The guitar has a strange fate in the world of classical music. It seems to be condemned to the role of an outsider. Only very seldom does it appear in a symphonic orchestra (to the point that auditions for orchestra guitarists are practically never held). Also in the field of chamber music, it seems reluctant to join the other great instruments of the classical tradition. One of the notable exceptions, of course, is the duo for violin and guitar, but a large share of merit for its huge repertoire is to be given to Nicolò Paganini alone. The guitar rarely enters into the established ensembles of the classical tradition, such as the string quartet or the wind quintet, to name but two.
This segregation may seem unfair and slightly sad, but there are reasons for it. Firstly (and this is yet another peculiarity of the guitar), most of those who left great guitar works were guitarists themselves. So they could feel less at ease when writing for other instruments, and find it difficult to adequately involve chamber music partners. Secondly, the guitar is a self-sufficient instrument, since it has a very wide range, and it can play both a melody and its accompaniment, but also complex polyphonic textures. So, the guitar seems not to “need” any chamber music partner.
Of course, the piano in turn is a self-sufficient instrument, yet it frequently plays with all kinds of instruments and ensembles. Here another problem comes to the fore: the guitar’s sound may reach very high volumes, but is best heard and appreciated in a more delicate setting and with lighter sonorities. Thus, the guitar is reluctant to join forces with large or powerful ensembles. Moreover, the sound of the guitar’s plucked strings tends to fade – similar to what happens to the piano’s – and therefore the combination of the guitar with a larger ensemble of bowed strings or winds (which can hold the sound more effectively) seems to be inconvenient.
Notwithstanding these reasons, it is really a pity that the guitar is not more frequently present – both as a soloist and as a chamber music partner – on the stages of our concert seasons and in our programmes.
One chamber music partner who does like to play with the guitar is, however, the flute. These two instruments are very different from each other. The flute is a wind instrument, capable – as previously said – not only to hold, but also to modulate a sound after it has begun. It is almost exclusively a melodic instrument (with notable exceptions in contemporary music) and its range is decidedly high. The guitar is capable of harmony, melody and counterpoint; its range is medium-low (though it can reach very high pitches). This odd couple works very well together, in spite of what one might think beforehand.
On the plane of the volume, the flute is not overwhelming, and is comparable to the guitar; they balance each other very well, complementing the other instrument’s problematic issues and putting into light their talents.
Even on the practical plane, both instruments are easy to carry: this may seem a very trivial remark, but it is not the least reason for the success of this duo.
More relevantly and importantly, these two instruments descend from some of the oldest musical instruments of humankind. The combination of plucked strings with blowing in a tube has always sounded well, and thousands of years of musical experience have provided a formidable cultural background for the recent experiments with this instrumental combination.
The repertoire recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album is a fascinating itinerary through the world of late twentieth-century music, with particular focus on “dialogues” between Italy and America (both the US and Latin America).
The oldest piece recorded here dates from 1963, and it was written by Radamés Gnattali (1906-1988). As it happens, Gnattali’s name is one which reveals much about the person it indicates even before making his acquaintance. The surname clearly reveals the Italian origin of its bearer; the name, however, might puzzle all those who are not passionate about Italian opera. In fact, at a time when most children were given saints’ names, Gnattali’s parents Christened three of their five children with names excerpted from Verdi’s operas (among Radamés’ siblings were Aida and Ernani!).
In spite of the Italian origins of his family name, Gnattali was born in Brazil from Italian emigrants. His parents were both musicians, although his father had not been a professional in his native land. In Brazil his talent was acknowledged, and he became an appreciated bassoonist and conductor. Their son, Radamés, was also educated in the field of music, playing both the piano and the violin; he also demonstrated a precocious talent as a conductor, leading an orchestra even before his tenth birthday. He also learnt to play traditional Brazilian instruments, and this is a typical trait of his musicianship: he purposefully intertwined various musical genres, creating bridges between seemingly distinct worlds. This was not appreciated by all, however. Great representatives of Brazilian traditional music were disconcerted by Gnattali’s use of Western instruments (particularly of those with jazz connotations) in his versions of Brazilian musical types, such as the samba; whilst the gatekeepers of the Classical tradition disapproved of his use of traditional Brazilian instruments in the symphonic orchestra.
Fortunately, however, Gnattali went on and kept searching for his own voice. Life was not always easy for him, and he was seldom free from financial difficulties; yet, he managed to find his place in the world of music, also thanks to his entrepreneurship and to his capability to move easily from one genre to the other and from one role to the other (including conducting, teaching, playing the piano etc.). His Sonatina, recorded here, was written in 1959; it exists also in a version for flute and piano. As happened with many other works by Radamés, the original score is carefully copied by his sister Aida, who helped him as a copyist and also as a duo partner on stage. This piece is full of melodic intensity and of marked contrasts, with fascinating imitations and percussive elements; the last movement is a thrilling cavalcade with plenty of virtuosity and vivacity.
Two years after this Sonatina, the other piece by this name recorded here saw the light. It was written in 1965 by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. The composer needs little presentation as he is unanimously acknowledged among the greatest Italian composers of the twentieth century, and as a particularly appreciated creator of guitar works. Born in 1895 in a Jewish family, he quickly established himself as a respected figure in the world of contemporaneous music, also thanks to the good offices of Alfredo Casella. His promising career, with many important roles and performances, was abruptly interrupted by the infamous racial laws enacted by the Fascist regime. He then emigrated to the US, where his career took off once more; however, in order to earn his living, he had also to compose many scores for Hollywood films. On the positive side, this provided him with an extraordinary knowledge of compositional technique and effects. His Sonatina is vivid and luminous, at time reminiscent of Poulenc. At its heart, the sweet Siciliana brings back memories of other touching versions of this slow and melancholic dance, whilst here too the third movement is a firework of brilliancy. This piece had been commissioned by flutist Werner Tripp (1930-2003) and guitarist Konrad Ragossnig (b. 1932) who premiered it.
Ten years later (1976), Franco Margola wrote his Sonata Quarta for the same ensemble. Similar to Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Margola’s talent was noticed early on by Alfredo Casella, who actively promoted his music. Similar to Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Margola suffered in the second World War. On the one hand, the war’s casualties included one of his operas, whose score was lost forever during a war action; on the other, he underwent deportation in Germany and was condemned to forced labour. Fortunately, after the war’s end, he was able to resume his activity and to become one of the most appreciated Italian musicians of the twentieth century. His Sonata beautifully expresses his talent for the elegance of both form and content, with refined counterpoint and imitations, but also with pronounced lyricism and challenging passages.
Twenty more years divide this work from the Sonata by Roberto Di Marino, written in 1998 and premiered in 2000 in Trento by Jessica Dalsant and Andrea Gasperi. Di Marino, born in 1956, graduated in composition, choral music and choral conducting, jazz and arrangement for wind band. The eclecticism of his musical vocation is revealed by his catalogue, with original works and arrangements in a variety of styles. This Sonata is a very demanding work, also on the compositional plane. In its first movement, the classical Sonata form is merged with the Fugue, and the two forms share the subject/principal theme. In spite of this compositional rigour, the rhythmical aspect is reminiscent of Argentinian tango. Similarly, the milonga permeates the second movements with its intertwining melodies, and the third movement is a very virtuoso piece requiring the utmost technical accomplishment of both players.
The programme is completed by a famous work by Leo Brouwer (b. 1939), one of the most celebrated guitarists and composers of contemporaneity. Coming from a musicians’ family, Brouwer was born in Cuba but received his musical education in the US. His language is influenced by both Cuban folk music and the European avantgardes, thus acquiring uniquely personal traits. The dedicatee of Mitología de las Aguas is guitarist and composer Sef Albertz, whose first name is encrypted in the score using the German notation system. The piece describes the cartography of Latin America, as specified by the composer himself: “The composition is a sort of sound film about the powerful elemental force of the waters of my continent; we have the Amazon! This music is thinking about it”. However, it does not represent a musical postcard; rather it profoundly reflects the deepest features of the places and peoples of Latin America.
Thus the circle closes: from Latin America to Latin America, in dialogue with Italy.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2021
Duo Massimino-Ramonda was established in 2015, when its two members were enrolled in the course of Chamber Music held by Francesca Leonardi at the Conservatory G. F. Ghedini in Cuneo. Afterwards the Duo undertook a constant concert activity in Italy and abroad; at the same time, they attended master courses with Nigel Robert Clayton of the Royal College of Music in London, with Gianluca Nicolini, Marco Tamayo, Giulio Tampalini and with Francesca Leonardi herself. In 2021 the Duo graduated with full marks in the one-year Master of High Studies in Chamber Music at the Conservatory Arrigo Boito in Parma, held by the Trio di Parma, Pierpaolo Maurizi and Massimo Felici. The ensemble is currently close to graduating in the course of Master in Chamber Music at the Conservatory G. Verdi in Turin.
Veronica Ramonda, flute
Born in Cuneo in 1993, she began her flute studies at the age of thirteen, studying since 2004 with Alberto Gertosio. In 2015 she obtained a degree in flute with full marks under the guidance of Isabelle Massara at the Conservatory G. F. Ghedini in Cuneo; two years later, she obtained her postgraduate diploma there, with honors. She participated in several national music competitions obtaining first prize; in 2016 she attended master classes with Andrea Manco. She has always been very active in the field of chamber music, particularly in duo with harp and guitar.
Flute: Muramatsu DS heavy, 2015
Martina Massimino, guitar
Born in Bra (CN) in 1993, she undertook classical guitar studies in 2003 with Ugo Fea, and continued with Carmelo Lacertosa. In 2015, under the guidance of Davide Ficco, she obtained a degree at the Conservatory G. F. Ghedini in Cuneo with honors; two years later, she obtained her postgraduate diploma there, again with honors. Within the same Conservatory, she attended master courses with Mario dell’Ara and Magnus Andersson; later, she attended master courses with Andrea Dieci, Giulio Tampalini, Christian Saggese, Marco Tamayo and Bruno Giuffredi.
In 2018 she performed the premiere of works for guitar and electronics dedicated to Patrick Kleemola, who was the Conservatory’s guest artist at the time. The following year, she was selected in order to participate in a collective CD promoted by the journal Seicorde (CD no. 143/2020).
Guitar: Fabio Zontini, 2013
Franco Margola (b Orzinuovi, Brescia, 30 Oct 1908; d Nave, nr Brescia, 9 March 1992). Italian composer. He studied the violin at the Brescia Istituto Musicale with Romano Romanini (diploma 1926), and composition at the Parma Conservatory with Guido Guerrini, Carlo Jachino and Achille Longo (diploma 1933). In 1930 he won the Camerata Musicale Napoletana prize with Il campiello delle streghe. He taught history of music at the Brescia Istituto Musicale (1936–9) and composition at the conservatories in Cagliari (1941–9), Bologna (1950–52), Milan (1952–7), Parma (1963–75) and at the Accademia di S Cecilia in Rome (1957–9). He was director of the Messina Liceo Musicale (1939–41) and the Cagliari Conservatory (1960–63).
From the Casella-influenced neo-classicism of his early works, with their linear idiom and calm, unproblematic sound world (e.g. the Trio in A and the String Quartets nos.4 and 5), Margola turned in the postwar years to a free use of 12-note technique. His music retained an unmistakable diatonic imprint and an exemplary expressive simplicity, seen particularly in pieces like the two Kinderkonzerte.
Leo Brouwer: (b Havana, 1 March 1939). Cuban composer, guitarist and conductor. In 1953 he began his studies in the guitar with Isaac Nicola, founder of the Cuban guitar school, and in 1955 he made his performance début. In the same year, and self-taught, he started to compose (e.g. Música para guitarra, cuerdas y percusión and Suite no.1 for guitar); his first works were published in 1956. He was awarded a grant (1959) for advanced guitar studies at the music department of the University of Hartford and for composition at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, where he was taught by Isadora Freed, J. Diemente, Joseph Iadone, Persichetti and Wolpe. In 1960 he started working in cinema, as head of the department of music in the Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC); he has written scores for more than 60 films. He was involved in setting up (1969) and running the Grupo de Experimentación Sonora at ICAIC, becoming the teacher and mentor of its members, who included Silvio Rodríguez, Milanés and other important figures of contemporary Cuban music. He worked as musical adviser for Radio Habana Cuba (1960–68) and for other Cuban institutions, and taught counterpoint, harmony and composition at the Conservatorio Municipal in Havana (1960–67). His book Síntesis de la armonía contemporánea was a core text in his classes.
Together with the composers Juan Blanco and Carlos Fariñas and the conductor Manuel Duchesne Cuzán, Brouwer launched the avant-garde music movement in Cuba in the 1960s. He has been the most significant promoter of the bi-annual Havana Concurso y Festival de Guitarra, and in 1981 he was appointed principal conductor of the Cuban National SO. He has also conducted many other foreign orchestras including the Berlin PO and the Orquesta de Córdoba, Spain, which, under his direction, was formed in 1992. He is a member of the Berlin Akademie der Künste, of UNESCO, of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes Nuestra Señora de la Angustias in Granada (1996) and Honoris Causa Professor of Art at the Instituto Superior de Arte de Cuba (1996). For his contribution to the Cuban and international music scenes he was awarded the Orden Félix Varela, the highest honour granted by the Cuban state for culture.
Three phases can be identified in Brouwer’s work: the first, nationalistic (1955–62); the second, avant-garde (1962–7); and a third in which avant garde elements diminish and, particularly after 1980, a creative process described by the composer as ‘new simplicity’ emerges. The first phase is characterized by the use of traditional musical forms, including sonata and variation form, and by tonal harmonic structures rooted in nationalism (e.g. in Homenaje a Manuel de Falla (1957), Tres danzas concertantes (1958) and, Elegía a Jesús Menéndes (1960), among others). During this phase, despite the prevailing use of tonality, a tendency to structural fragmentation may be discerned, as well as the employment of several simultaneous tonal centres, a device that has remained throughout his output.
Though never lacking formal rigour, Brouwer’s works have in general sprung more from a sonic conception: ‘I use any form to help me find musical forms: that of a leaf, of a tree or geometric symbolisms. All these are also musical forms; despite the fact that my works appear very structured, what interests me is sound’. This concentration on the sensory, and an accompanying use of extra-musical formal sources, is most to the fore in Brouwer’s second phase, which was, with the Cuban avant garde in general, heavily influenced by the Polish school; he first heard this music at the Warsaw Autumn in 1961. Variantes for solo percussion and in particular Sonograma I for prepared piano typify this phase, which also included a brief turn towards serialism, in works such as Sonograma II and Arioso (Homenaje a Charles Mingus). Basic materials frequently comprise intervals of the 2nd, 4th and 7th and chords of superimposed 6ths, 9ths, 11ths and 13ths. Complex polyphonic textures dominate, with thematic independence retained within the different planes of sound, and a resultant richness in rhythmic conjunction. Other common devices include pedals, ostinatos, sequences and melodic and rhythmic echoing. One of Brouwer’s most important avant-garde works, which has become a major piece of the guitar literature, is the solo Elogio de la danza (1964). In two movements – Lento and Ostenato – it was originally composed for dance with choreography by Luis Trápaga; it makes reference to primitive dances and to mysticism, and conveys an image of stamping feet and gyrations together with other dance elements.
Between 1967 and 1969 such works as Rem tene verba sequentur, Cántigas del tiempo nuevo and La tradición se rompe …, pero cuesta trabajo approach what would now be the postmodern, characterized by sharply defined contrasts in structure and texture and employing references to various historical periods. In La tradición se rompe …, pero cuesta trabajo, for example, the interpolation and superimposition of elements of such composers as Bach and Beethoven in a suggestive heterophony borders on caricature; further, the participation of the audience is invited with a persistent ‘sh’. All this is integrated into a process of thematic and instrumental development that evolves through a powerful, controlled aleatorism.
In the 1970s Brouwer continued to work on post-serial and aleatory ideas, for instance in La espiral eterna for guitar. But by the 1980s a ‘new simplicity’ had begun to take hold, involving neo-Romantic, minimalist and newly tonal elements. There is a marked lyricism in this third period, the use of varying nuclear cells to generate development, and the return of traditional forms exemplified in works like Canciones remotas, Manuscrito antiguo encontrado en una botella and La región más trasparente.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (b Florence, 3 April 1895; d Beverly Hills, CA, 16 March 1968). Italian composer, pianist and writer on music.
(b Porto Alegre, 27 Jan 1906; d Rio de Janeiro, 3 Feb 1988). Brazilian composer, pianist and conductor. The son of a music teacher, he received musical training from an early age. From 1920 he studied at the Instituto de Belas Artes of Rio Grande do Sul, winning the piano gold medal in 1924, and then at the Instituto Nacional de Música in Rio de Janeiro. Gnattali studied composition on his own and began his professional activities as pianist and then viola player in the Henrique Oswald Quartet. After settling in Rio permanently, he became the official conductor of the Radio Nacional orchestra. He achieved wide popularity through his music for radio serials, and through his skilful arrangements and orchestrations of fashionable popular tunes and dance rhythms. This success has prejudiced his simultaneous career as a composer of art music. But his activities in the popular field were valuable in his quest for a nationalist expression. His knowledge of popular music is particularly evident in the first period of his production (1931–40), characterized by the clear national influences and post-Romantic idiom of such works as Rapsódia brasileira (1931) and the Piano Trio (1933). Works of this period sometimes show harmonic formulae and instrumentations characteristic of jazz.