Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

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Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

After a good period of time as a member of this forum, I have noticed that the issue of the Classical Guitar repertory, composers and major performers has never been touched upon, even superficially.

It is surprising that, nowadays, the instrument has only a specialised audience and exclusive fans, while the instrument has a quite long and bright history. Apart from some very notable composers, who had a special interest for the instrument, like Schubert, Boccherini, Paganini etc., there are plenty of great composers devoted their on the development and glorification of the Guitar, like the superb Sor, the ingenious Giuliani or the magnificent Tarrega. Performers too, like J. Bream, P. Romero, J. Williams or C. Parkening. There is also a great deal of transcriptions, demonstrating the importance and the immense possibilities of the instrument. Bach's famous Chaconne sounds amazingly beautiful and utterly convincing on the said instrument, by the way.

The Guitar repertory and composers are alive and well even in the 20th century with works by E. Carter, Berio, Ohana, Krenek, Gnattali or Donatoni.

I really wonder whether there is any forum member who is truly interested in this wonderful, charming instrument and its refined, elegant and rewarding music.

Any contribution, question, debate is welcome.



RE: Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

The guitar repetoire suffers because few (if any) great composers wrote regularly for it and because the specialists were, except in a few cases, not really geniuses. So the repertoire (generally speaking) consists mostly of arrangements like the chaconne mentioned (and much else by Bach). Having said that, one of the very best composers of the last 50 years is, IMO, the Cuban Leon Brouwer whose 3rd guitar concerto is one of the very best - for any instrument - from the same period. Naxos's 4-CD edition of his complete solo guitar music should be sampled by anyone with the curiosity.

RE: Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

Well done Parla for raising this subject. While it is true that in the 19th century very few of the "great" composers wrote for the guitar, this is largely down to the popularisation and spread of the piano ( Berlioz by the way played the guitar too).

However, in the 20th century and driven by the magnificent Segovia, the guitar started to acquire a notable repertoire. Just for starters: Nocturnal by Britten, Falla's Homenaje "leTombeau de Debussy", Henze's Royal Winter Music, Tippett "The Blue Guitar", Malcolm Arnold Guitar Concerto, Walton 5 Bagatelles etc. etc. Julian Bream has been massively responsible for commissioning many pieces- in fact most of these I have just quoted have been the result of Bream gently badgering these great composers. Very worth watching is the DVD of Bream- My Life in Music, especially when he tries to get Stravinsky to listen to the lute! I think it won the Gramophone DVD of the Year.

RE: Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

Hello all,

While I couldn't answer how many forum members share Parla's enthusiasm for the classical guitar, Gramophone has an editor who most certainly does. When I put Miloš Karadaglić on the cover of our June issue - which offered several guitar-related features, including an interview with this most talented of young ambassadors for the instrument and its repetoire - it was the first time a guitarist had graced the cover of Gramophone in a rather long time.

It's long frustrated me that classical guitar is invariably seen as specialist or, more unhelpfully still, niche. That the great classical composers (by which I mean those widely held to be in the classical canon) didn't write for it doubtless plays a role. As, too, does the fact that those who were great guitar composers often didn't write for more mainstream instruments (which is the rest of the repertoire's loss of course!). Thankfully, as pointed out elsewhere in this thread, things began to change in the 20th century, firstly through Segovia's tireless championing of the guitar as a concert hall instrument, then the commissioning of contemporary composers by such wonderful musicians as Julian Bream.

I do agree about transcriptions (ironically, of course, which includes some of the most famous 'guitar pieces', those by Albeniz), and have too always found the Bach Chaconne particularly profound on guitar, drawing as it does on its particuarly soulful sound. To put it in simple terms, I also find the space between notes from a plucked instrument adds something quite beautiful, which holds true for many guitar transcriptions of violin and cello pieces. Do hear David Russell's recording of the Chaconne if you can.

I hope this thread continues, and if I may add a couple of favourite recordings myself (aside from Russell in Bach, as already mentioned), I'd suggest William Carter's recording of the music of Santiago de Murcia - La Guitarra Española (Linn CKD 288) and, for contrast, the box-set of Segovia's American Decca Recordings, Vol 1, to enjoy the great player's distinctly powerful, soulful sound in repertoire most associated with him.

Editor, Gramophone

RE: Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

Though I am interested, I must admit I know virtually nothing about classical guitar music. It's definitely something I need to look into some day!

I did hear a funny anecdote a while ago though, about harpsichod builder Jacob Kirckman. Aparantly, there was a guitar-fad amongst the aristocracy in the 1770's, and the guitar became so popular he almost went bankrupt. Story goes, he then handed out free guitars to workers and streetmusicians. Result was that the guitar quickly lost its status and the aristocracy went back to buying harpsichords. Don't know if it's true or not, but the truth never should get in the way of a good story ;-)


aquila non captat muscas


RE: Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

I really feel quite honoured to have the Gramophone editor sharing "my enthusiasm for the classical guitar". Actually, I have suspected it, based on the awareness the magazine provided to the instrument and its fine players, but I didn't expect such a thorough and exciting post from the Editor. Well done Martin!

On the subject: Actually, the history of the instrument goes back to the beginning of what we call Classical Music. In Renaissance, composers of great instrumental skills, like Luis de Milan and Alonso Mudarra, developed very idiomatic works for the predecessor of the Classical Guitar, namely the Vihuela and the Guitarone.

In the Baroque Era, the exquisite French guitarist Robert de Visee or the virtuoso Spanish Gaspar Sanz and composed some masterworks for the Baroque Guitar.

However, it is in the Classical and early Romantic eras that we have the genius of a Sor or the inventiveness and creativity of a Giuliani along with the great interest of Paganini himself (who composed a great number of works for solo guitar, duets with violin, Trios, and 15 Guitar Quartets!) and some lower but still great figures, like Gragnani, Carulli, Coste, Aguado and Mertz form the core of Classical Guitar repertory.

And, then the superb Tarrega appears (1852-1909) and we have the essential pieces of the instrument. Just try to find the Gran Jota and you'll see...


RE: Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

For those wanting to step outside the core repertory there's a very interesting disc of 20th century pieces played by Jason Vieux on the Naxos Laureate Series. If we broaden the discussion to include music for guitar and orchestra there's a whole new world out there, much of it written by English composers making brave and often successful attempts to incorporate blues and solve one of the core issues of this genre - the question of balance between soloist and band.

RE: Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

You are absolutely right, Tagalie. The recital of Jason Vieux is excellent. In the same vein for a "core" program of the most important English Guitar Music, the German (!) label Musicaphon has issued a very interesting CD called "English Guitar Music" with the very good German (!) guitarist Maximilian Mangold, performing the magnificent Britten's Nocturnal, Walton's 5 Bagatelles and Rodney Bennet's Sonata and Impromptus.

By all means, the thread is dealing with all kind of music for the instrument, including the not so many but very fine and interesting Guitar Concertos. Of course, the British composers have written some brilliant concertos in the 20th century (Arnold's is such a fascinating work), but one has to start with Giuliani's three magnificent concerti (where balance between the soloist and the "band" is most successfully and brilliantly achieved) and reach the Spanish masterworks of Rodrigo's works for the instrument and Orchestra, including the amazing and overpopularised "Concierto d' Aranjuez". In the 20th century, Brouwer's works, including his 5 Concerti are a "must" for investing in the instrument's literature.


Parla, you mentioned Rodrigo

Parla, you mentioned Rodrigo - I'm afraid I find his popular "Concierto de Aranjuez" to be far from amazing, or a "masterpiece".

To me it's an example of the kind of horrible edelkitsch I appear to have the misfortune of encountering once in a while. In this case, it was a couple of guitar cd's I inherited, and which featured the Concierto de Aranjuez twice (bad luck never comes alone, it seems), once in a John Williams performance, coupled with the FAR more interesting Villa-Lobos concert - and again with the Romero bros., coupled to another Rodrigo concert (Concierto Andaluz) and some awkward sounding Vivaldi arrangements.

I admired the technical skill of the performers, but to me there's a limit to the lack of substance I can endure in a musical composition.

RE: Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

parla wrote:

By all means, the thread is dealing with all kind of music for the instrument, including the not so many but very fine and interesting Guitar Concertos. Of course, the British composers have written some brilliant concertos in the 20th century (Arnold's is such a fascinating work)

Agreed. Arnold isn't one of my favourites but I do like his guitar concerto - particularly its bluesy slow movement. And the Walton Bagatelles are a joy. From roughly the same generation of English composers there's the Lennox Berkeley Guitar Concerto. Whether Berkeley went off the boil late in life I'm not sure, but this work along with his last large-scale piece, the 4th symphony, is one of the few Berkeley compositions that struggle to communicate, to me at any rate. The guitar tends to chunner along in the background while the orchestra does its own thing.

Richard Harvey and Steve Gray have written very fine guitar concerti and there is, or was, a recording available with John Williams as soloist. Going back a bit John Buller wrote a hybrid piece called Proenca for mezzo, electric guitar and orchestra. I haven't listened to it for an age and this thread prompts me to remedy that.

I have a soft spot for Jacques Bondon's Concerto de Mars, an approachable and atmospheric guitar concerto recorded by Konrad Ragossnig for RCA quite a few years back and coupled with another worthwhile listen, the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Quintet for guitar and string quartet.

Concierto de Aranjuez suffers from what the Aussies call 'tall poppy syndrome'. It's a beautiful work, deservedly popular, and has been subject to all kinds of pulling-about by everyone from Miles Davis to ad-men to sitcom writers. People who stuggle to identify the tune of Happy Birthday can probably whistle the main theme of its slow movement. Those who still enjoy it might also like the Twelve Spanish Dances by Granados arranged for guitar and orchestra. Taken all at once you feel like you've eaten too much Christmas cake but they're a very enjoyable wallow.

RE: Anyone interested in Classical Guitar Music?

50m, the "Aranjuez" Concerto, in the hands of a master guitarist and a bright orchestra under an inspired conductor is a masterpiece and the peak of the Guitar Concertos. There is a series of works, where mostly Latin composers tried to imitate it, in one or the other way. Of course, its beauty can easily fall to any sort of kitsch like with works with such apparent emotional melodies and extrovert rhythms. In any case, the guitarists love it and appreciate it to the utmost. And the audiences all over the world. Maybe, as an organist, you may see it otherwise.

By the way, the Guitar Concerto by Villa-Lobos, for all its worth, lacks in beauty, fine melodies and penetrating rhythms. It's a work for the guitarists but it fails to win the grand public (that's why there are few recordings and live performances).

Tagalie, I see you really follow the guitar repertory, at least in the 20th century and the late 19th (spot on your reference of the 12 Spanish Dances by Granados). Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Quintet is a modern masterpiece for Guitar in Chamber Music. In this field, one should not miss the masterful and so charming Guitar Quintets by Boccherini. Absolutely lovely and thoroughly enjoyable! Giuliani has a superb, Classic in writing and form, Guitar Quintet. Another "must" for  a Guitar library.



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