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“I won’t rest until this piece gets the recognition it deserves”: Classical guitarist reveals the six-string origins of the iconic Nokia ringtone

The composition is actually over a century old…

Nokia mobile phone

Credit: Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

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In the world of phone ringtones, Nokia’s trumps all others. Even in 2023, it evokes a sense of nostalgia few other sounds can. But you might be surprised to hear of its origins, which date back long before even the invention of the mobile phone.

The classic note run is actually taken from a piece of music called Gran Vals – or “Great Waltz” – by Spanish classical guitarist and composer Francisco Tárrega, who wrote it in 1902, many decades Nokia’s first mobile, the Mobira Cityman 900, arrived in 1987.

And you can see guitarist Alexandra Whittingham showcase the run and put it in context in the video below. “I won’t rest until this piece gets the recognition it deserves,” she says.

Gran Vals was first included as a ringtone in a Nokia phone in 1994, under the name “Ringtone Type 7” in the Nokia 2110. In 1997, the tune was given the name “Grande Valse” – a nod to the original composition’s title.

But as it became so synonymous with Nokia itself, “Grande Valse” was renamed in 1998 to “Nokia Tune”, and thus became Nokia’s flagship ringtone.

Many versions of the classic Nokia ringtone have been created over the years, including the first polyphonic MIDI rendition by Ian Livingstone in 2001, a guitar-based version with the Nokia N78 in 2008 – which reflected the popularity of nu-folk music at the time – a slow piano version by Ryuichi Sakamoto for the Nokia 880, and a slow guitar version by Brian Eno for the Nokia 880 Sirocco Edition.

Of course, the popularity of Nokia mobile phones has declined in recent years to make way for the likes of the iPhone and Samsung models, but next time you hear that ever-rarer Nokia ringtone, spare a moment’s thought for the mastermind behind the piece, Francisco Tárrega.

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