In the summer of 1827, Alessandro Manzoni felt the need to stay in Florence (on the Arno’s banks, “in whose waters I washed my rags”, as he wrote). He acknowledged that the language spoken by the people of Tuscany was the model to be adopted in order to give a purer linguistic style to his novel I promessi sposi (“The Bethroted”), a masterpiece of Italian literature.
A similar necessity led me, in this period of my artistic research, to turn toward the places where the modern guitar has its deepest roots. The three main sources (as concerns instrument-building, interpretation, and composition) whence the rebirth of this instrument would spring at the beginning of the twentieth century are in fact found in Spain. They are represented, in these three different fields, by Antonio de Torres, Francisco Tárrega, and Manuel De Falla.
Luthier Antonio de Torres was born in Almería in 1817. He is universally acknowledged as the Stradivari of the guitar. He is the one who could conceive and realize a new, modern, and revolutionary sound ideal of this instrument, thanks to his continuing experimentations. These have at their ultimate goal the building of instruments capable of emitting all the fundamental frequencies, from the lowest to the highest, and having a very rich timbral palette, hitherto unheard-of. His guitars would be taken as examples by luthier Manuel Ramírez. In his taller in Madrid the most important luthiers (i.e. guitarreros) of the first half of the twentieth century would be educated.
Francisco Tárrega, who lived up to the first years of the twentieth century, played on Torres’ guitars. Through his compositions and transcriptions, but even more through his pedagogical activity, he laid the foundations on which the modern guitar technique would take shape. This technique be transmitted by his most important students, both direct and indirect.
The Homenaje for guitar, written by Manuel de Falla in 1920 to pay homage to Claude Debussy’s death, would instead be the spark literally igniting, for the first time in guitar’s history, the interest of “non-guitarist” composers toward this instrument. Within an unbelievably short time, this would lead to the birth of a repertory exceptional in quantity and quality.
The project “Alma Guitarra” starts from here, and is centered on the rediscovery of the guitar’s authentic sound in those so fundamental years. Then, unbelievable talents in the fields of instrument-making, composition, and interpretation, led to such extraordinary results.
This research is directed toward the instrument’s deepest soul, and toward its unbelievable generating power, reaching present-day from the beginning of the twentieth century. The word “alma” takes here a double meaning. In Spanish, it means “soul”; in Latin, it derives from the verb alere, “to nourish, to give life”.
For this recording, I employed three guitars built between 1916 and 1942 by the greatest masters of instrument-making of the Madrid school, i.e. Manuel Ramírez and Santos Hernandez. The choice of these precious instruments was the direct consequence of my research. Each guitar was assigned to its repertoire, by degrees of timbral affinity and of similar character.
However, guitars without strings produce no sounds. It is precisely from the union between wood and the means putting it into vibration that the mysterious fascination of the guitar is born. The strings are therefore a fundamental part of the project. I used gut strings for the trebles, and strings of a particular synthetic silk wound for the basses. Up to approximately 1947, prior to the discovery of nylon and its use as the material for musical strings, the only material employed for the production of the guitar’s trebles had always been gut. Therefore, luthiers, composers, and especially performers grew up on the basis of this kind of string. It has its limits, mainly as concerns duration and reliability, but it has a colour and an expressivity which are very different with respect to modern nylon. For the basses, instead, a silk core was employed; here too, it would later by replaced by a flock of nylon. The sound of strings with a silk core is characterized by a much deeper, darker and less metallic sound with respect to the later strings with nylon core. This combination between strings and instruments leads not to homogeneity, therefore, but rather to an extreme timbral differentiation of the six strings. Each of them will then represent a different and perfectly recognizable voice of its own.
It may seem unusual, at first sight, to find a Renaissance Fantasia, originally written for vihuela, at the beginning of an album focusing on the guitar repertoire of the Spanish twentieth century between the two Wars. Actually, in precisely those same years when this enormous mass of new repertoire was being created, the music written since the early sixteenth century was being rediscovered. These pieces were transcribed from ancient tablatures, and had been conceived for instruments such as the lute, the Baroque guitar and the vihuela de mano. This “new” music would represent a great stimulus for the guitarists and composers of the time.
Luys Milán has been one of the most important vihuelists. His only work, Libro de música de vihuela de mano intitulado el Maestro, published in Valencia in 1536, is the first written testimony of the vihuela repertoire to have been preserved. Milán’s music is highly original, and Fantasía X demonstrates this. It contains two typical traits of his writing: there are passages of consonancias (i.e. chords of simultaneous sounds, with few polyphonic elements) constantly alternating with redobles (quick ascending and descending scales with an improvisational character). They also demonstrate a very high level of development in the instrumental technique.
In the same region of Valencia was born also Joaquín Rodrigo. Among the non-guitarist composers, he certainly was the most deeply fascinated by this early repertoire. Indeed, his first work for solo guitar, written in 1926, i.e. his Zarabanda lejana (Distant Sarabanda), was subtitled as a “Homenaje a la vihuela de Luis Milán”. This influence can be found perhaps to an even higher degree in his Tiento Antiguo of 1942, following immediately Milán’s Fantasía in this album. The tiento is in fact an early musical form similar to the Toccata, employed by sixteenth-century vihuelists. I meant here to create a sort of diptych. En los Trigales (“In the wheat fields”), written in 1938, is instead a piece in a simple ABA form. The first section has a dancing character, and the second an intensely descriptive quality.
A composer from Madrid, Federico Moreno Torroba approached the guitar around the year 1920, prompted by the Andalusian guitarist Andrés Segovia, who at the time was 27 years old. Segovia was beginning, at that time, to explore the interest of composers who could write new works dedicated to him. The Danza castellana would later become, in 1926, the third and last movement of the Suite castellana, with the mere title of “Danza”. It is the first fruit born from this prolific cooperation. Even though Segovia always stated that this piece had been written by Moreno Torroba in 1919, recent studies demonstrated beyond any doubt that its composition date has to be postponed to the first months of 1921, or, at the limit, to December 1920 (i.e. after de Falla’s Homenaje). From the interpretive viewpoint. The Suite Castellana accompanied Segovia throughout his long and phenomenal concert activity. However, curiously, we have no discographic witness of his interpretation of the Danza. The Nocturno is a piece with an Impressionist inspiration. Here, stupendous timbral intuitions are joined with a more clearly “French” harmonic taste. The Burgalesa has been recorded here in its original key, F# major, rather than in the adaptation made by Segovia (in E major); it is a song inspired by the Castilian city of Burgos.
In Burgos was born, in 1896, Regino Sainz de la Maza. He was a guitarist, composer, and, since 1935, the first professor of guitar at the “Real Conservatorio Superior de Música” of Madrid. He was a pupil of Daniel Fortea, who had been in turn a student of Tárrega. Starting in the 1920s, he began an extraordinary career as a concert musician. Its summit was reached in 1940 when he premiered the famous Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra by Joaquín Rodrigo. He was also the dedicatee of this work. The premiere took place on a Santos Hernandez guitar in maple wood, similar to the one I use in this recording, with gut strings. Alirio Díaz, who had been his student at the Madrid Conservatory in the 1950s, remembered him as a sublime composer and a genius guitarist. Most of his works were published at a later date with respect to their composition. This can be deduced from the programs of his recitals and from some recordings. The pieces can therefore be dated back to the time I am taking into account, between the Twenties and the Forties. I recorded here his selection of arrangements after Castilian songs, as well as three pieces with an exquisitely Andalusian inspiration. These are the Rondeña (published in a preceding version with the title of Andaluza), a Petenera, and his very effectful version for solo guitar of the folksong El Vito.
By way of conclusion, in the fashion of a concert’s encore, and in order to remain within the Andalusian context, I added a version of my own after the famous Flamenco Rondeña written by the father of the modern Flamenco guitar, i.e. Ramón Montoya. This piece had been immortalized in a historical recording of 1936 on a Santos Hernandez guitar with – of course – gut strings.
The recording was realised in Sermoneta, in the 11th-century Church of St. Michael Archangel. No digital reverb has been added, in order to reproduce, at its best, the sound of these wonderful instruments, built by the knowledgeable hands of these great luthiers.
Marco Del Greco
Translation: Chiara Bertoglio
Marco Del Greco
Vincitore del Concorso Chitarristico Internazionale di Tokyo, Marco Del Greco è uno dei più affermati chitarristi della sua generazione.
Nato a Roma nel 1982, ha ricevuto la sua formazione musicale nella classe di Carlo Carfagna al Conservatorio di Musica “S. Cecilia” di Roma, dove si è diplomato con lode e menzione d'onore.
Successivamente è stato ammesso nella prestigiosa Hochschule für Musik - Musik-Akademie der Stadt di Basilea, in Svizzera, dove ha conseguito con lode un Master biennale di alta specializzazione concertistica nella classe di Stephan Schmidt.
Ha vinto il primo premio nei concorsi internazionali “Alirio Díaz”, “Nicola Fago” di Taranto e “Città di Lodi”, il 2° premio al “Mauro Giuliani” di Bari e numerosi altri premi in concorsi nazionali e internazionali.
Nel 2010 ha vinto il 1° premio al “53rd Tokyo International Guitar Competition”, uno tra i più longevi e importanti concorsi chitarristici nel mondo, riconoscimento che lo ha lanciato nella carriera internazionale.
Ha suonato e tenuto masterclass in Giappone, Cina, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Russia, Italia, Francia, Spagna, Germania e Irlanda in importanti sale da concerto e istituzioni, tra le quali: Auditorio Nacional de Música di Madrid, Bunka-kaikan, Nikkei Hall e Yamaha Hall Ginza di Tokyo, Minato Mirai Hall di Yokohama, National Center for Performing Arts di Pechino, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Auditorium Conciliazione e Sala Casella di Roma, Teatro Vittoria di Torino, Drama Theater di Kaliningrad, Taipei National University of Arts, DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama di Dublino, Real Conservatorio Superior de Música di Madrid.
Nel marzo 2014 è uscito per l'etichetta NEOS il suo lavoro discografico dedicato alle opere per chitarra sola dei compositori giapponesi Toru Takemitsu e Toshio Hosokawa, registrazione che ha riscosso un grande interesse da parte di critici, riviste e radio in tutto il mondo, quali: RAI Radio3, NDR Kultur, Süddeutsche Zeitung, KulturRadio, ORF OE1, Gramophone, Il Fronimo, Seicorde (CD del mese), Gendai Guitar, Fono Forum, Classic Voice (CD del mese). Il disco è stato inoltre premiato con la Chitarra d'Oro 2015 al 20° Convegno Chitarristico Internazionale di Alessandria.
È professore di chitarra presso l'Istituto Superiore di Studi Musicali "Rinaldo Franci" di Siena.
Federico Moreno Torroba (b Madrid, 3 March 1891; d Madrid, 12 Sept 1982). Spanish composer, conductor and critic. He first studied music with his father, José Moreno Ballesteros, an organist and teacher at the Madrid Conservatory, and with whom he collaborated on his first zarzuela, Las decididas (1912). He later studied composition with Conrado del Campo at the Royal Conservatory, where his tone poem La ajorca de oro was first performed in 1918. In 1924 he married Pilar Larregla, the daughter of a Navarrese composer; the folk music of Navarra along with that of Castile was to serve as a major source of inspiration in his music. Although not a guitarist himself, in the 1920s his growing friendship with Segovia inspired him to begin writing for the guitar, and the resulting compositions such as Sonatina (1924) and Piezas características (1931) are among his finest works. He also established himself as a composer for the stage, and his zarzuela La mesonera de Tordesillas was first performed to critical acclaim in 1925, while his most famous zarzuela, Luisa Fernanda (1932), is a representative of the last flowering of the zarzuela grande. Between 1925 and 1935 he was active as a music critic for Madrid periodicals, especially Informaciones, and used this position and his brief term in the Second Republic's five-member Junta Nacional de Música to promote greater government support for music.
With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936, Moreno Torroba retreated to Navarra with his family, avoiding involvement in the conflict. With the ascendancy of Franco he became one of the dominant figures in Spanish music, along with Turina and Rodrigo. Rejecting the European avant garde, they embraced a conservative nationalist aesthetic that was accepted in the new political environment. In 1946 he formed a zarzuela company that toured the Americas for two seasons (he had directed productions of his zarzuelas in Buenos Aires annually since 1934). In the 1950s Moreno Torroba's satirical zarzuela Bienvenido, Mister Dolar (1954) reflected the growing political and military cooperation between the USA and Spain along with the influx of American capital and culture, while María Manuela (1957) became his most popular zarzuela of the decade.
His output diminished as the public appeal of the zarzuela waned in the 1960s and his own work became increasingly seen as dated. Consequently, he devoted more time to conducting and recording, returning several times to Latin America to conduct performances of his own works. He continued to compose for the guitar, however, writing the Concierto de Castilla (1960) for Segovia, Homenaje a la seguidilla (1962) and Diálogos entre guitarra y orquesta (1977), among the best of his concertos. The two books of Castillos de España (1970 and 1978) for solo guitar are among his most notable successes in that genre. Among his last works is his second opera El poeta, first performed in 1980 with Plácido Domingo.
Moreno Torroba was a major figure in Spanish music of the 20th century who flourished despite the political and social upheavals that surrounded him. His music has often been described as ‘castizo’, employing elements of folk and art music which are of distinctly Spanish ‘pure cast’. A nationalist, he believed that fidelity to Spain's heritage, rather than imitation of foreign models, would lead to the universality of Spanish music. His musical palette was not limited to strict folklorism, and he acknowledged a wider musical influence through the works of Debussy, Ravel, Franck, Wagner and, in later years, Bartók. His accessible, lyrical style maintains a strong sense of tonality through the use of conventional forms while judiciously employing extended triadic harmonies, modality, remote modulations and colourful orchestration. His zarzuelas also draw upon expressly regional motifs and references to traditional and contemporary urban culture.
Moreno Torroba held many prominent positions including Comisario del Teatro Zarzuela, director of the Compañía Lírica and, from 1974, president of the Sociedad General de Autores de España, through which he served as a cultural diplomat. He was elected as the director of the Academia de Bellas Artes de S Fernando in 1978, and died four years later at the age of 91.
Joaquin Rodrigo: (b Sagunto, 22 Nov 1901; d Madrid, 6 July 1999). Spanish composer. Blind from the age of three, he began his musical education at an early age and took lessons in composition with Francisco Antich in Valencia. In 1927 he moved to Paris as a pupil of Dukas at the Ecole Normale. After his marriage in Valencia in 1933 to the Turkish pianist Victoria Kamhi, he returned to Paris for further study at the Conservatoire and the Sorbonne. He lived and worked in France and Germany during the Spanish Civil War, and returned finally to Madrid in 1939. Soon after the première in 1940 of his first concerto, the Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar, he began to be recognized as one of the leading composers in Spain. Apart from writing a great deal of music during the following years, he was active as an academic and music critic, writing for several newspapers and publishing articles on a wide range of topics. He also worked in the music department of Radio Nacional and for the Spanish National Organization for the Blind (ONCE). In 1947 he was appointed to the Manuel de Falla Chair of Music at Complutense University, Madrid, created especially for him, and in 1950 he was elected to the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de S Fernando.
During these and subsequent years he made several tours throughout Spain, Europe, the Americas and Japan, teaching, giving piano recitals and lectures, and attending concerts and festivals of his own music. Amongst the most important of these were Argentina (1949), Turkey (1953 and 1972), Japan (1973), Mexico (1975) and London (1986). Distinctions awarded to Rodrigo included the Gran Cruz de Alfonso X el Sabio (1953), the Légion d’Honneur (1963), election as a member of the Académie Royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts of Belgium (1978) to the place left vacant on the death of Benjamin Britten, and honorary doctorates from the University of Salamanca (1964), the University of Southern California (1982), the Universidad Politécnica de Valencia (1988), and the Universities of Alicante, Madrid (both 1989) and Exeter (1990). A series of concerts and recitals to celebrate his 90th birthday took place throughout the world during 1991 and 1992. Two significant distinctions of Rodrigo’s old age were the conferment of the hereditary titles ‘Marqueses de los Jardines de Aranjuez’ on the composer and his wife Victoria by King Juan Carlos I in 1992, and the award of the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Artes in 1996.
During the second half of the 20th century Rodrigo came to occupy a position in Spanish musical life close to that of Manuel de Falla in the first. Like his mentor, he cultivated a style far removed from the major currents of European musical development and, as with Falla, his music needs to be judged in the context of Spain’s classical and traditional music, art and literature. His compositions number around 170, including 11 concertos, numerous orchestral and choral works, 60 songs, some two dozen pieces each for piano and guitar, and music for the ballet, theatre and cinema. His published writings (1999) also demonstrate a remarkable breadth of knowledge of music and the arts. Rodrigo’s music attracted favourable attention from both critics and performers from the start of his career, first in Valencia and Paris and subsequently worldwide. His first two guitar concertos, Concierto de Aranjuez and Fantasía para un gentilhombre, also achieved remarkable popularity. From the late 1970s onwards, however, appreciation of his music began to broaden. Wider knowledge of his music demonstrated that the charge that Rodrigo merely repeated the formula of his first concerto in later ones could no longer be substantiated, and recordings showed the quality of such works as the symphonic poem Ausencias de Dulcinea (1948), the Scarlatti-inspired piano suite Cinco sonatas de Castilla (1950–51), the Invocación y danza for solo guitar, written in homage to Falla (1961), the austere Himnos de los neófitos de Qumrán (1965), the brilliant Concierto madrigal for two guitars (1966), based on a Renaissance love-song, or the serenely beautiful Cántico de San Francisco de Asís (1982). Happily the composer’s 90th birthday was also the occasion for thoughtful and appreciative critical re-evaluations of Rodrigo’s music.
Rodrigo’s music was fundamentally conservative, ‘neocasticista’, or ‘faithful to a tradition’, to use the composer’s own words. His first works revealed the influence of composers such as Granados, Ravel and Stravinsky, but his individual musical voice was soon heard in the songs, piano works and orchestral pieces composed during the 1920s and 30s. As he matured, his wide knowledge of and sympathy with the music and culture of earlier times bore fruit. His forms were traditional, but appropriate for his purposes, and his musical language, drawn from both Classical and nationalist sources, underpinned a melodic gift of remarkable eloquence. He made many of the finest settings of classical Spanish poetry, his guitar pieces are in the central repertory, and his concertos are the most significant such works composed in Spain.
Ramón Montoya (Salazar),
(b nr Toledo, 2 Nov 1880; d 1949). Spanish flamenco guitarist of Gypsy origin. He launched his career at the turn of the century playing in Madrid cafés, and went on to make his name as accompanist to the renowned famous cantaor Antonio Chacón from 1912 to 1926. Llobet Soles, who was known to Montoya, may have inspired him to adapt traditional flamenco songs such as soleares, siguiriyas and bulerías for solo guitar. Today these songs are standard repertory for the flamenco tocaor. Montoya gave a landmark recital to a packed Salle Pleyel, Paris, in 1936, and also made some important recordings there collected in Harmonia Mundi’s ‘Grandes figures du flamenco’ series (1988).