A tune with a familiar ring

Francisco Tárrega. Public domain image via WikipediaQuestion: which composer is the most popular when it comes to mobile phone ringtones?

Just the other day when I was on the train, I heard someone’s phone ring with the familiar Nokia ringtone. My first thought was to wonder why so many people leave what is in effect a free advertisement for their handset manufacturer as the ring signal on their phones. My mind then went on to consider the tune itself: 13 notes, I counted. How does anyone go about writing that sort of short jingle, so that it’s unique, catchy and easily identifiable? Whoever they hired to write it must feel rather pleased with himself.

This evening I was listening to David Mellor’s show on Classic FM in which he explored Spanish music, and coincidentally he mentioned the Nokia ringtone. It turns out that it’s actually a phrase from Gran Vals, a guitar solo by Francisco Tárrega, written in 1902. Of course, Wikipedia already knew this, and unsurprisingly, there are lots of videos of people playing the piece on Youtube. Early Nokia phones even apparently referred to this tune as Grande Valse

Perhaps in future I won’t look down on the Nokia tune as purely the product of corporate vanity. The sad thing is, as he died in 1909, Tárrega won’t have made a penny out of having his music played billions of times per day. However, he does have the distinction of being the most played composer in the world, even if most people have never heard of him.

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