This Da Vinci Classics album offers a complex and multifaceted perspective on the potential of the guitar as a solo instrument, displaying its full palette ranging from virtuosity to expressivity, from compelling storytelling to the clean lines of classical forms.
The three composers recorded here are among the best-known musicians who wrote for the guitar, and they represent three distinct viewpoints on the instrument, on its capabilities and on its resources.
Mauro Giuliani published his Sonata op. 15 very soon after his arrival in Vienna from Italy, in 1808. It is not an overstatement to say that this publication proved to be revolutionary both for Giuliani himself and for the world of the guitar. By issuing this masterpiece, Giuliani publicly demonstrated his value as a “serious” composer, rooted in the classical tradition, as well as his innovative skill and technique as a guitar player. But, even more importantly, he also claimed for his instrument a standing on the same footing as the piano or the violin. The guitar could no more be considered as an instrument on which serenades and accompaniments had to be played, but rather as a complete instrument, capable of interpreting the most lyrical tunes and the most effective virtuoso passages. It could also sustain the complex narrative of the Sonata form: based on the opposition of contrasting themes, this genre requires (from both the instrument and its player) the ability to characterize efficaciously some markedly different musical profiles. To claim this capability for the guitar was almost unprecedented; yet, Giuliani managed to show, clearly and unmistakably, that the guitar could do this in an artistically complete fashion.
The work was published by the “Imprimerie Chimique” in July 1808. It was dedicated to an aristocratic lady, Madame de Maillard; shortly after, the work was reprinted by another publisher, i.e. Steiner and Company. This double publication impacted heavily on the history of the work’s transmission. The Steiner edition is more elegant, clear, and seemingly more reliable; however, it also contains variants which were probably inserted unbeknownst by the composer – in particular as concerns the notation of embellishments. Another disputed field is that of dynamics, since the Steiner edition tends to downplay the starkly contrasting indications found in the “Imprimerie Chimique” version. Whilst scholars are still debating on the evaluation of the sources, it seems safe to state that the clear-cut dynamics of the earlier versions might reflect more faithfully Giuliani’s own highly expressive and effectful performance practice.
This Sonata is therefore one of the relatively few major works in the Sonata form written specifically for the guitar alone in the Classical and pre-Romantic era. The first movement fully deserves the label of “Allegro spiritoso” by which Giuliani indicated it. Its brilliancy, humour and spirited pace are beautifully matched by Giuliani’s perfect command of the guitar timbre and of the fabric of the musical texture. The principal theme requires the guitar to act both as a “singing” and as an “accompanying” instrument; the result is very effective and justifies Giuliani’s claim that the guitar could and should become a solo instrument. The “singing” aspect of the melody is underpinned by Giuliani’s distinctive and careful use of articulation and slurring, emphasising the direction and tension of the melodic lines. In the development, the passage to the minor mode infuses the musical structure with a darker connotation, and the climaxes built through the ascending arpeggios are dramatically very effective, enhancing the tension in order to introduce the recapitulation.
In the second movement, the guitar’s lyrical vocation comes to the fore; in this beautiful “Adagio con espressione” the performer is required to make the guitar sing in the same fashion as the voice or the violin, in spite of its plucked strings. Once more, the breadth of the melodic lines is not interrupted, but rather sustained and given shape through Giuliani’s expert and skillful use of articulation. The delicate ornamentation and the interesting rhythmic modifications add a graceful touch to this beautiful movement, whose value is further enhanced by its thematic connection with the first movement. Giuliani thus builds a very compact and tight Sonata, with cross-references underpinning its masterful construction.
By way of contrast, the third movement is purposefully uncomplicated from the musical viewpoint, whilst it provides some interesting challenges as concerns virtuosity and brilliancy. In spite of the seeming simplicity of its structure, however, Giuliani manages to surprise the listener with some unexpected silences and moments when the dynamics drop suddenly. Paradoxically, this “absence” of music is the best conclusion for this magnificent work, in which the guitar is turned into a miniature orchestra and where its dynamic and timbral palette is fully explored.
If Giuliani’s Sonata was intended as an artistic reply to the Classical Sonata, Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco’s 24 Caprichos de Goya op. 195 unavoidably remind the listener of Paganini’s 24 Capricci. However, as the title reveals, the most direct reference is not to the musical Capricci by the great Italian violinist, but rather to the twenty-four xylographs by the famous Spanish painter and engraver Francisco Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828). Written between January 25th and March 18th, 1961, and dedicated to Lorenzo Castelnuovo Tedesco, this series of short works has been long neglected by many guitarists, but is fortunately enjoying the success it deserves. Goya’s masterpieces are violently sarcastic and powerfully caustic. Many of Castelnuovo Tedesco’s pieces display similar qualities, for example in his parody of dodecaphonic and serialist music. References to real people are also present, although delicately hidden; for example, a mixture of irony and esteem is found in the portrait of the composer’s teacher, Pizzetti, or in the likely allusion to Segovia.
The thirteenth Capricho by Goya originally depicted the encounter between a wooing dandy and a female passer-by, observed by her friends. The man’s frivolity is echoed in Castelnuovo Tedesco’s music through the ancient dance called Rigaudon, normally associated with courtship, whilst his entreating words are mirrored by the central section, more sentimental and intense.
The Classical era evoked by the Rigaudon is found in its actual shape in another work by Giuliani recorded here. His Grand Overture is a magnificent composition, which one could describe as both Italian and Italianate at the same time. Once more, Giuliani reveals himself to be a master of the form, which he skillfully balances with the needs of a virtuoso performer as he was. Along with form and virtuosity, however, a third element stands out, i.e. his capability to employ the topoi of Classicism (such as the French rhythm, the Alberti bass, or the allusions to hunting or to operatic vocality) in a tightly-knitted and compelling fashion.
Once more, the past is seen through the lenses of modernity in Maurice Ohana’s Tiento. Ohana is a standalone in the guitar panorama; his multiethnic and international origins and biography are mirrored in the utter variety and creativity of his own very personal language. Tiento is a rarity within Ohana’s rich output of guitar music, because most of his other works were conceived for the ten-stringed guitar played by Narciso Yepes, one of the greatest guitarists of the era and a favourite interpreter of Ohana’s works. The piece’s name alludes to the Baroque tientos, i.e. the Spanish name for the Toccata (but tientos were less virtuosic and more expressive than their Italian counterparts). The modern version realized by Ohana in 1957 looks back to the past (for example thanks to its quotes from the Folias theme), but is also extremely innovative in its provocative mixture of traditional rhythms (such as those of the habanera), of explicit homages (as in the case of Manuel de Falla) and of Ohana’s own very personal style.
Another early dance and musical form, the passacaglia, is evoked in another of Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco’s pieces, his Passacaglia op. 180 dedicated to Andrés Segovia but intended as a homage to Roncalli. Segovia had been the inspirer of the composition, which he had practically commissioned to Castelnuovo Tedesco. In 1956, Segovia had written a telegram to the composer requesting him to write a Passacaglia, which he did within days. In turn, Castelnuovo Tedesco was curious to know what had prompted Segovia’s request, and the famous guitarist’s reply was both surprising and candid: Segovia had been perusing another Passacaglia, badly written by another musician, and wished a good one to be created by Castelnuovo Tedesco!
As is customary with Passacaglie, this one is also structured as a series of variations built (albeit non rigorously) on a bass. The composer creates a point of distension towards the golden section of the work (at Variation no. 10), which is surrounded by dense textures and a thick musical fabric, culminating in the Fugue and concluding climax.
Still another kind of dance, the popular Tarantella, is represented in the last piece of this album, dedicated once more to Segovia. Castelnuovo Tedesco was fascinated by the rich Neapolitan musical tradition, which he had already celebrated in 1924 in a piano Suite much loved by Walter Gieseking. The same fate awaited the Tarantella, which quickly became one of his best-known works, thanks to its stupendous balance of the virtuosic and of the melodic elements. Its allusions to Neapolitan folklore are not mere postcards, however; the melodic vein of Southern Italy is elaborated by the composer in a very personal fashion, producing a refined and exhilarating composition.
Together, these works allow us to travel in space and in time, discovering the different languages of these three great composers, seeing the past with their eyes, and enjoying the beauty of their absolute masterpieces.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
Luciano Monaco, born in Campobasso (Italy), started his classical guitar studies at the Conservatorio “L. Perosi” in Campobasso where he was tutored by Pasqualino Garzia. Possessing an assiduous work ethic, he accomplished this ten-year course of study in seven years, graduating with honors under the guidance of Alessandro Paris. Next, Luciano achieved his Master of Arts in Music Performance at Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano where he studied with Lorenzo Micheli. During this period, he attended masterclasses at Chigiana Academy in Siena which were conducted by Oscar Ghiglia. He has been recognized on the international stage as an award-winning guitar soloist, playing multiple recitals in Europe and the United States. In 2017, Luciano completed the Graduate Diploma at the New England Conservatory in Boston where he was primarily taught by Eliot Fisk and Jerome Mouffe. In 2021, Luciano Monaco pursued his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Adam Holzman’s studio at University of Texas at Austin.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (b Florence, 3 April 1895; d Beverly Hills, CA, 16 March 1968). Italian composer, pianist and writer on music.
b Casablanca, 12 June 1913; d Paris, 13 Nov 1992). French composer of Spanish descent. One of the leading independent figures in French music during the second half of the 20th century.
Throughout his life Ohana claimed to have been born in 1914. By his own declaration he was plagued by superstitions, particularly concerning the number 13: there is a certain irony, therefore, in the date of his death.
Ohana was described by Gide as a French Joseph Conrad. The intriguing parallel highlights the unusual complexity of Ohana’s cultural origins which, like those of the Ukrainian-born Pole, were different from his bureaucratic national identity. Both Ohana and Conrad were British citizens. (Ohana took French nationality in 1976.) Born in French, colonial Morocco into a family of Spanish origins (Gibraltarian-Andalusian on his father’s side and Andalusian-Castilian on his mother’s), Ohana inherited his British citizenship from his father. The southern culture from which he stemmed reaches beyond the political boundaries of any one country; hence in later life he spoke more of cultural roots and geographical influence than of nationality. As in many Gibraltarian families, English was spoken in the Ohana household, as well as Spanish, while French was, by necessity, Ohana’s language of education and training. He remained trilingual, publishing writings and conducting interviews in all three languages. Describing himself as Spanish by birth and upbringing but French by training and adoption, he had much in common with the stream of Spanish musicians, artists and writers who migrated north to Paris to exploit their cultural heritage. His cultural complexity contributed to the relative neglect of his music in the Anglo-Saxon world. In France, where fascination with the exotic and acceptance of the eclectic are long established, his music has enjoyed a position of eminence since his emergence as a composer in the 1950s. He received numerous prizes and distinctions throughout his lifetime.
Mauro Giuliani: (b Bisceglie, nr Bari, 27 July 1781; d Naples, 8 May 1829). Italian guitar virtuoso and composer. He studied the cello and counterpoint, but the six-string guitar became his principal instrument early in life. As there were many fine guitarists in Italy at the beginning of the 19th century (Agliati, Carulli, Gragnani, Nava etc.), but little public interest in music other than opera, Giuliani, like many skilled Italian instrumentalists, moved north to make a living. He settled in Vienna in 1806 and quickly became famous as the greatest living guitarist and also as a notable composer, to the chagrin of resident Viennese talents such as Simon Molitor and Alois Wolf. In April 1808 Giuliani gave the première of his guitar concerto with full orchestral accompaniment, op.30, to great public acclaim (AMZ, x, 1807–8, col.538). Thereafter he led the classical guitar movement in Vienna, teaching, performing and composing a rich repertory for the guitar (nearly 150 works with opus number, 70 without). His guitar compositions were notated on the treble clef in the new manner which, unlike violin notation, always distinguished the parts of the music – melody, bass, inner voices – through the careful use of note stem directions and rests. Giuliani played the cello in the première of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (8 December 1813) in the company of Vienna’s most famous artists, including Hummel, Mayseder and Spohr, with whom he appeared publicly on many subsequent occasions. He became a ‘virtuoso onorario di camera’ to Empress Marie-Louise, Napoleon’s second wife, in about 1814. He returned to Italy in 1819, heavily in debt, living first in Rome (c1820–23) and finally in Naples, where he was patronized by the nobility at the court of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until his death. Towards the end of his life he was renowned for performances on the lyre guitar.
Giuliani had two talented children, Michel (b Barletta, 17 May 1801; d Paris, 8 October 1867), who became a noted ‘professeur de chant’, succeeding Manuel Garcia at the Paris Conservatoire, and Emilia (b Vienna, 1813; d ?after 1840), a famous guitar virtuoso who wrote a well-known set of preludes for guitar op.46.