
Robert Moore
Illustrations by
Pace Taylor

Catalan guitarist Renata Tarrago’s discography is a testament to her spot among the greats of 20th century classical music. Her masterful performances, and collaborations with contemporary talents helped define post-World War II classical music in her native Spain and beyond.

Tarrago was born in Barcelona in 1927. Her father, Graciano Tarrago, was an established musician and educator, but there’s no indication that her surname brought any advantages in classical music circles. If anything, it might have brought undue pressure for the younger Renata, beginning with her public debut at age 14.

With Victoria de los Angeles

Tarrago finished her formal studies at the Barcelona Conservatory (Conservatori Superior de Musica del Liceu) in 1944, earning upon graduation an assistant professorship for teaching guitar. By 1951, Tarrago’s earliest career accomplishments earned her the Conservatory’s Premio Extraordinario award for guitar performance.

Among her early highlights as a recording artist is numerous tracks recorded with operatic soprano Victoria de los Angeles. In 1958, Tarrago became the first woman to record Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo’s 1939 composition Concierto de Aranjuez, adding her own touch to a true modern classic.

Concierto de Aranjuez

Tarrago became a world-acclaimed performer in the 1960s, introducing her classical guitar style and double-stringed Spanish instrument, the vihuela, to live audiences in the Soviet Union and the United States. Her spread of a lesser-known instrument beyond Barcelona casts Renata as a folklorist of sorts, blending history lessons on older arrangements with her furthering of modern classical music.

One of Tarrago’s most visible performances came in 1968 crime film Deadfall. She’s shown playing an excerpt from John Barry’s Romance for Guitar and Orchestra, netting her an IMDB listing alongside Michael Caine.

Romance for Guitar and Orchestra

Like all great classically-trained performers, Tarrago balances taut, technical proficiency with the creative nuances needed to tell stories without words. She played with her fingertips instead of her fingernails, crafting a simple yet precise right-hand technique. On some recordings, her guitar is tuned a half-step higher, creating a harp-like sound.

Tarrago died in 2005 at age 77, leaving behind some of the best, most creatively rewarding classical recordings of the 20th century. For pushing forward the classical sounds of her family and nation, she’s as much a legendary guitarist as any popular music performer of her generation.

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