Capricho árabe is another very well-known work by Francisco Tárrega, and a personal favorite of mine on several different levels. It is the rare piece that I equally enjoy playing, performing, analyzing, and listening to. I love how the theme transports the player and listener into a dreamy, sensuous world filled with musical color and emotion. The variations on the theme branch out in creative ways while remaining cohesive to the musical whole, and the piece sounds simultaneously improvised and meticulously composed. From a performing point of view, there is something about playing a work written for guitar by an incredible guitarist that is hard to describe yet deeply satisfying. Fellow guitarists might know what I mean; there is an intrinsic logic to Tárrega’s clearly exceptional understanding of the unique timbres and capabilities of the guitar that just intuitively feels and sounds right. Capricho árabe is guitaristic without devolving into an intellectual exercise or a technical showcase. It is music written for guitar, but not confined to limiting notions of what music for guitar may be expected to sound like.
The title of the piece translates roughly as “Arabic capriccio,” indicating a possible homage to the Moorish roots of the guitar, as well as describing the free and lively character of this work. The piece is in the key of D minor, uses theme and variations form, a possible nod to both folk and classical musical cultures, and starts with a short introduction. The opening measures of the introduction feature a dyad played in harmonics followed by a descending passage starting high up on the neck, at the fifteenth fret of the high E string:
Capricho Arabe, introduction (first 4 measures)
After the introduction and a two-measure transition, the theme first appears in the tonic key of D minor, complete with an accompaniment and bass line. Rest strokes are often used to accentuate prominent notes in the theme, such as where the accent indications are placed in this excerpt of the first two measures of the theme:
Capricho Arabe, main theme (first 2 measures)
The theme later modulates to the relative major and parallel major keys, and utilizes the middle and upper positions of the fretboard (as per Tárrega’s fingering indications), before returning to the tonic key and ending on a short cadential passage. Interestingly, all of the phrases except for the last phrase end on a half cadence. This unusual pattern of cadences gives the piece an unresolved feeling until the very last measure, which tonicizes the original key of D minor by means of a dyad played in harmonics (consisting of the root and fifth in the tonic key), followed by a high, resonant D minor chord that finally resolves the piece on a perfect authentic cadence.