Tú eres alma que dice su armonía
solitaria a las almas pasajeras..”
The figure of Vicente Asencio is somewhat atypical within the field of twentieth-century music. His originality is due, among other aspects, to his importance as a composer for the guitar, in a standing which is not frequently achieved by non-guitarists. If Asencio lacked professional firsthand experience on the guitar, he certainly knew all of its secrets, and even – we may say – contributed to the creation of some new “secrets”. This was due to his close interaction with Narciso Yepes, who studied under his guidance in order to find new answers to musical and (consequently) instrumental problems. Challenged by Asencio’s artistic provocations, legendary guitarist Yepes was stimulated to craft new techniques and solutions on his instrument.
Another idiosyncratic trait of Asencio’s personality is that he achieved international fame by remaining proudly rooted within a relatively provincial milieu. He was deeply attached to the city of Valencia, and aimed at finding a musical voice bespeaking the city’s soul. Founding the Grupo de los Jóvenes in 1934, he wrote in their manifesto: “We aim to achieve a form of Valencian music that is vigorous and rich, to promote a Valencian school that is fruitful and varied, that incorporates in universal music the psychological traits and emotions of our people and our landscape; an art and a school that find expression in all genres, in symphonies, operas and ballet”.
Finally, another characteristic feature of Asencio’s music is its refusal of the most advanced traits of the avantgardes – and, paradoxically enough, here his modernity is precisely to be found. As he wrote once, “I am a modern musician, although I am not interested in all the current trends. I am a tonal musician; I believe that the atonal movement of today, which is relatively new in Spain and already old in Europe, is interesting as a movement intent on renewal; yet I also believe that its aesthetics do not really suit us Mediterraneans, with our temperament, because dodecaphony is a particularly cerebral movement, whereas we are essentially intuitive”.
This Da Vinci Classics album includes his complete works for the guitar, which are presented in the following lines by the performing artist himself.
Vicente Asencio’s guitar output can basically be divided into two types of works:
1-Original works written specifically for this instrument;
2-Arrangements and transcriptions after works conceived also for piano and for orchestra.
The first group includes Canço d’hivern, Suite Valenciana, Suite Mística, as well as La Joia and La Frisança from Collectici íntim, written for four guitarists – i.e., respectively, Rafaél Balaguer, Angelo Gilardino, Andrés Segovia and Narciso Yepes.
The second type comprises Suite de Homenajes, Dansa Valenciana, as well as La Serenor, La Calma and La Gaubança from Collectici íntim.
It is on this last group that my activity of research focused, comparing the different versions of a same work in order to deepen our knowledge of the text and to find an interpretive key to the original musical thought shared by the various elaborations realized by the Composer.
Suite de Homenajes
Asencio wrote his Elegía (Homage to Manuel de Falla) for the piano in 1946, the year when the Andalusian Maestro passed away. Asencio had been a great appreciator of De Falla who had inspired his musical poetics.
In the same year he realized two further versions of his work, for orchestra and for guitar respectively. The latter was later included in his Suite de Homenajes together with Sonatina (Homage to Domenico Scarlatti) and to the Tango de la casada infiel (Homage to Federico García Lorca), written and added to the homages in 1950. This suite originally comprised also another work, called Rondel and later lost; it opened the collection and was dedicated to Padre Antonio Soler (1729-1783). In its orchestral version, the Elegía constitutes the central section of a ballet, Llanto a Manuel De Falla, staged in 1953. For its atmosphere and style, it evokes El Círculo mágico – Romance del Pescador from El amor brujo by De Falla. Musical elements shared by and found in both compositions are the descending octave acciaccatura and the melodic construction by conjunct motion – a typical melisma of the cante jondo.
In the published guitar version of the Elegía, the descending octave acciaccatura on a low E is found only at the piece’s ending, whilst in the orchestral and piano version it is a recurring element throughout the piece. Therefore, I thought it fundamental to reintegrate it, thus conferring to the entire piece greater communicative clarity through the uniformity of the text’s structural elements.
Similarly, in the Sonatina, suffused by a touching Spanish lyricism and paying homage to Baroque harpsichord music and to Domenico Scarlatti, I reintegrated mordents and embellishments (a mordent at b. 3 was applied also to a triplet at b. 2, an arpeggio at b. 22 was applied to b. 20 too, and an arpeggio at b. 29 to b. 27), missing notes (a high E at b. 21) and harmonies (in the section between b. 33 and 37 I chose the harmonization and voice-leading of the piano version), and I also corrected some evident misprints (at b. 12 and 14 the E should be an E#, and at b. 12 an A was replaced by C#). Enlightened by this research, the text now appears, similar to the piano version, as having a greater uniformity and stylistic/formal consistency. Consequently, it is also closer to harpsichord writing, to which it is inspired.
The Tango de la casada infiel, a homage to Federico García Lorca, was written for the piano and orchestrated to become part of a ballet. Upon a request by famous cellist and composer Gaspar Cassadó, Asencio also wrote a version for cello and piano. This piece resembles a musical transposition of the soul’s affections and of the lyricism evoked by the Andalusian poet in the eponymous poem.
Comparisons among the various versions realized by the Composer led us to revise the guitar text, adding missing agogic indications and reintegrating dynamics, articulations and embellishments which are found in all other versions of the piece, whenever this was deemed compatible with the instrument’s idiomatic possibilities.
Dansa Valenciana – Collectici íntim
In 1970 Vicente Asencio dedicated to Narciso Yepes his extremely difficult work Collectici íntim. Yepes had been his pupil but was also a leading figure in the guitar panorama. He substantially contributed to Asencio’s international fame as a composer of guitar works. Collectici íntim is made of two original movements, La Joia and La Frisança, as well as of three further transcriptions after some of his Danses valencianes for the piano.
These seven Danses valencianes, which are Asencio’s most representative work, were written between 1960 and 1964. The composer made use of this musical material for realizing, at a later date, two further collections. One, for orchestra, was called Quatre danses i una albada, and it comprised the first, second, third (Albada) and seventh dance; the other, for guitar, was the Collectici íntim. Of the seven Danses, Asencio included the third (La Serenor), the fourth (La Gaubança) and the fifth, Albada (La Calma) in the guitar version, switching their order.
In this case I thought it necessary to reintegrate just a few details found in the first piano version and in that for orchestra. The most significant cases are two:
- B. 13 was reintegrated in La Serenor; it was found both in the Dansa valenciana no. 3 in the piano version and in the Dansa no. 4 of the orchestra collection, but it was missing in Collectici;
- At b. 37-38 of La Gaubança a counterpoint found in the piano version had been omitted and was reinstated here.
In the Dansa Valenciana, a guitar transcription after Dansa valenciana no. 1, the following were reinstated: the melodic writing at b. 36 as it appears in the other versions; the counterpoint at b. 45-46 and mirrorlike at b. 53-54; the guitar realization at b. 97-98, closer to the orchestral idea given by the Composer.
Generally, in the revision of both Collectici íntim and Dansa valenciana I respected the articulations and the agogic/dynamic indications found in both the piano and the orchestral version, keeping in mind the orchestration with the purpose of finding a timbral phrasing closer to the sound worlds and to the colours elaborated by the Valencian Maestro.
A few more words need to be written on the two Suites. The Suite Mística’s composition was by stages. In 1971, Asencio was requested by the Spanish National Radio to compose a guitar piece about Holy Week. Asencio wrote Dipsô; this dialectal word alludes to Christ’s Passion, and the result is a recitative-like piece of great intensity.
Some years later, in 1977, Andrés Segovia was so touched by this piece that he asked Asencio to complement it with two more movements on the same subject. The triptych was called at first Evangeliques, but later Segovia recorded it as Suite Mística: the conclusion, on the joyful fierceness of the Pentecost fire of the Holy Spirit, is a moment of pure exhilaration after the darkness of Gethsemane and of the Passion.
The other suite, dedicated to Italian guitarist Angelo Gilardino, is the perfect rendition of the musical and artistic ideals expounded in the manifesto of the Grupo de los Jóvenes. Whilst Asencio avoids literal citations after folkloric tunes and melodies, the spirit of Valencian music suffuses the entire work, and brings to light its idiomatic traits.
“...it is right to praise Rugolo and Gillo for their excellent interpretation, in phrasing, dynamics, colour, and skill, they leave nothing to be desired at all. If you could ever do better (and I don’t think so), it wouldn’t help”.
SUONARE NEWS – Angelo Gilardino
“The virtuoso figure is definitely spectacular and it is difficult not to be impressed by such a display of speed, imagination, cleanliness, and elasticity of phrasing, but always with depth, elegance, and expressiveness in the speech. Chapeau!”
AMADEUS – Marco Riboni
Born in Taranto, he began his musical training with Vincenzo Zecca and continued with Frédéric Zigante achieving his guitar diploma with honours at the "G. Tartini" Conservatory of Trieste. He deepened his study by obtaining a second-level academic degree cum laude at the "A. Vivaldi" Conservatory of Alessandria.
He continued to hone his craft by working, among the others, with Alirio Diaz, Oscar Ghiglia, Lorenzo Micheli and has been involved in numerous national and international competitions of musical performance.
The keen interest in chamber music led him to perform in stable formations, in particular in a duo and a guitar quartet: with the Quartetto Santórsola he recorded a CD, in 2009, in the series "The Masters of the Guitar" for the magazine "Seicorde", remastered and re-released in 2019 for the Dutch label Brilliant Classics. For the same label he published in 2021, in duo with the guitarist Antonio Rugolo, a monographic work in 5 CDs on the complete music for two guitars by Antoine de Lhoyer, work that gained him recognition from audience and critics, obtaining the Gold Record on the prestigious magazine “Amadeus”.
His attention to historically informed performance practice led him to deepen his classical and romantic repertoire and baroque style - inspired by his work with Massimo Lonardi - using copies of period instruments: he plays a classical guitar by the luthier Roberto De Miranda, a romantic guitar by Luigi Locatto (a copy of a 1820 Panormo) and a baroque guitar (a copy of a 1679 Stradivari) by Stephen Murphy.
At the same time, he deepens his teaching skills by obtaining the second-level academic diploma in instrumental teaching at the IMP "G. Paisiello" in Taranto. He is a guitar teacher at the Liceo Classico e Musicale “G. Palmieri" in Lecce.
Vicente Asencio was born in Valencia in 1908. He studied piano with Frank Marshall in Barcelona and later moved to Paris where Turina and Halffter became his mentors.
As a renowned teacher, he later founded the Castéllon de la Plana Conservatoire and for many years also was a professor of harmony and composition at the Conservatorio Superior de Música in Valencia.