Upon graduating from the prestigious Eastman School of Music with a Doctorate of Musical Arts in 2003, Aaron was chosen to be the inaugural recipient of the Andrés Segovia Award. Aaron Brock has won top [...]
They spoke about it
The term toccata takes its meaning from the Italian word, toccare, ‘to touch’. For any plucked string instrument the performer’s touch, from the most delicate caressing of the string to the most violent attack, is a crucial element of the resulting sound. Virtuoso compositions for lute bearing the title Toccata first appeared in the early 1500s. Since then it has remained an important form for solo instrumental compositions. I composed this Toccata in 2001 after meeting the great Cuban guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer, who encouraged me to complete the work after viewing the initial sketches. The piece contains many of the principle elements of the toccata style: improvisatory harmonic and melodic development, sweeping scales and broken chord figuration. Composed in four contrasting but intertwined sections, some of its thematic material was inspired by Brouwer’s own music. Listeners familiar with Brouwer’s music will hear echoes of his style as well as a few direct quotations from his guitar works.
Italian composer Carlo Domeniconi’s Koyunbaba, first published in 1985, takes its title and inspiration from a region of the same name in Turkey. ‘Koyunbaba’ literally translated means ‘shepherd’ and is also the name of a 13th-century mystic whose tomb is still visited in Turkey. The visitors have a tradition of leaving colorful pieces of cloth on the tomb, perhaps to gain relief from a curse supposedly associated with the Koyunbaba family. The composer, a resident of Turkey for several years, became enchanted by the melodies and harmonies of that culture’s music and translated them onto the guitar. The guitar is almost completely re-tuned to create a rich and hypnotic sound world throughout the piece’s four continuous sections.
Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo became famous for his Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra. In this set of three Spanish pieces for solo guitar, published in 1963, Rodrigo again looked to the rich cultural traditions of his native country. By blending the music of Andalusia with established classical forms Rodrigo created a style of modern composition that he termed ‘Neocasticismo’.
The Fandango is a flamenco dance form that had also served as a model for harpsichord compositions of the late Baroque (Scarlatti had written in this form). Rodrigo blends the fandango dance rhythms with Baroque figurations such as the acciaccatura (‘wrong notes’ struck simultaneously with the correct notes in a chord). The Passacaglia is also a Baroque musical form. Melodic and harmonic figurations gradually develop above the repeated bass line that opens the piece. The bass line is essentially an elaboration of a four-note motive (descending A-G-F-E). This powerful musical progression is common to both the flamenco and Baroque styles (also found throughout Bach’s Suite BWV 997). The Passacaglia concludes with a fugal section using fandango-like rhythms. The set concludes with a fiery Zapateado, inspired by the flamenco dance normally performed by a solo male dancer to showcase virtuosity in rapid and sometimes violent footwork.
The Suite BWV 997 of J.S. Bach is categorized as a work for lute. It seems likely, given its detailed counterpoint typical of Bach’s keyboard style, that this suite was conceived for the lautenwerke, a keyboard instrument that Bach had specially built for his own use. That instrument used leather plectrums (rather than the usual quills of the harpsichord) in order to replicate the tone of a plucked string, a sound Bach apparently cherished. The Suite has been transposed from the original key of c minor in order to suit the guitar’s standard tuning – a practice that Bach often used in making his own transcriptions. The descending melodic figure that unifies all five movements of this suite (A-G-F-E) had specific connotations for Baroque composers (broadly defined under the ‘doctrine of affections’) and represents the emotional states of deep sadness and mourning.
The great Paraguayan Agustín Barrios Mangoré is now regarded as the most important guitarist/composer of the early twentieth century. From his death in 1944 to his re-emergence in the 1970s Barrios was almost completely forgotten and ignored. He is now properly recognized for his priceless contributions to the guitar and its repertoire.
As a performing guitarist Barrios set the standards for modern guitar virtuosi – he possessed complete command of the guitar’s technical and expressive capabilities and performed a wide range of music including many of his own compositions (he was also the first to perform a complete lute suite of Bach on the modern guitar). As a composer he left a rich and abundant supply of music for solo guitar, ranging from traditional classical styles to pieces using popular song and dance forms native to South America. Much of his music has survived – not through written manuscript, but through sound recordings. In 1909 Barrios was apparently the first guitarist ever to make a recording, producing more than thirty records during his lifetime.
Un Sueño en la Floresta (A Dream in the Forest) is a piece in romantic style using the idiomatic guitar technique of tremolo to create the impression of a sustaining melody. In this piece he uses expansive left hand chord shapes to create a rich and beautifully full harmonic background. Barrios used a guitar that had a range of twenty frets – typical classical guitars of that time, and even today have nineteen frets. In Sueño, the melody culminates on that twentieth fret, a high ‘c’, an appropriate marker for a guitarist who succeeded in expanding the range and expressive capacity of our instrument.
© Aaron Brock