Rémi Boucher was born near Rouyn-Noranda, a mining centre in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Québec. It was with his graduation from the Conservatoire de Musique du Québec that his name began to be [...]
They spoke about it
Granados: Valses Poeticos
The music of Enrique Granados was born out of a line of Spanish nationalism that went from Felipe Pedrell and Isaac Albéniz to Manuel de Falla. It was the end of the great Romantic era in European music, and Spain had not contributed overly much other than her folk melodies and her rhythms. Yet there was still hope, born out by the success of works such as Iberia by Albéniz and Granados’ Goyescas.
Granados studied piano at the Barcelona Conservatory with Pujol, who was also a composer and pedagogue of the guitar. He also learned composition with Pedrell. His first works were operas and while they attracted little attention, they provided the needed background to prepare for the coming success of his piano composition titled Goyescas, based on paintings and etchings by Goya. The Goyescas were so popular that they were later transformed into an opera of the same name. The wildly successful premiere performance was in New York at the Metropolitain Opera on January 28th 1916.
Apart from the fame generated by the Goyescas, Granados is well-known for his music for guitar in spite of the fact that he never wrote for the instrument. When his music is performed, one can only wonder why not. His beautiful sense of line, his haunting melodies, his technical requirements all point to music that was meant to be played on the guitar.
It sounds so natural and so comfortable that one forgets that his music was actually written for the piano—who would think that the famous “Playera,” played by every guitarist in the world at one point or another, was actually the fifth section of Danzas Españolas, a work composed for piano!
The Valses Poeticos contain the romanticism, the flair, the moodiness and the vitality that represent the trademark of Spanish music. Granados has created a remarkable work that communicates grace and style while changing relentlessly from one mood to another.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Cappricio diabolico
Composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco once told an interviewer that if it hadn’t been for Andres Segovia he likely would never have written for the guitar. “He was a wonderful artist and faithful friend,” said Castelnuovo-Tedesco of Segovia, who premiered the Capriccio diabolico in 1935. Segovia figured among Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s select and career-influencing coterie of friends. It was for these friends that he would compose his music.
Although he was very successful at writing opera, he had more faith in the instrumental forms of music and preferred the concerto because, in his words, “it seems to express, much better than any symphony could, that dualism between the creative individual and the surrounding collectivity.”
Some of the friends he chose to help in this form of expression were Heifetz, who was responsible for the violin concertos, Piatigorsky for the Cello Concerto and Segovia for the Guitar Concertino and the Sonatina. Castelnuovo-Tedesco had been approached by Segovia, as had many other composers, to write for the guitar. In 1935, he created his 3rd composition, the Capriccio diabolico, an hommage to Paganini and inspired by the composer’s la Campanella. This same music was later rearranged as a guitar concerto and remained unpublished as Opus 85b.
It was a busy time for Castelnuovo-Tedesco. That same year, he also wrote a Tocatta for cello and piano. Later, Piatigorsky gave the first performance of the Cello Concerto with the New York Philharmonic. His output for the guitar is generally considered limited in the overall picture. His contribution is nevertheless remarkable. His Quintet for strings and guitar and his song cycle, entitled Platero Y Yo, as well as his two concerti and the Serenade for Guitar and Orchestra, remain among the most often played works by guitarists today.
For guitarist Rémi Boucher, the Capriccio diabolico is a work of contrasting movements in which Castelnuovo-Tedesco presents the diabolical while proposing a vast array of emotions which finally give way to the devilish pull of seduction, lyricism and virtuosity.
Regondi: Introduction & Caprice
You will not find his name in the Groves Dictionary, the Oxford History of Music or even Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. It is in A.P. Sharpe’s “The Story of the Spanish Guitar,” but unfortunately, here it is misspelled. Once a lauded child prodigy, Giulio Regondi has been grossly neglected.
A master of the guitar’s techniques, Regondi composed and performed with unparalleled aplomb. While alive, Regondi (1822-1872) shared the international stage with acknowledged masters like Carulli, Carcassi and Fernando Sor. Upon examination of the compositions of these three guitarists, one has to wonder why Regondi has been so totally forgotten until recently.
Regondi was a prodigy who suffered a terrible childhood as a result of his talent. His father forced the five-year old Regondi to practice five hours a day, physically carrying him on stage when he was too afraid to go on alone, dragging him on again for encores and then stealing his performance fees!
As a guitarist, Regondi was amazing. However, it was not the only instrument he played nor even his favorite one. Regondi also played the concertina and the mellophone, a now defunct instrument similar to today’s accordion.
Regondi’s music is both romantic and charming to the ear, while at the same time viciously difficult and complex to perform. His compositions are at times gratuitously complicated, a representation, however, of the musical styles of the day.
The Introduction & Caprice, Op. 23, was first published in 1864 by Jean André.
Rodrigo: Sonata Giocosa
Born in Puerto Sagunto in the northern portion of Valencia, Joaquin Rodrigo went on to become one of the most important composers for the guitar. His fame rests on one piece, the Concierto de Aranjuez, and on one movement within that piece, the Adagio, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written for the guitar. While at the École Normale de Musique in Paris during the mid-1920’s, Rodrigo studied composition with Paul Dukas, composer of the famous Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Rodrigo’s classmates included Villa-Lobos and Manuel Ponce. School staff listed Alfred Cortot, the founder of the École Normale, Jacques Thibaud, outstanding violinist, and cellist Pablo Casals. Throughout his studies, Rodrigo kept close links with his Spanish roots. Rodrigo returned to Spain in 1933 and again in 1936, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, he composed his first concerto for guitar, the Aranjuez. His next concerto for solo guitar was written 44 years later, the Concierto para una fiesta, a commission for a California wedding in 1983.
Rodrigo’s solo works, such as the Sonata Giocosa, share a close bond with his orchestral compositions. In the first movement, one can hear the orchestral style of composition, such as the block chords that lead to various rhythmic patterns that themselves flow into repetitive themes common to Rodrigo’s writing. The second movement is a return to the Renaissance with its slow rhythmic pulse and mellow harmonies; a whole movement built around one rhythmic pattern, dotted eight / sixteenth. The third movement is a zapateado, a Spanish clog-dance, 3-in-a-measure, with a hard-driving rhythm, marked by the strong forceful beat of rasguados instead of the usual castanets.
Ascencio: Collectici Intim
Collectici Intim is a work composed of five pieces: “La Serenor” (serenity), “La Joia” (gaity), “La Calma” (tranquility), “La Gaubanca” (rejoicing) and “La Friscana” (impatience). The generic title of this collection of Catalan intimacies comes from the special affection that Vicente Ascencio Ruano had for this music.
Some of the dances were taken from his very popular Danse Valencianes. Completed in 1970, Collectici Intim was premiered by guitarist Narsico Yepes at the San Leone Auditorium in Rome. For Ascencio, modern music is itself uninteresting. “I am a tonal composer,” he said in a previous interview. “The atonal movement has finally come to Spain but I do not find it overly interesting. We (Spaniards) are Mediterraneans and dodecaphony is mainly an intellectual thing while we are intuitive. We must try to find our own form of expression. We must find a technique that answers our lifestyle. I am an intimist who doesn’t like the overflowing styles. I like the intimacy of music.”
A perfectionist, with a penchant for mathematics, Ascencio was known for his finicky polishing of the smallest of details in his composition. He held a full time position in the Ministry of Revenue, but in his spare time, he worked continuously on his music. A multitude of guests streamed into his house to discuss all manner of things musical. Among his favorite composers he included Ravel because he too was a perfectionist and Scarlatti because of the intimacy present in his sonatas.
Duarte: Variations on a Catalan folk song
Although he signs his name as John W., John, or Jack, John William Duarte is better known to his friends and students as Uncle Jack. Trained as a chemist, Duarte crosses the bridge that lies between science and art. His love of scientific and musical disciplines has given him a particular insight into both of his chosen careers.
Born in Sheffield, England in February of 1919, Duarte waited until he was 14 before seriously considering music lessons. He started with the ukulele. He moved on to jazz guitar lessons and by his early twenties, began to teach himself the classical guitar. At the same time, Duarte was training to become a chemist at Manchester University, a career he abandoned after 29 years. He not only learned to play the guitar, he also added the trumpet and the bass.
Stimulated by his own curiosity, he learned about composition, theory, classical form and jazz. He became a prolific writer, an interviewer, a critic, a teacher, an adjucator and an overall ambassador for the guitar. The seven variations presented here are on the Catalan folk song entitled Canco del Lladra and Canco del Lladre (the former a meaningless misprint and the latter the true title, which translates as The Thieves Song). An original version of this song is included in Canconer, a collection of 4000 popular Catalan folk melodies, edited and compiled by Joan Amades.
Rémi Boucher’s performance notes provide an insight into his perception of Duarte’s intentions. In the first variation, Boucher is looking for contrasts in dialogue, affirmations and finality. In the second, he seeks to reveal love and beauty, a first step, a dream. He has subtitled the third variation “exclamation” and is looking to convey a frenzy of activity and bounce. The fourth is called “relaxation.” He subtitled Variation 5 “Ah!, Take it easy” while leaving the sixth unmarked due to its simplicity. The last variation, the finale, drives towards blocks of sound that Boucher calls “Les Bourdons” or the bells.
© Davis Joachim