Visual impairment : Lost sight at the age of three due to diphtheria
Joaquin (pronounced "hwakeen") Rodrigo was born in Saguntum (now Sagunt), an ancient city in Valencia, in eastern Spain. When he was just three years old, an epidemic of diphtheria made him almost blind. Medical treatment was in vain and then he went completely blind due to glaucoma. He once said it was his blindness that led him to the field of music.
He studied at a school for blind children in Valencia. At the age of eight, he started studying violin, piano and solfa (a system of writing a musical scale by syllables instead of letters) in Braille from some of Spain's best musicians. Then at the age of 16, he studied harmony and composition at the Conservatoire music school in Valencia.
By the 1920s Rodrigo had become a first-class pianist. He was capable of performing the most difficult work of Ravel, Stravinski and others. In 1923 he wrote his first serious compositions for piano, cello and violin. In 1924, his first orchestral work, Juglares was premiered in Valencia and Madrid. The following year his Cinco Piezas Infantiles won Spain's National Prize for Orchestra.
In 1927, Rodrigo travelled to Paris. Here, he studied from Paul Dukas. He also met and fell in love with Victoria Kamhi, a young Turkish music student, whom he married in 1933. From then, until her death in 1997, Victoria collaborated in every aspect of his work.
In 1935 Dukas died and Rodrigo composed his Sonada de Adiós for piano in memory of his teacher. He soon became known as both pianist and composer, and was associated with the musical celebrities of the time, including Falla, Honegger, Milhaud and Ravel. He returned to Spain in 1939 to settle permanently in Madrid.
In 1940 the world premiere of the "Concierto de Aranjuez" took place in Barcelona. This work, for guitar and orchestra, became one of the 20th century's best-known pieces of classical music. His wife revealed in a later biography, that Aranjuez was written under the most difficult conditions: the young couple faced tremendous poverty; she was pregnant and at one point Rodrigo fell seriously ill after developing an abscess in his eye.
Fortunately the melodic piece, named after a town near Madrid, brought him worldwide fame. From that moment on Rodrigo was engaged in numerous artistic activities and was also invited to lecture and play in Europe, Latin America, the US, lsrael and Japan.
Rodrigo held teaching posts for many years. He used a special machine to write music in Braille or dictated to assistants. He continued composing even in his eighties. He composed at least 26 pieces for guitar along with ballets, film scores, songs and many works for piano and orchestra. Throughout his life, Rodrigo worked to promote Spanish music, both popular and classical. He was described by Spanish poet Gerardo Diego as the composer of acoustic landscapes, his music evoking places, monuments and terrain.
Joaquín Rodrigo was honoured by governments, universities, academies, and musical organisations in many countries. In 1991 he celebrated his 90 th birthday. In that year he was raised to the nobility by the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, given the title "Marqués de los jardines de Aranjuez", and his birthday was celebrated worldwide with concerts of his music. In 1996, Rodrigo was the first composer to be given the prestigious 'Prince of Asturias Award', Spain's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.
Rodrigo died at his home in Madrid on July 6, 1999, with all his family around him. With the principal aim of ensuring the preservation and dissemination of Joaquín Rodrigo's music throughout the world, his daughter Cecilia founded the publishing house of Ediciones Joaquín Rodrigo in 1989 and created the Victoria and Joaquín Rodrigo Foundation in 1999.