Saturday, July 27, 2013




Tárrega and the Nokia Ringtone
The Nokia ringtone is probably the world's most heard and recognized tune. Ever. And it will probably continue to be so for a long time. The melody used as a ringtone (jingle) in Nokia mobile phones, called as “Nokia Tune”. This tune, which you have heard nineteen times this week, goes something like: “yada da da, yada da da, yada da da daah.” Derived from bars 13-16 of Gran Vals by Francisco Tárrega (from 1902). 

On September 4, 2007, Nokia received U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3,288,274 for "a sound comprising a C eighth note, E flat eight note, B flat eighth note, G quarter note, C eighth note and C quarter note." The last note is different from the original. Nokia changed the last note of the phrase to give it a sense of completeness, so the phrase is said to 'resolve' itself. This allows it to stand alone as a musical statement or idea.

Listen to the real Tarrega "Grand Waltz" in guitar: 

Known as "The Sarasate of the Guitar," Tárrega is considered to have laid the foundations for 20th century classical guitar and for increasing interest in the guitar as a recital instrument. Andrés Segovia used much of Tárrega's work when he took classical guitar into concert halls of Europe.

Nokia Commercial TV Ad (1995)

In 1995 Nokia made a television advertisement featuring a priest, a park bench, an attractive lady in a slightly see-through dress, and a delicate solo guitar waltz. This was the first part of the Gran Vals by Francisco Tárrega (1852 1909). The advertisement worked well for Nokia, but in 1995 not many people had mobile phones. Then almost suddenly nearly everyone had a mobile phone. And then even more suddenly everyone had a mobile phone. At some time in between Nokia took a short passage, or phrase, from the waltz, changed the last note and introduced it to their phones around the world. This phrase became the defining sound of the mobile phone for a generation, and everyday billions of people hear its jingly call.

Interrupted Nokia Tune in a Violin Concert:

So, there’s this awesome video making the rounds of a performing violinist, after being interrupted by a cellphone, playing the ringtone on his violin. Some have suggested this could also be an attempt at viral marketing by Nokia. If it was, it worked. The video has been viewed 1.2 million times on YouTube. So, concertgoers, please follow the advice and turn your phone to silent. All you are likely to get when your phone starts ringing is a whole lot of dirty looks. Or worse. One final warning!

Interrupted Nokia Tune in Ensemble Concert:

OTHER ARRANGEMENT from Tarrega "Gran Valse"

"The Cell Phone Waltz"

Tarrega "Grand Waltz" in Orchestra

Tarrega "Grand Waltz" for piano solo


What would Tárrega make of all this if he could hear it now? Would he like the idea of his little riff with the different note being so famous, while the rest of his work, and his name, languish in relative obscurity?  What would he think of that change to the last note of his phrase?

Using classical music for branding purposes is nothing new. But the irony of the situation seems greater in Tárrega's case, for Tárrega, a composer greatly loved by guitarists but hardly famous in the way of a Mozart or a Chopin, was known to be a tremblingly shy man who could bear playing in front of only very small audiences, ideally composed of people he knew.

To think that one of his pieces, and not even his most famous piece, would achieve this kind of ubiquity would have given this delicate man a very great shock. It is hard to know whether to see this second life for his little waltz (Gran is hardly the word) as a tribute to a charming composer, or as another sad little story of an artist receiving too little credit for his work. But if the latter seems to be the case, there is a simple solution. Next time that familiar chirp arises on a city street, or, God forbid, in a concert hall, we must simply think:  
“Ah, the Tárrega tune...”


An accident and/or illness in childhood caused severe and permanent problems for Tarrega's eyesight. His parents decided that musical study would be a good investment for his future, as was common at that time, so young Francisco started with the piano and then guitar. He promptly became very good at both and was sent to study guitar in Valencia, and later guitar and piano in Madrid. He was still young (17) and perhaps a little rebellious. Apparently he would miss his piano lessons to play guitar for money in the Madrid cafes and bars, infuriating his father who suspected he had fallen in with inappropriate company.

Tarrega's brilliant compositions and arrangements for the Torres guitar attracted lots of attention. Perhaps more importantly the Torres guitar influenced Tarrega's early decision to choose guitar, not piano, as his principle instrument (supposedly against his father's wishes). He soon became widely respected as a composer, teacher and performer. He played in some of the great concert halls and salons of Europe, and even stayed in London for a while. Tarrega explored and showcased new techniques for guitar playing, notably the use of the footstool, the rest-stroke (or 'apoyando') technique for the right hand and tremolo picking. Although Tarrega did not invent these techniques, he certainly popularised them in Europe, South America and latterly the rest of the world.

Tarrega has since been known as the 'Awakener of the Guitar' and the 'Father of the Spanish Guitar'. His music is evocative and intensely emotional. 'Lagrima' ('Tears') is a good example. Tarrega is said to have written this wistful and lonely tune during a fit of depression brought about by the rain in London as he longed for the Spanish sunshine.

His sight continued to deteriorate and his health became quite fragile. He suffered with an undisclosed 'nervous condition', which caused many problems including terrible stage fright. He gradually withdrew from large concert performances preferring instead salon appearances and home recitals. And as if all that wasn't bad enough he had an arteriosclerosis towards the end of his life, weakening his fingernails so much that he had to keep them short. This was not a good situation for a guitarist of his schooling. Distressed but undeterred, Tarrega developed his own technique for playing without nails.