Paco de Lucia: A Flamenco Master's Foray into Classical Music

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Paco de Lucia, widely considered to be the world's greatest flamenco guitarist, died on Wednesday at age 66, after suffering a heart attack while on vacation in Mexico. The Spanish musician took flamenco music from the tablados of Spain to the world's most prestigious stages, popularizing a musical form that, until the 1970s, had largely been the realm of Gypsies and tourists.

In the process, de Lucia fused the form with jazz and various popular styles, collaborating with innovators ranging from pianist Chick Corea to guitarist Eric Clapton.

De Lucia also put his stamp on the most famous guitar concerto in the repertoire: Joaquín Rodrigo's 1940 Concierto de Aranjuez. As D. E. Pohren writes in his biography of the composer, de Lucia did not know how to read music when taking on the concerto, but came up with an unusual method in which "he was to look up in a music book the explanation of each note in the score he didn’t understand, and thus attempt to figure out just what the composer intended.

"He knows it was a daffy way to go about it, but is glad he did, as in that manner he came up with his own version, original but at the same time faithful to Rodrigo."

De Lucia spent 20 days learning the piece and then took it on tour in South America, “constantly polishing and improving upon it,” writes Pohren. Finally came a Spanish premiere, attended by many guitarists and music critics. The whole experience was said to be very intimidating, as de Lucia knew classical guitarists were only too eager to pan this intrusion into their world. While not every critic was a fan, orchestra collaborators enthused about the guitarist’s rhythmic sense and technique. And Rodrigo himself reportedly praised the performance as "pretty, exotic, inspired."

The Concierto de Aranjuez was broadcast on Spanish TV and later released on CD. The performance here begins about 30 seconds into the video. At the very end, Rodrigo himself comes on stage for a curtain call with de Lucia: