Founded in 1985 by Raymond Dessaints, the Ensemble Amati is composed of remarkable musicians: most of them obtained a Premier Prix from the Conservatoire de musique du Québec. Moreover, with the [...]
They spoke about it
Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez
Joaquín Rodrigo was born in Sagunto, Spain, on November 22, 1901. In 1926, he moves to Paris, and becomes a student of Paul Dukas at the Schola Cantorum. From the French composer, Rodrigo learns the post-Debussy art of orchestration—the science of combining various instruments to create new sonorities, as well as the imaginative use of each intrument’s particular color. In the first movement of the Concierto, for example, the answer to the guitar’s quasi-ostinato is given to the distinct and incisive attacks of the woodwinds, thus sustaining its rhythmic energy and vitality. In sharp contrast of mood, the characteristic rhythmic motion—alternating subdivisions of 2 and 3 beats per bar of the 6/8—is then picked-up, sotto voce, by the string’s spiccato. Similarly, it is the natural melancholy of the English horn—reminiscent of Ravel’s use of the instrument—that is chosen to answer the desperate chant of the guitar.
Apart from Paul Dukas, the general musical climate in France in the late-1920s—the neoclassical Six—also had an influence on Rodrigo’s style. The typical pointillism of neoclassicism endows the orchestral texture with a much-needed transparency, without forfeiting the instrumentation’s rich luster, thus ensuring the guitar’s audibility. Even though Rodrigo calls for a full orchestra—2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trombones, and strings—rarely are all instruments used together. Certain only provide brief commentaries, darken or enlighten the palette (as if a mosaic), and Rodrigo choses with care—according to the rhythmic impulse, the desire to produce a purely Spanish tone, or even to underline the color of a particular key—which instruments will accompany the guitar.
The Concierto de Aranjuez was premiered in 1940, and has since been, with the composer’s Fantasia para un gentilhombre, one of the most appreciated piece of the repertoire for guitar and orchestra.
Giuliani: Concerto for Guitar No. 1, Op. 30
Mauro Giuliani was born in 1781, in Bisceglie, Italy. He first learned to play the cello—developping sufficient technical abilites to be a member, in Vienna, of the cello section in the premiere of Beethoven‘s Seventh Symphony — then the six string guitar, instrument that had begun to establish itself around the turn of the century. In Italy at the time, opera was the genre of choice for both composers and public. Giuliani’s departure for Vienna in 1806, however, was probably motivated by more than his lack of interest for operatic composition.
Vienna, land of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, was no doubt considered the European capital of musical classicism. But with such composers as Hummel, Spohr, Moscheles, and others, Vienna in the first decades of the century was witnessing a musical evolution that was slowly distancing itself from the formal explorations of Haydn and Beethoven.
For this new generation of composers, the medium of expression is no longer the inner drama of form, but virtuosity (so important from a historical point of view that one regrets its being occasionally refered to as “empty”). Music now serves the performer as much as the composer—fused into one as never before—and the expression becomes more “personal,” that is, more immediate and immediately perceptible, more outward and turned toward the intention of the moment.
Giuliani’s Concerto for Guitar No. 1, Op. 30 has all the distinctive traits of this musical pre-romanticism. As in Hummel’s piano concertos, Weber’s works for clarinet and orchestra (composed, it is true, for a performer other than him) — not to mention the violin Caprices and concertos by the Italian Paganini — Guiliani’s guitar concertos explore the particular qualities of the intrument and extend the limits of its technical difficulties. In the first and last movements of Concerto Op. 30, all the idiosyncratic passage-work of the new style can be heard: rapid scales, broken arpeggios, alternate thirds, trills, and the numerous cadenzas (rather than the usual single final cadenza) that interrupt the movement. Moreover, it soon becomes clear that if the conventional structures of the classical style have become rather stilted, this is precisely what allows for a new, particular freedom, for room to probe varieties of fantasy and improvisation.
The second movement also explores an emblematic trait of romanticism. It is essentially a musical “moment,” a picturesque vignette with a warm Italian hue, where the particular tone of the minor evokes a crepuscular, melancholic mood. The last movement, as well, is typical: it is a “polonaise,” sign of the increasing importance of national genres. The Concerto Op. 30, praised by critics after its premiere in 1808, was also published in Vienna in a version for guitar and string quartet, as well as in a transcription, by Diabelli, for guitar and piano.
Diabelli also published a two-guitar version of the polonaise.
Brouwer: Tres Danzas Concertantes
Born on March 1, 1939, Leo Brouwer first learned to play the guitar from his father at the age of 12. He later went on to study with Isaac Nicola, who had studied with the renowned Emilio Pujol. Brouwer also learned to play piano, double bass, cello and clarinet. In 1960-61 he studied composition at the Julliard School in New York with Vincent Persichetti and Stefan Wolpe. Brouwer saw his first composition published when he was only 17. As a conductor, he has appeared with many orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Havana Symphony Orchestra, and, in Canada, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, where he led the world pemiere of his Toronto Concerto in 1987 with guitarist John Williams as soloist. At present he is based in Spain where he conducts the Cordoba Orchestra. Brouwer received an Honorable Membership from Unesco in 1987, a rare and signal honor. Brouwer’s music is generally devoid of what we like to call “melody.” The composer explained his position in an interview published originally in Guitarre Laute (March/April 1990): “I don’t favor it. Melody has an other value. Melodies are tied to the voice. Instruments which are not melodic, like the guitar which can be wonderful and magical, but not melodic, should travel another path. They should go more toward texture; through the development of patterns, figures—flowing ideas.”
Tres Danzas Concertantes is a work of Brouwer’s teenage years. Close relationships among the main themes, close integration between guitar and orchestra, and terse rhythmic figures suggestive or Bartók and Stravinski are notable features of this work.
© Alex Benjamin, Robert Markow