Saturday, May 05, 2012

Guitar Ensemble Concert: Director's Notes

The HSU Guitar Program has been working all year towards our upcoming Spanish Guitar concert in one way or another. The concert will mainly feature various ensembles, though there will be a few solo performances as well. The program will feature works from many different time periods and styles.

Since so much of Spanish music is based around its folk heritage, we will be featuring two such performances. I will play some flamenco guitar music which is essentially a style formed by Gypsies. Guitar is a central aspect of that style, though it often includes dance and voice.

 A voice and guitar duet will then take the stage to perform a few selections of songs by Garcia Lorca, a Spanish nationalist poet, playwright, and musician. While the songs were written in the 20th century, the texts and prevailing style are highly representative of Spanish folk music.

  There will be two sonatas on the program, the sonata being the leading form of choice in the Classical era. A trio will perform an arrangement of a Domenico Scarlatti sonata which was done by one of my former teachers, Stuart Green at CSU San Bernardino. This was a piece that I performed in my undergraduate studies, and I am glad my students will also get the opportunity. This is an early example of a sonata that is actually in binary form rather than the typical three part form we think of today.

Then myself and three other students will be performing a substantial sonata in four movements by one of the most famous Spanish guitar composers to have ever lived, Fernando Sor. Sor was a virtuoso guitarist himself, and left us with a wealth of highly sophisticated Classical era works and studies that are a staple of our repertoire today. Sor was a huge fan on Mozart, utilizing themes from the Magic Flute in his works, and this sonata is strongly rooted in Mozart's style, though there are inflections of early Beethoven present as well.

  From here we venture on into the early Romantic era with Capricho Arabe by Francisco Tarrega. Tarrega is often cited as the father of modern guitar technique - a somewhat hyperbolic statement, but not entirely inaccurate. He certainly codified a number of techniques such as tremolo, used famously in his composition Recuerdos de la Alhambra. Capricho is a staple of every classical guitarist's repertoire and is one of our most beloved pieces.

  Moving on in time, we come to some of the most famous Spanish nationalist composers in the late Romantic/Early 20th century: Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados. Albeniz' Asturias (Leyenda) is another widely played and recognized guitar work, though it was originally composed on the piano. However, it is very clear from many accounts that Albeniz was writing guitar music on the piano, so it is more often performed on guitar than not. This is an incredibly exciting solo piece that I am glad to have on our program.

A duet arrangement of his Granada will also be performed. This piece is not as well known outside of guitar circles, but it is a very lyrical and expressive work that will serve as a nice contrast to Asturias, showing a bit of Albeniz' range. Note that these two works are titled after Spanish cities, a link to Albeniz' nationalistic tendencies.

Next up will be a duet arrangement of the Intermedio from Enrique Granados' opera, Goyescas. The title refers to paintings by Francisco Goya, another important nationalistic figure in the artistic community. The Intermedio has become a stand-alone work, frequently performed in various arrangements.

  As a change of pace, we will then feature a short work for flute and guitar by Jacques Ibert, entitled Entr'acte. Ibert is obviously a Frenchman, though the work is very clearly in the Spanish style. The French have a penchant for exoticism, evidenced by their love of Spanish and Russian musical idioms. A few examples include Georges Bizet's Carmen and Claude Debussy's La soirée dans Grenade from Estampes.

  Following that, we will perform three works by Manuel de Falla: The Miller's Dance, Homenaje: pour le tombeau de Debussy, and Will o' the Wisp. The Miller's Dance is from Falla's ballet, The Three Cornered Hat. This will be performed as a duet, though a popular arrangement also exists as a solo guitar piece. This work features many bold strumming passages, or rasgueados, so prevalent in Spanish guitar music. Rasgueados will be heard throughout the program, beginning with the Flamenco guitar work, but they are especially prevalent here.

Homenaje is a short solo guitar work written for the death of Falla's friend, Debussy. It is actually the only true guitar work Falla wrote, and it is a masterpiece. In it, Falla fuses a Habanera rhythm with modern harmonies inspired by Debussy, even including a short quote from La soirée dans Grenade towards the end. It is a landmark piece that is often looked to as the first true guitar work of the 20th century.

Will o' the Wisp will finish out that set, arranged as a solo from another of Falla's ballets, El Amor Brujo. The legend behind the title is of mysterious lights that lead travelers astray by luring them away from the roads, and then flickering out when approached.

Gypsy music did not die out when the Classical tradition took hold in Spain. Flamenco music continued on, though it did wane in popularity some into the 20th century. Being a champion of Spanish culture, Falla actually did much to restore Flamenco music. However, another Gypsy tradition was emerging in Gypsy Jazz. The most famous guitarist in this style is undoubtedly Django Reinhardt. Two of my students who are steeped in this style have been working this semester on a creative assignment based on Django's Bolero. A Bolero is a traditional Spanish dance, but Django had changed it to include a more modern harmonic language. The traditional Bolero is also in three, while Django's is in four.

My students spent the semester analyzing Django's version and essentially reverse-engineered it from there. What you will hear is a progression of styles throughout the work from a very traditional Bolero to Django's, finishing out with a more contemporary version. A lot of music theory and analysis of style went into this composition, with fantastic results. They will be performing on Gypsy Jazz styled guitars like Django's, and will be improvising along the way as well.

Finally, I will be performing a short work by Joaquin Rodrigo entitled En Los Trigales which means "In the Wheatfields." Being nationalistic, he wrote a wealth of music for the guitar, and did so with great skill. Non-guitarists sometimes struggle with writing for the guitar, but Rodrigo demonstrates an intimate understanding of the instrument overall. While many Spanish composers and guitar composers never become known outside of their own circles, Rodrigo was well-respected in the global musical community. This actually helped to popularize the guitar and display its capacities as a substantial member of the Western musical instrument family. His famous Concierto de Aranjuez is still viewed as the benchmark for guitar concertos, and its themes (particularly in the second movement) are immediately recognizable by many listeners. The piece was later redone by Miles Davis in his Sketches of Spain (as was Falla's "Will o' the Wisp.")

  --Nicholas Lambson

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