5 Greatest classical guitar pieces
Arguably one of the most famous classical guitarists in the world, Miloš Karadaglić, tells us about the five guitar pieces he can’t imagine living without
Joaquín Rodrigo—Concierto de Aranjuez II. Adagio
There are only a handful of classical music pieces that enjoy such unprecedented global popularity. Rodrigo’s "Concierto de Aranjuez" is universally recognised as one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. It’s often the first point of contact with the classical guitar for many people. This is incredibly precious for an instrument that is historically young and still fighting for its rightful place on the international concert platform.
Inspired by the lush gardens of the Palace of Aranjuez, the outer movements paint the landscape of an effervescent summer garden, nature that is so alive and beautiful. Here one can hear the birds chirping, playing in the drops of water in the fountains, the gentle warm breeze of summer passing through the leaves on trees, spreading the enchanting fragrance of colourful herbs and flowers.
Each time I play this it brings me to this beautiful world and creates an experience like no other. The famous Adagio, in contrast to the outer movements, tells a different story. Legend says it’s a story of loss and sadness, of a lost child and parental grief. Others say that these magical notes came to Rodrigo as an inspiration all at once, as a melody that just arrived and never left his mind. Whatever it is, the piece became hugely successful and continues to inspire so many generations of classical guitar lovers around the world.
"Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez is universally recognised as one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written"
Tarrega: Recuerdos de la Alhambra
When I was a young guitarist nothing impressed me more than hearing someone beautifully playing “tremolo”. Tremolo is a right-hand technique where in quick succession one strikes the melody note three times with fingers while supporting the hand with a thumb, which plays the harmony on the bass strings. It’s a rotating technique which takes many years to master.
People often say that it sounds as if there are many guitars playing all at the same time. I like it because it’s the only way you can actually effectively sustain and shape the melody on the guitar. Normally, if you just strike a string, the sound quickly dies away. With tremolo, you get a sustained shimmering effect instead. It’s very unique.
One of the most important and famous tremolo pieces in the repertoire is "Requerdos de la Alhambra". Francisco Tarrega wrote it as a technical study, but the piece quickly became so legendary and by far surpassed its original intention. The inspiration for it was the moorish palace of Alhambra in the city of Granada—a sight which, once seen, is never forgotten.
Tarrega was instrumental in launching the guitar as a concert instrument in the late 19th and beginning of the 20th century. He was a true pioneer and a father of the modern guitar technique and repertoire.
"Tarrega was instrumental in launching the guitar as a concert instrument in the late 19th and beginning of the 20th century"
In Western music everything begins and ends with Bach. His music is timeless and unparalleled in its delicate power and genius. The lute was a very popular instrument during Bach’s lifetime and it was very much part of his musical world.
Suite 1006a is one of four suites that Bach adopted for the lute. 1006a was originally written for the violin. Bach himself didn’t play the lute but liked it very much. As he was a keyboard expert, he commissioned an instrument called lute-harpsichord which combined them both—it produced a lute-like sound but was played using a keyboard. This explains some complex polyphonic moments not always typical for the lute writing (a good example is the Fugue of BWV 997).
Prelude BWV 1006a was the first Bach piece I played in concert. In my teenage years John Williams was everything to me and his interpretation of this work appeared on one of the rare guitar CDs I had owned. In those years, we didn’t have access to a lot of music hence this album was my only point of reference. I am sharing it here because it was his artistry that pushed my taste and aspirations to the next level at a very important time in my life. I am still a huge fan.
"It was his artistry that pushed my taste and aspirations to the next level at a very important time in my life"
One of the things I love the most about the guitar is how comfortably it sits between the worlds of classical and mainstream. This is a huge asset in this ever-changing world and it indeed opened doors to musical territories I never knew existed.
The music of the Beatles was something I always liked and enjoyed. There were a couple of arrangements by Toru Takemitsu which I discovered as a student. I always thought that good music is good music regardless of the genre.
It took a long time to decide which songs to do for my album, as the Beatles recorded so many… but this process was one of the most exciting musical experiences of my life. I collaborated with Sergio Assad on the arrangements and we recorded the album in studio 2 at Abbey Road, using the Beatles’ own microphones and technology. I invited guests and artists that I admire and love. It was so wonderful.
One of the first pieces that I selected for the album was “Blackbird”. It just very naturally converted itself into a brilliant classical guitar piece. It was a starting point for the project that is a personal favourite of mine.
Talbot: Ink Dark Moon, III. Allegro Vigoroso
It has long been my great wish to inspire composers to write for the classical guitar. This instrument, with its unique voice, has touched people for centuries and yet its repertoire remains somewhat underrepresented in the core classical world.
I first experienced Joby Talbot’s music at Covent Garden in London where his beautiful ballet scores caused a sensation. The sheer imagination of the man astounded me and, after just a few minutes of listening, I knew I had to meet him. We quickly became friends and, just as quickly, began work on this new concerto.
“Ink Dark Moon”, is like a perfect symphony—there is no element of delicacy or virtuosity left untouched. Joby loves the guitar—he celebrates it and envelops its delicate voice with veils of sound and colour. Playing this piece brought my imagination to places I never knew existed. The full power of the orchestration and guitar writing in the third movement breaks the glass ceiling of possibilities. It is signature Talbot.
The concerto was commissioned for me by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the world premiere took place at the BBC Proms in August 2018.
MILOŠ will perform at London’s Cadogan Hall on September 23, 2021
His latest album, The Moon & The Forest is out now
For more information, visit Milos Guitar
Read more: The octogenarian who swims with sharks
Read more: Interview: Nicola Benedetti
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter