Debussy’s “Iberism” was made to glide, in the fashion of a synecdoche, towards a clear and declared “Guitarism”. However, the Frenchman’s explicit citations of and allusions to the guitar would suffice to support such theses. If Segovia’s most cherished vision saw the guitar as a “miniature orchestra”, Debussy overturned it. In some cases, he treated the orchestra itself as a “great guitar”. In Matin d’un jour de fête, from Ibéria, he makes his request of imitation explicit, through the indication of “quasi chitarra” asking the violinists to hold the instrument under their arms. The same premise applies to the articulation and interpretation of the piano prelude La sérénade interrompue.
Debussy must have certainly had a clear idea of the guitar’s expressive and timbral possibilities. In Paris, he had had the possibility of listening to the Andalusian guitarists who accompanied the cante jondo, and also to befriend the great Catalan guitarist Miguel Llobet, of whom he said he was “his first admirer and great friend”. His enthusiastic definition of the guitar as a “humanised harpsichord” is the direct consequence of a recital by Llobet himself. However, Llobet has frequently been criticised for his short-sightedness, since he did not nourish the French composer’s curiosity for the six-stringed instrument. The then-emerging, and more resourceful Andrès Segovia would have certainly shown a different attitude. Already in 1913, during a recital at the Madrid Atheneum, he inserted a transcription of his own after Debussy’s Arabesque no. 2 – an elaboration which, alas, was then lost. However, in 1920 there will be a fundamental contribution by Manuel De Falla with his Homenaje. Two years after the untimely death of his French friend and colleague, he would draw from Debussy’s writing, and mainly from Soirée dans Grenade, the compositional elements which are closest to the guitar and to the cante jondo. He would resume them in a dirge, permeated with pride and sobriety at the same time. By celebrating the union which, until then, had only been imagined, he would polarize the composers’ attention, and that of classical music in general, on the guitar. He claimed for this instrument a worthiness for a modern and developed language, capable also to welcome the Frenchman’s innovations. It is not by chance that, in the subsequent seven years, other compositions would be created. Starting from similar presuppositions, they would reach results very different from each other.
The first guitar work by composer, poet and painter George Migot (Paris, February 27th, 1891; Levallois-Perret, January 5th, 1976) dates from 1924. It is dedicated to Segovia, “qui en fut une seule fois l’interprète”, as is written on the manuscript’s first page. Pour un hommage à Claude Debussy is proposed here in a personal adaptation by myself. It derives from the original (which is rather tortured by deletions, afterthoughts, and alternatives) some timbral and harmonic solutions, and some instrumental effects which certainly had not been met with favour by the nature and aesthetic taste of the guitarist from Linares. The three movements composing it are characterized by juxtapositions of “gestures” rather than by quotations from the Frenchman’s music. Over their development, repetition is favoured: either identical, or in different registers.
Temporal suspensions provided by an abundant use of rests and fermatas contribute to the rarefaction of the evocation of Debussy; it slowly fades into an aethereal Postlude.
Due to their evident aesthetical and linguistic proximity, the English composer Cyril Scott (September 27th, 1879 – December 31st, 1970) was known to Debussy himself. Besides being an expert in occultism, he was, like Migot, also a painter, writer, and poet. His Sonatina for guitar (1927) did not meet with the enthusiasm of its dedicatee, Segovia, who performed just the first of its three movements and later let it fall into oblivion. The dreamy atmosphere of the first movement – which, not by chance, was called Rêverie by the Spaniard – reintroduces the use of open strings. They produce the superimposition of fourths which had been already cherished by the French composer and by De Falla in his Homenaje. His request for the production of harmonics (not always realizable) is punctuated by harmonizations of the six-tone scale in different keys, by short and sinuous melodies making abundant use of chromaticism; and this is even more evident in the ironic and lively second movement. The third recalls the Andalusia evoked by De Falla, in its thick chordal rhythmic sections, broken by arpeggiated ninth-chords, closer to the Hommage à Rameau.
Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Douze Etudes of 1928 were not conceived as an explicit homage to the French composer. Still, they recall, already in the work’s structure and in their technical-didactic purpose, the precedents by Debussy. The influence of Debussy in the education of post-Imperial Brazil musicians is known. It is evident in the writing style of young Villa Lobos, who, once come to Paris, attempted to be ranked among the rising composers, gaining for himself the name – not always a welcome one – of the Brazilian Debussy. His piano collection A prole do bebê, notwithstanding its refreshing originality, is ripe with citations and elements which can be led back to the Frenchman’s Préludes. The same can be said of the Impressionistic sound of his Sextuor mystique (1917), where the guitar is also employed. Still, a delicate and scantily discussed subject regards the presence of Debussyan elements in his guitar etudes, whose only highlighted element is frequently their allusion to the primeval Amazonian sounds. The Fourth Etude, des accords répétés (Bonustrack), is here performed. Here Villa Lobos has the great merit of having been the first to translate, into the guitar’s “miniature orchestra”, the effects of tremolo and “pulsating melody” which are typical for so-called Impressionist orchestration (as in La Mer and some sections of Nocturnes). The Fifth Etude begins with a technique already employed in Moreninha, i.e. a wavering ostinato of free or arpeggiated thirds on the six-tone scale, recalling the structure and sound of Debussy’s Prelude Cloches à travers les feuilles. The acciaccaturas of the mythical songs of Debussy’s Syrènes, once recontextualised, are transfigured here into a magical flute-like sounds of deep Amazonas.
The Suite compostelana by Federico Mompou (Barcelona, April 16th, 1893 – Barcelona, June 30th, 1987) is certainly a mature work by the Catalan composer. Already in his youth he felt the powerful influence of the French musical Impressionism. His language is made of miniatures, of brief and synthetic melodies, together with a knowledgeable use of guitar polyphony. This language can evoke images as few others: the pictorial impression of the light rain surrounding Santiago de Compostela (Preludio), the allusion to ancient sounds bound to the holiness of the place (Coral), the simplicity and expressive power of folk melody (Cuna, Canción), the dark, fantastic, dramatic and resigned climate of post-War Europe (Recitativo), and the popular festiveness of the gaitas gallegas (Muñeira).
The placid Nocturno- Homenaje a Claudio Debussy is inspired by the more popular Debussy, the one of Clair de Lune and Rêverie. It was written by Argentinian composer and pedagogue Ángel E. Lasala (Buenos Aires, May 9th, 19141 – Buenos Aires, May 1st, 2000), who dedicated several solo, and more importantly, chamber music works to the six-stringed instrument. The suggestions blossoming from the imaginary juxtaposition between Debussy and the guitar did not fade with time. Rather, probably, in the recent, widespread quest for the guitar’s original sound (a more intimate and expressive one, going hand in hand with the recovery of period luthiery), these suggestions seem to take new vigour, especially in the works by German guitarist and musicologist Tilman Hoppstock (1961-). Under the penname of Allan Willocks, employed along with his own name, he dedicates part of his compositional works for the guitar to the French and English Impressionist style (12 Studies, 12 Miniature Preludes, 12 Impressionistic Sketches). In the Variations on a Theme of Debussy recorded here, throughout the ten variations, he abundantly probes (in the timbral, harmonic, and technical sense) one of the most mysterious and atemporal among the Frenchman’s themes, i.e. Des pas sur la neige.
It is to be said that Debussy’s original sonorities, so desired by the world of guitar (with the exception of the early, above-mentioned unicum by Segovia in 1913) would be late in arriving, under the form of transcriptions, within the guitar repertoire. We will have to wait for great guitarist Mario Parodi, born in Istanbul from Italian parents in 1917, and who then moved to Argentina where he lived and worked up to his death in 1970. He was doubtlessly obscured by Segovia’s star, but he certainly was an excellent self-taught guitarist, and most importantly, a very skilled transcriber (he was perhaps the first to propose D. Scarlatti’s works on the guitar). His elaborations of the most important works in the classical repertoire, mainly for the piano, mirror, with another impetus and with great clarity in the musical ideas, Tarrega’s adaptations, by now abandoned in favour of an original repertoire. Their commercial and qualitative potential, however, was soon resumed by the Ricordi Americana, which successfully inserted them within their catalogue around the mid-twentieth century.
His best-known Debussy transcriptions, recorded here, demonstrate how free he was from academic preconceptions and conditionings, both as concerns the choice of repertoire and the original, not always simple, technical solutions he adopted.
Side by side with them is one of the two Debussy Preludes transcribed and issued by the other great representative of post-1950 guitar, i.e. Julian Bream (Battersea, July 15th, 1933 – Donhead St. Andrew, August 14th, 2020). His elaborations, and in particular the one proposed here, stand out for their technical fluidity and their amplification of expressive possibilities through an extremized use of guitar colours.
Finally, I propose my own elaboration of the Hommage à Rameau. It is a piece with great depth and compositional maturity. Not by chance, it was chosen by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli as a very rare encore in order to pay homage to his friend, conductor Sergiu Celibidache. The version for the guitar – perhaps the first to have been created, until now – does not lose anything in terms by expressive intensity. Moreover it reveals, in my humble opinion, what had already been absorbed, of Debussy’s vocabulary, in the guitar repertoire, during the past century.
Trieste, June 24th, 2022
Valerio Celentano: Graduated in classical guitar with maximum vote cum laude at Conservatory of Music “G. Martucci” in Salerno under the guidance of Antonio Grande, he has participated in several Master classes with famous guitarists as Alirio Diaz, Pavel Steidl, David Russel, Jyrki Myllarinen, Mario Gangi, Carlo Marchione, Oscar Ghiglia at the Chigiana Academy in Siena and Athens and with Frédéric Zigante at Corelli Music Academy in Castellaneta. He has won many music competitions (1° prize: Mondovì, 2° prize: Premio delle Arti, Gargnano; “A. Diaz Rome”; 3° prize: “E. Pujol” Sassari, Sanremo I.G.C.) He has a bachelor degree in Modern Literature from the Salerno University with a thesis in Musical Aesthetics entitled "The 17th Century in Naples Through the Spanish Guitar Trend". He obtained a Master’s degree in Ancient Music at the Conservatory of Naples under the guide of Franco Pavan and Toni Florio and continued his baroque guitar and theorbo studies with Massimo Lonardi. Celentano has collaborated with many baroque music ensembles (ScarlattiLab, Effimere Corde) and famous artist such as Renata Fusco, Massimo Lonardi and Pino de Vittorio. Among the chamber music field he expands the guitar repertoire by adapting various works that range from erudite folk songs through Lieder (ICASduo) to instrumental music (Chi Asso duo- a guitar and double-bass project). In 2018 he was invited by Luigi Picardi at the Radio Vaticana show L’Arpeggio for the release of his first CD with Chi Asso duo: “Sul Sur- a South American Anthology” (dotGuitar.it).
He is devoted to teaching and holds an annual specialization course for guitarists in Baronissi and is a classical guitar professor at the 1st degree secondary schools in Trieste.
Claude Debussy: (b St Germain-en-Laye, 22 Aug 1862; d Paris, 25 March 1918). French composer. One of the most important musicians of his time, his harmonic innovations had a profound influence on generations of composers. He made a decisive move away from Wagnerism in his only complete opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and in his works for piano and for orchestra he created new genres and revealed a range of timbre and colour which indicated a highly original musical aesthetic.
Cyril Scott: (b Oxton, Cheshire, 27 Sept 1879; d Eastbourne, 31 Dec 1970). English composer, writer and pianist. He showed early musical talent and at the age of 12 was sent to the Hoch Conservatory, Frankfurt, to study under Lazzaro Uzielli and Humperdinck. He returned to England 18 months later and continued his studies under Steudner-Welsing in Liverpool. A second period of study at Frankfurt began in 1895, this time under Iwan Knorr. Fellow composition students included Grainger, Norman O’Neill, Roger Quilter and Balfour Gardiner, who, together with Scott, were soon to be referred to as the ‘Frankfurt Group’. It was during this period that he formed a close friendship with the poet Stefan George, whose work he later translated.
Scott left Frankfurt in 1898, returning to Liverpool and teaching. In 1900 his Heroic Suite was performed in Manchester and Liverpool by Richter, and his First Symphony in Darmstadt under Willem de Haan. Although well received at the time, both works, together with much of the chamber music he had written during this period, were later withdrawn. Scott’s London début came in 1901 with a performance of the Piano Quartet in E minor. His Second Symphony (later reworked as Three Symphonic Dances) was conducted by Wood at a Promenade Concert in 1903. He signed a contract with Elkin for songs and piano pieces, and in 1909 a similar agreement was made with Schott for large-scale works. Many of the original manuscripts of works published in Germany were destroyed during World War II. The long series of Impressionist piano pieces and songs that followed the Elkin agreement, together with frequent recitals and his own strikingly romantic appearance, established his reputation as a ‘modernist’ composer. His most outstanding achievement in the pre-war period was the Piano Concerto which Beecham introduced at the British Music Festival of 1915.
In 1921 Scott married the novelist Rose Allatini. By this time he had begun to take a serious interest in Indian philosophy, which led to his becoming a Vedantist and finally a follower of the Higher Occultism. He also became absorbed in the study of naturopathy, osteopathy and homeopathy. He was to write successfully and frequently on all these topics, his work being translated into many languages. His literary output included several volumes of poetry (much influenced by Swinburne and Dowson), a large number of unpublished plays, and an entertaining autobiography, My Years of Indiscretion (1924).
Between the wars Scott’s music was much performed on the Continent, and a highpoint in his career came with the production of his one-act opera The Alchemist at Essen in 1925 under Felix Wolfe. In England, large-scale works for chorus and orchestra were heard at the 1936 Norwich Festival (Let us Now Praise Famous Men) and the 1937 Leeds Festival (La belle dame sans merci). But by now his music had begun to lose something of its appeal as a novelty. The rich harmonies, languorous melodic lines and rhapsodic diffuseness of form that had once seemed daring and very un-English, came to be regarded simply as part of a period tendency which had seen its most successful expression in the music variously of Debussy and Skryabin. Though still in demand as an interpreter of his own music (he made recital tours all over the world), his reputation as a significant composer went into partial decline.
By 1944 Scott had decided to abandon composition, but according to his own account (1969), a ‘significant occult sign’ led him to continue. The fruits of this renewed activity included the opera Maureen O’Mara (1946), an oratorio Hymn of Unity (1947), and a considerable quantity of orchestral and chamber music.
In 1962 a group of friends and admirers formed the Cyril Scott Society with the object of arousing interest in his work, but their efforts did not lead to any large-scale revival. A performance of a piano concerto in 1969, however, revealed a work that for all its rhapsodic opulence was stronger than had been suspected, and the Hourglass Suite made a similarly favourable impression in 1971. These performances and a 1993 recording of five major orchestral works suggest that a thorough-going examination of his life’s work is long overdue. In the meantime his reputation is kept alive in England by a handful of songs and piano pieces, though abroad his chamber music still commands respect. The importance of his achievement was acknowledged, during his lifetime, by the International Academy (MusD, FIA 1956), the American Conservatory in Chicago (DMus 1959) and the RAM (1969).
(b Paris, 27 Feb 1891; d Levallois, nr Paris, 5 Jan 1976). French composer. His father was a pastor and doctor, and Migot’s concern for spiritual and humane values was instilled from his earliest years. In 1909 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, studying composition with Widor, orchestration with d’Indy and music history with Emmanuel. Badly wounded at the outset of World War I, he resumed his studies after a long convalescence; he won three successive composition prizes (1918–20). In 1921 he won the Blumenthal Foundation Prize for French thought and art for a body of work that was already considerable and showed great originality. At the same time he was producing remarkable paintings (exhibitions of his work were held at the Georges Petit Gallery in 1917 and at the Marcel Bernheim Gallery in 1919); he also published a collection entitled Essais pour une esthétique générale (1920). The years 1920–39 were ones of constant struggle – in music, writings and discussion – against the neo-classical aesthetic which was dominating music in Paris. Always an independent, Migot took nothing from this or any other fashionable movement; instead he continued to pursue his own ideas, steadily adding to his monumental oeuvre. From 1949 to 1961 he was keeper of the Museum of Instruments at the Conservatoire. He was an Officer of the Légion d’Honneur.
His earliest works show a movement from harmonic writing to the linear style of such pieces as the Trio (1918–19) for violin, viola and piano. What distinguishes him from his contemporaries – Hindemith or Les Six, for example – is the uncompromisingly polyphonic manner which he progressively evolved. In his mature works, such as Requiem a cappella (1953), he achieved a line which is completely free from rigid metrical restriction and avoids any suggestion of definite tonality or modality. This melodic style is one of the most characteristic features of Migot’s music. His use of timbre is also highly individual, whether in the unusual combinations of his chamber music (e.g. the Quatuor for flute, violin, clarinet and harp and the Deux stèles for solo voice, harp, celesta, tam-tam, cymbal and double bass), the subtlety of his orchestral scoring (most notable in the three concertante suites, 1924–6) or the adventurous sonorities of his piano works (e.g. Le zodiaque).
The flowing quality of Migot’s music sets it in the tradition of Couperin, Rameau and Debussy. However, the visionary imagination displayed in such works as Le sermon sur la montagne, La passion and Saint Germain d’Auxerre is essentially original. Migot is set apart from other French composers of his generation by his impressive output of vocal works, which includes a large number of mélodies and over 70 choral works. The latter include six oratorios on the life of Christ, as well as other religious works (Le petit évangéliaire, De Christo etc.), some of which use his own texts based on the Gospels. His independent poetry, of which he published two volumes (1950–51), is concerned principally with spiritual themes. He insisted on a close spiritual link between text and music, scorning simplistic word-painting, but even in his secular and instrumental works the loftiness of thought is unmistakable.
Heitor Villa-Lobos (b Rio de Janeiro, 5 March 1887; d Rio de Janeiro, 17 Nov 1959). Brazilian composer. Heitor Villa-Lobos stands as the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music. This significance stems not only from his international recognition, but from his achievement in creating unique compositional styles in which contemporary European techniques and reinterpreted elements of national music are combined. His highly successful career stood as a model for subsequent generations of Brazilian composers.
Falla Manuel De: (b Cádiz, 23 Nov 1876; d Alta Gracia, Argentina, 14 Nov 1946). Spanish composer. The central figure of 20th-century Spanish music, he addressed over the course of his career many of the salient concerns of modernist aesthetics (nationalism, neo-classicism, the role of tonality, parody and allusion) from a unique perspective. Like many Spaniards, he was attracted to French culture. His predilection for the French music of his time, especially that of Debussy, caused him to be misunderstood in his own country, where conservative-minded critics attacked his music for its over-susceptibility to foreign influences. Reaction to Falla’s music by his compatriots often mirrored the convulsive political changes the country underwent before and during the Spanish Civil War (1936–9), a period of intense cultural activity whose musical manifestations nonetheless remain relatively unexplored.