“I won’t rest until this piece gets the recognition it deserves”: classical guitar phenom Alexandra Whittingham demonstrates the late Romantic origins of the default Nokia ringtone

Alexandra Whittingham reveals classical origins of Nokia default ringtone
(Image credit: Alexandra Whittingham via Instagram / SSPL/Getty Images)

Sometimes there is music all around us and we just can’t appreciate it, even when this music is presented precisely to get our attention. Take the Nokia ringtone. That’s right, the default ringtone of the indestructible 3310. There is more than meets the ear.

It is impossible to ignore, possibly triggering, most definitely antiquated in the smartphone era and most definitely annoying. But the melody itself is even older, and to illustrate its provenance, English classical guitar phenomenon Alexandra Whittingham has taken to social media to demonstrate how it should sound – and just as importantly, where it came from.

This civic-minded act of musicology is the first step in rehabilitating a melody that first resonated through the brain of Francisco Tárrega, the Spanish composer and classical guitarist, and the piece would be known as Gran Vals. 

Tárrega would become an important touchstone for the late Romantic period but he was something of a rebel, running away as a child to play coffee houses in Barcelona. 

It’s hard to find a contemporary analogy for this sort of cavalier behaviour but maybe it would be a bit like joining a punk band, age 10, and setting off in a van on tour. If nothing else it proved his passion for the instrument. 

Whittingham, however, is a fan of Tárrega’s, and playing a short burst of this waltz on her Instagram feed is like breaking a spell, freeing the piece from ringtone infamy. Nokia has updated it over the years, moving away from the cutting industrial single-note ringtone of the early version and transposing it to piano, then to guitar. But even so it’s nothing quite like this.

Sadly, Gran Vals is not included in Whittingham’s new sheet music book, European Romance: 19 Works for Guitar from 19th and Early 20th Century Europe, which is available now via Camden Music. 

But there are other Tárrega works transcribed, including Adelita, and the Romantic prelude Lágrima. Sixteen bars of longing that modulates from major to minor voicings, Lágrima is one of his most-performed pieces. 

If Gran Vals was in need of rescue, Tárrega less so. He remains essential listening for any classical guitarist, and Whittingham’s performances of his work attest to that. Her recital of Capricho Arabe has had 17 million views on YouTube.

You can catch Whittingham on tour this December as she heads across the UK, kicking off with matinee and evening performances at Liverpool’s Invisible Wind Factory Substation. See Alexandra Whittingham for dates and ticket details.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.