The programme was scripted by Mike Burows and performed by Rupert Kirkham, broadcast on July the 16th, 2011.
Intro Track: Nortena, J Gomez-Crespo
Hullo, this is Classical Break on Somer Valley FM, and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s programme was researched and scripted by Mike Burrows, and is a presentation of largely Spanish guitar-music. We have just heard Nortena, a piano-piece drawn from an Inca lullaby by the Argentinian composer, J Gomez-Crespo, 1900-1971, and arranged by the great guitarist Andres Segovia, of whom more later. Besides the lilt of melody, aided by the rhythmically defined though sweet-harmonied accompaniment, notice the use of rapping of the soundbox, an effect more resounding than can be gained by the tapping of strings con legno of a bowed instrument.
“Only one thing is more beautiful to hear than a guitar, and that is two guitars,” so Chopin professed. Developed from the lute and mandolin, the guitar has the lute’s fretted neck, but a flat-backed soundbox nipped in at the flanks that appears to owe something to the viol-family. The breadth of the body and length of neck promote resonance and an ease in finding notes, it is light for its size and a comfortable shape to hold aslant the midriff and lower chest by left hand on neck and right elbow and forearm. It comes in a variety of sizes, usually with four strings, its pubescent or matronly figure capable of a wide compass. It does not require the speed of note-production needed on, say, the mandolin, to create a sustained sonority. No other stringed instrument is easier to play well. In its simplicity, it can be supremely expressive, neither as heavy nor as over-resonant as a piano, and less scratchy than a bowed instrument. For centuries, it has been at home in most parts of the world, an instrument of choice for both colonialists and native peoples overtaken by European and American incursions. Beginning among hired musicians and courtiers, its use has thus spread until in both acoustic and electrical forms, it has become a pillar in the edifice of modern blues, pop- or folk music.
The Valencian, Joaquin Rodrigo (1901-99) wrote a number of concertante guitar-works in an approachable idiom that owes much to folk-music and Art-music in Spain, all sadly overshadowed by the admittedly justly popular Concierto D’Aranjuez. Blinded in an accident at the age of two, he was trained in his home town, Sagunto, and at the Madrid Conservatory. He arranged the music of such composers as Soler and the courtly composers of the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries, revealing both a long historical perspective on the music of all Spain’s provinces and considerable imagination in orchestral scoring whose richness approaches that of Respighi, yet, as Respighi’s does, preserves the tang of an earlier period. This is achieved by favouring clear contrasts in the blending of the sections and treble, alto and bass registers of the orchestra.
Here is a movement, Canario, from his colourful four-movement Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre, a homage to the 17th Century performer and composer Gaspar Sanz (c1650-c1710), the gentleman of the title, and based on songs and dances from Sanz’s published collections. This Fantasia was composed in 1954 for performance by Rodrigo’s friend Segovia.
A Canario is a variety of lively dance from the Canary Islands.
Track One: Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre, Rodrigo
Often, we cry for the authentic, and decry the efforts of those who paid homage in the age before ours. We can check on an original in this instance. Gaspar Sanz’s Canario or Canarios in its solo-form shows us how brilliantly Rodrigo treats and develops his material.
Track Two: Canarios, Sanz
Now, let’s hear the set of Six Catalan Folksongs by the Catalan guitarist-composer, Miguel Llobet-Soles (1878-1938). Born in Barcelona, Llobet was one of the great artists of the guitar. A contemporary of Maurice Ravel, much of whose supersensitive sensibility and craftsmanship he shared, in Spanish music, he occupies an honoured position re-established by the end of the Franco-regime, which had subordinated all regions of Spain to rule from Madrid.. He lived a quiet life as a travelling musician welcomed by many countries around the world, and resident in Paris for long periods. His tours exhausted him (however!) and he returned to Barcelona. Tragically, he lost his mind during the Spanish Civil War, which broke out in 1936. His collapse came when his local church was fired; according to his wife, he was left with the mental image of an eyeball gouged out of its socket. His final illness followed swiftly, pleurisy ending his life soon after Barcelona was subjected to its first and heaviest air-raid.
Six Catalan Folksongs consists of: The Son of the Mother (A religious song), Amelia’s Testament, Robber’s Song, The Nightingale, Heir of The Rieras, and Christmas Night. We have heard the guitar dance, now let’s once again hear it sing.
Track Three: Llobet: Six Catalan Folksongs
The guitar originated in Southern Europe and always had its strongest advocates in Italy and Spain, where there were many gifted craftsmen and a love of music and dance of a kind that favoured its use, until the vogue for Grand Tours among the wealthy, and the coming of factory-manufacture, of mass-education, of a culture of home-making and the development of Empires and global trade-links. The use of the lute and allied instruments had spread throughout Europe, and so the way had been well-prepared. The guitar, like most instruments, had its periods of favour with the classes, cycles of fashion. In this country and in much of Northern Europe, the guitar had a golden age from the first third of the Eighteenth Century until the middle-class guitar gave way to the pianoforte in the early to mid-Nineteenth Century, as the family instrument; in the colonies, pianos travelled remarkably, but it was easier to take a wind instrument, guitar or violin on a voyage to some out-of-the-way station!
Undoubtedly, many Europeans knew the guitar from the experiences of well-heeled travellers in Spain and Italy, and during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, a vogue for the Italiana and Espanole swept society at all levels. Serenatas, canzonas, tarantellas, saltarellos, canciones, danzas de las hachas, fandangos, even flamenco, could be imitated on the piano, and were, but to hear them played on mandoline or guitar or vihuela - a kind of guitar favoured by wealthy Spaniards - was that bit more exotic an experience.
The Eighteenth Century had many guitar-composers, but it was a Spaniard, Fernando Sors (1778-1839), who brought the guitar into the 19th. He settled in England, and taught, wrote and propagandized for the guitar, and was much favoured by fashionable Society. Known as the Beethoven of The Guitar - the Cult of Heroic Ego was taking hold - he wrote concertante as well as chamber pieces, and developed the notion of the virtuoso in his own instrument. Here is a set of Variations On A Theme of Mozart by him, written in the lingua franca of the time, common to all Western civilization, rather than a style more characteristically Spanish. The polite theme comes from The Magic Flute. The fastidiously careful layout of this piece suits the guitar’s nature as aptly as one would expect. A fairly simple, square-cut melody is subjected to processes of modification, adornment, rhythmical sequence-making, display coming to the fore towards the emphatic close. Nimbleness in articulation is necessary in most guitar-music, rhythmical attack can be made wonderfully crisp and exact as well as soft. The stronger and more flexible the joints of the plucking and pitching fingers, the less force need be exerted, and the better the tonal clarity that may be achieved. The guitar’s resonance requires little encouragement to sustain a note and create harmonic decay of a pleasurable kind as further notes superimpose themselves on it and the air.
Track Four: Theme And Variations, Fernando Sors
Without doubt, even if the pianoforte cut in, the Nineteenth Century song and dance were good to the guitar, and not only in the development of the science of guitar-design. The invention of genre-pieces, short ‘poetic’ pieces of a particular character for a particular instrument, grew out of the John Field or Chopin Nocturne, the Schumann Novelette and Liszt Harmonie. This, and a certain - in some places political - penchant among nations towards the picturesque elements of ‘nationalism’, stimulated a massive growth in interest in music-making, and mass-market in sheet-music. Mass-publication, using the new factory printing-processes both met and further increased the demand. At the highest levels, it paid composers to write well-turned miniatures. Throughout the Nineteenth Century, the audience for virtuosity and serious musical entertainment widened, and at home or in musical and other clubs, at one level of accomplishment or another, something of the genius of hero- or heroine musician rubbed off on the public. A good piece contrasting slow or quick A and quick or slow B sections, with or without development, provided people with entertainment and a challenge. We mentioned the vogue for Italianacy or Spanishry earlier, and from Spain came the next impulse.
The Castilian, Francisco Tarrega y Eixea, 1852-1909, was the teacher of Llobet, whose Six Catalan Folksongs we heard earlier. Tarrega was a virtuoso and composer, known internationally as the ‘Sarasate of The Guitar’. He wrote many genre pieces for his instrument, but, more, transcribed many piano-pieces by his colleagues. He was educated at Madrid Conservatory, pursued a national career as a performer and achieved great success in Paris and London in 1880. His piece for solo guitar, Recuerdos de La Alhambra, was perhaps his most popular piece, akin to a Neapolitan song in its melody and supported by tremolo-figuration throughout. An intense presence on stage, Tarrega was perhaps less gifted as a composer, but his memories of the Alhambra, the Moorish fastness situated in Granada, was to be seen as a contribution to ‘Alhambrismo’; Granada was a place of fascination to Spain as a whole, and Andalucian music was not written by only Andalucians!
Track Five: Recuerdos de la Alhambra, Tarrega
The two great pianist-composers in Spain at the turn of the century were Isaac Albeniz and Enrigue Granados. Both produced voluminously for piano, and only a proficient amateur can say that he plays from the works of either. Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909), a Catalunian like Llobet, gave his first concert at the age of four! He was refused entry to the Paris Conservatoire at seven, and at eleven stowed away to America, where he toured, supporting himself by playing the piano! Studies in Leipzig and Brussels followed on his return to Europe. He next went to Barcelona, where he met the composer Pedrell and first studied folk-music. In 1889, he studied piano-technique with Liszt, after which he toured England. In 1890, he studied with D’Indy and Dukas. Back in England, he found patronage - Francis Burdett-Coutts, Lord Latymer, the banker, and in return composed operas to his Lordship’s libretti. Opera was not his strong suit, and only one opera, Pepita Jimenez, of 1896, was a success. He settled in Paris and concentrated on cycles of piano-music. Altogether, his catalogue reaches to well over 200 Opus-numbers. Even the collapse of his health - tuberculosis - from about 1899 - did not prevent him from accomplishing just the kind of music - piano-music and songs - of a national quality and harmonic and rhythmical sophistication that made it irresistible to Spanish guitarists. The Paris of Debussy, Ravel, Severac, Dukas, D’Indy, Messager, Schmitt and others helped to create the dynamic impressionism of Suites Espagnolas and Iberia.
Here is an arrangement for two guitars by Llobet of a song, Bajo La Palmera, Beneath The Palm-tree, Number 3 of Cantos de Espana, Opus 232. In this recording, it is performed by Julian Bream and John Williams. The two parts demand concentration, but are both together and easily audible in partnership here.
Track Six: Beneath The Palm Tree, Cantos De Espana, Op 232, No 3, Albeniz
An instrument for a lover to play - to serenade his girl in languorous, rippling phrases that create a sense of contented laziness; good humour or longing. An instrument to play rapid, syncopated rhythms on, plucking, sliding, damping - even tapping strings or rapping soundboard - at a dance. The guitar has two personalities, sentimental, sensitive to the point of just-audible stillness, and vital, aggressive and predatory. It sings, it can mimic human movement in sound, it is a percussion instrument. Art music took some while to match folk-music in all its variety and primitive but spontaneous skill.
Here is a modern example of flamenco dance-music composed and played by the Andalucian, who is much influenced by the work of Segovia, Juan Martin. From his Andalucian Suite No 3, Jerez - Buleiras.
Track Seven: Jerez - Buleiras, Juan Martin
From Granada, Andres Segovia-Torres (1893-1987) had a concert career that lasted three-quarters of a century. From his debut in Granada at the age of 15, he made his way throughout the Western World, becoming a good friend of Llobet, who greatly admired his skill and gift for interpretation. His right hand was possibly stronger than that of any predecessor, and showed new possibilities in composition; perhaps the example of pianist-virtuosi had by now piqued guitarists into equivalent feats of simultaneous detail of rhythm and decoration, just as Paganini had piqued pianists in the early Romantic age! Segovia transcribed many works for guitar and inspired the composition of works by many composers, and became an ambassador for Spanish culture, as well-regarded by fellow musicians as was Pablo Casals. Here he is in a Fandanguillo written for him by Joaquin Turina (188-2-1949).
Track Eight: Fandanguillo, Turina
Estudio sin Luz, or Study Without Light is one of Segovia’s own finest miniatures, worthy of his composer-friends.
Track Nine: Estudio sin Luz, Segovia
To end our programme, here is a Pavanne by Luis Milan (c1500-flourished 1536-61), who served at the court of the Dukes of Valencia and wrote many collections of songs and pieces for the Vihuela. The Pavane was a fashionable measure, so-called possibly because it was intended to be danced in the manner of a peacock - in English, it was the pavon or pavan; we have also the word pavonine, peacock-like.
This was Classical Break on Somer Valley FM and I’m Rupert Kirkham. Today’s script was researched and written by Mike Burrows. We hope you enjoyed it and we look forward to having your company again, soon.
Track Ten: Pavanne, Luis Milan