When discussing American concert guitar music, whether it be of North, Central, or South America, one is automatically confronted by the many diverse cultural elements that distinguish it from its European counterpart. European music comprises the tradition of the past and is responsible for much of what is commonly known as classical guitar music. American guitar music is really only a twentieth century phenomenon, one that encompasses musics of diverse ethnic cultures, producing sounds so original and striking that its influence has been strong enough as to have a rebound effect, affecting the guitar music in modern Europe. Perhaps the reason for the slow development of original concert music in the Americas was the fact that the settlers, relying only on the concert music of the Europeans which reached the new world sparingly, really had no classics of their own. But while the Americans were learning to play and appreciate this music they were also assimilating the sounds and rhythms of their surroundings: the folk music, the music of indigenous natives, and the music brought over from the African continent by slaves. It has taken hundreds of years, but finally the twentieth century has yielded American composers, composers who have assimilated these characteristics and have exhibited a strength and vitality imposing enough to leave a mark and perhaps even lead into the next century.
The rhythmic vitality that is associated with much Latin American music is perhaps the most prominent distinguishing feature separating this music from its European ancestry. In the Cuatro Valses Venezolanos of Antonio Lauro (1917-1986), a classic European dance form is tailored to fit Lauro's national temperament by the use of highly syncopated rhythms and the colorful harmonic language of Venezuelan popular music.
To the North, Mexico had its champion in composer Manuel Ponce (1886-1948), who under the courtship of AndrÃ©s Segovia produced a number of major works for the guitar that have now become part of the standard repertoire. Of all the composers on this disc, he is probably the most "classical". Sonata III, as with a number of his works, is in the standard sonata form. Within this format, however, it is not unusual to find popular Mexican folk melodies or the influence thereof. In addition to this folk appeal, one finds the influence of the French in almost all of his music, as is particularly true of Sonata III. This piece displays the peculiar harmonic colouring reminiscent of the music of Debussy or Ravel, but with a unique character making the work distinctly Latin American.
While improvisation was a common practice of composers and musicians through the Renaissance and Baroque periods, it has been a practice neglected by classical musicians for the greater part of this century. Recently however it has again become an integral part of musical training, influencing the works of many modern composers. In his Divertimenti for guitar, Canadian Robert Benedict (b. 1948) produces a set of works which combines "elements of the classical discipline with those of the harmonic idiom and improvisatory character prevalent in popular, folk, and jazz styles today."
North American composers have been the slowest to acknowledge the classical guitar as a viable resource for development. It was not until the 1960's that American composers would produce significant solo pieces for the guitar. Its prior use was largely limited to small roles in chamber music. But in the last 25 years North American composers have been tempted by the coloristic capabilities and intimate appeal of the guitar. A new generation of composers, influenced by the guitar explosion of the 1960's (when popular music was dominated by its sound, much to the dismay of accordion enthusiasts), are now producing much of the innovative guitar music being performed today. Two American composers of this generation are represented in this recording, Christopher Dobrian (b. 1959) and Vincent Agustinovich (myself). In Dobrian's Falsetas MÃ³viles, the flamenco concept of Falsetas , a series of solos or variations over a pre-existent harmonic and rhythmic pattern, is used as the basis for his piece. In the course of the variations we experience a variety of themes related to flamenco but blended with modern influences to create a truly original work.
The guitar works of Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) are among the most popular of the twentieth century. Villa-Lobos wrote very effectively for the instrument and helped expand its technical boundaries through his innovative compositions. He spent much of his youth exploring and collecting indigenous Brazilian music which he later combined with a mastery of European tradition. In Etude No. 11 hypnotic rhythmic patterns and lyrical folk-like melodies adorned with a modern harmonic language evoke the splendor of the music of Debussy and the grandeur of the Brazilian rainforest.
Paraguayan composer and guitarist AgustÃn Barrios (1885-1944) also reflects his native culture but within a more classical formal design. His La Catedral is in the traditional three movements, none of which conform to any dance form. Outside of formal allusions there is also a relationship in the content of this music to that of the formal masters, particularly to the music of Bach. The second movement, Andante Religioso, was in fact inspired by the music of Bach which Barrios heard one day while passing the Cathedral of San Jose in Montevideo, Uruguay. The third movement, Allegro Solemne, is Barrios' impression of walking out into the street after hearing the music of Bach, representing the contrast of the lively streets of South America to the calm serenity of the cathedral. The first movement, Preludio "Saudade", was later added as a dedication to his wife, Gloria. Beneath the baroque gentleness of this work there lies a pulsating rhythm that pervades, something so subtle and yet so vital that it bears the stamp of the Latin American experience.
Two of the three pieces by Vincent Agustinovich (b. 1954) on thisrecording, Passage and American Matador, also pay homage to the Spanish tradition (this seems to be a natural desire for those of us that spent some time on the classical guitar, as is the case with Mr. Dobrian and Mr. Agustinovich). American Matador (as well as Falsetas MÃ³viles) plays with the use of different combinations of rhythmic groupings of two and three, which are present in many of the flamenco dances. However, in the flamenco dances the pattern is much more regular (1-2-3, 1-2-3/1-2, 1-2, 1-2), the groupings lying within the 3/4 time signature; while in American Matador (and Falsettas M-viles) the combinations are irregular (1-2-3, 1-2, etc...) and produce more complex time signatures such as 5/8 or 7/8. This in effect produces a sound or feel that while related to these Spanish dances, also conjures up the image of jazz. En La Media Luz (in the dim light, or twilight) will have none of this. Unrelated to any dance form, it is a fantasy of sorts, one in perpetual mood swing, going from the reflective mode to the "hell bent for leather" mode. In composing this piece I used a much broader harmonic palate than in the other works in hope of conveying the ethereal effect of being between the world of light and the world of darkness. This music was expressly written for Mr. Pile, who masterfully captures the ethereal quality on this recording.
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1. Quatro Valses Venezolanos No. 1 - A. Lauro
2. No. 2 - A. Lauro
3. No. 3 - A. Lauro
4. No. 4 - A. Lauro
5. Sonata 3, Allegro Moderato - M. Ponce
6. Sonata 3, Chanson - M. Ponce
7. Sonata 3, Allegro non troppo - M. Ponce
8. Scherzo - R. Benedict
9. Fugato - R. Benedict
10. Calliope Song - R. Benedict
11. Nocturne - R. Benedict
12. Majorette - R. Benedict
13. Falsetas Moviles - C. Dobrian
14. Etude 11 - H. Villa-Lobos
15. La Catedral - A. Barrios
16. American Matador - V. Agustinovich
17. Passage - V. Agustinovich
18. En la Media Luz - V. Agustinovich