A fantasia is not so much a genre as it is a descriptive title. Pieces in various styles and for various instruments were known as fantasias throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. This term generally referred to pieces written in an improvisatory style in which the imagination, or “fantasy,” of the composer was able to explore an original musical idea free from the requirements of textual expression. Accurate portrayal of a text was seen as paramount in the Renaissance; even in instrumental works based on vocal music composers were expected to remain faithful to the text. Because of their improvisational nature, fantasias were often quite virtuosic and could be used to showcase the performer as well as the composer. The fantasia of English composer and lutenist Robert Johnson (c. 1583-1633) is far more than simple bombast however. Rather, this work is a careful and moving polyphonic exploration of a small set of motives in a dark and somber D minor mood. The initial melodic idea (stated alone as in a fugue) is imitated, inverted, combined with other ideas, and otherwise developed as the piece explores almost the entire range of the instrument. Originally written for lute, this version was transcribed by local guitarist Mario Abril in 2006. Because Renaissance lutes possess more strings (or “courses”) than guitars (usually nine or ten), it is necessary to retune the low string of the guitar a whole step lower in order to reach the lowest notes. This piece was likely written sometime between 1600-1615 while Johnson was in the service of King James I, a post his father, John Johnson, also held. The early 17th century is often considered the golden age of English lute music. After the death of Johnson and his contemporary John Dowland, much of this great music was eventually forgotten. It was not until the mid 20th century that this treasure trove of music was rediscovered by performers like Julian Bream.
Jonathan Bartholomew (b. 1991) wrote Hanswurst specifically for this recital upon commission of the performer. The piece draws its title from the German folklore character of the same name. To be called Hanswurst is not exactly flattering as this character is often depicted as a conniving trickster, albeit, not a very bright one. This lighthearted character is portrayed in the music through unprepared modulations, comical dissonances, extended techniques, and abrupt changes of rhythm and meter. The piece requires the performer to do everything from stomping on the floor, to tapping the body of the guitar. Much like Hanswurst himself however, the burlesque surface of this piece hides clever detail and intricacy. The piece as a whole is able to maintain a tonal center of G even with extensive chromaticism and a strong dichotomy between keys related by the interval of a third. Though the piece may at first seem unstructured and even random, it is in fact in a clear ternary (three-part) form with substantial unity between the sections. Each of these sections remains quite regular and symmetrical in its phrase structure despite the frequent interjections of unrelated melodic ideas and meter changes. This balance and structure is not easily perceived upon first hearing, however, and the listener is left reeling with little to grasp on to. Just as the music seems to be coming to a convincing close, the piece ends with one final, very unexpected, prank.
The Italian cellist, guitarist, and composer Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) wrote the Sonata Op. 18 for guitar in 1808. Though Italian by birth, he spent a significant portion of his career in Vienna during the height of Viennese classicism. During this time, he was considered one of the greatest living guitarists and is known to have played a concert where Beethoven was in attendance. He is also known to have played in the cello section at the premier of Beethoven’s 7th symphony. This sonata is one of the rare examples of this genre for the guitar and follows very closely the classical style, in both form and content. The first movement is a very standard sonata-allegro movement with a clear exposition, development, and recapitulation, and the finale is in the traditional rondo form. The second movement, played here, is a very lyrical adagio in ternary form, in the dominant key of G major. The first section consists of two smaller parts: the first of these is a homophonic, eight bar melody with occasional outbursts of virtuosity. This melody is then repeated an octave higher with an alternate ending that leads smoothly to the second of these smaller parts. In this passage, a twisting, chromatic melody (using all twelve chromatic pitches!) is supported by a simple progression of I-V in two bar phrases of repeated 16th notes. After a short transition, the second section begins in D major (the dominant of the movement). Featuring much more active triplet and dotted rhythmic figures and a sudden burst of virtuosity in a two-and-a-half-octave run, this section serves as the climax of the movement. After returning back down to earth over a pulsing D pedal, the opening material now returns in an almost exact repetition. A coda, utilizing striking dissonances couched in a familiar I-IV-V harmonic pattern, follows, and brings the movement to a peaceful close.
Short and Suite is a suite for guitar in A minor, written as a part of a self-study in an attempt to document the compositional process. This piece was written over the course of three and a half weeks in the summer of 2016 during which time a journal was kept to record the thought processes of the composer and the development of the work. Much has been learned about the compositional process and creativity in general as a result of this work, but perhaps the most important conclusion is the importance of boundaries and limitations to the creative process. While freedom would at first seem vital to the compositional process, too much of it can actually cripple the composer and halt all progress. This is especially true at the early stages of creation. For further detail on the findings of this study, see the forthcoming paper “Ex Nihilo: An Inquiry into the Nature of Musical Creation” to be presented at Campus Research Day on December 1, 2016. The suite, in six movements, is modeled after the dance suites of the Baroque era both in form and harmonic language. The short prelude is set apart from the rest of the suite in that it possesses a free, improvisational form featuring extensive chromaticism. Each of the remaining movements is in binary (two-part) form in which each section is repeated once. The majority of the movements feature a modulation to the relative major (C) and often return to a portion of the opening material in the final section. This creates a variant of binary form known as rounded binary form. Though each of the movements presents a different character and tempo, unity is retained through the use of common motives and harmonic movement.
El Polifemo de Oro is a set of four sketches for guitar written by the 20th century English composer Reginald Smith Brindle (1917-2003). This work was originally written in 1956 and premiered by Julian Bream in 1958 at the Aldeburgh Festival, and later revised in 1981. In the words of the composer this piece was, “inspired by García Lorca’s poetic references to the guitar, particularly in the two poems Adivinanza de la Guitarra and Las Seis Cuerdas,” [see below]. The title, which translates to The Golden Polyphemus, refers to the Cyclops of Homer’s Odyssey who is mentioned in the penultimate line of Adivinanza de la Guitarra. In this way Lorca and Brindle compare the guitar to the Cyclops of Greek mythology, and it is easy to see how the “one eye” of the guitar’s sound hole could be compared to the one eye of the Cyclops. The mystery and fantasy of these poems are well expressed in the music through use of extended techniques—harmonics (very high pitched tones created by lightly touching the string as it is plucked), pizzicato (playing with the strings muted by the palm of the hand), and tambura (hitting the strings)—and extensive chromaticism. While the piece is written using the twelve-tone method of composition (in the strictest sense this would mean that the music would have no key or tonal center and would instead be organized by a pre-determined ordering of the twelve chromatic pitches ensuring that each receives equal attention), Brindle shows the influence of his Italian teacher Luigi Dallapiccola in the freedom with which he utilizes the rows. In fact, various parts of the work can almost be understood tonally. Though Brindle refers to the movements as “sketches,” the character of each movement fits within the model of a traditional four-movement sonata: the first in quadruple meter, the second a dancelike movement in triple meter, the third a lyrical slow movement, and the finale a quick movement with a jocular character. In this way the work is a great experiment in juxtaposition of the old with the new and the result is mesmerizing.
Adivinanza de la Guitarra (Enigma of the Guitar)
At the round
Three of flesh
And three of silver.
Yesterday’s dreams haunt them,
But they are held embraced
By a Golden Polyphemus –
Las Seis Cuerdas (The Six Strings)
Makes dreams weep.
The sob of lost
Escape from its round
And like the tarantula,
It weaves a great star
To trap the sighs,
Which float in its black
At Tenby Castle was written in 2015 by local composer Ethan McGrath (b. 1990) as a gift for the performer’s 21st birthday. Inspired by the ancient ruins of Tenby Castle in southern Wales, which the composer visited in 2010, the piece utilizes folk-like melodies and modal scales to capture the mystical atmosphere that hangs over the castle. In the first section of this three-part work, the mysterious Phrygian mode (minor scale with a lowered 2nd scale degree) is combined with harmonics in a free, improvisatory fashion that creates a sort of “mist,” which seems hangs over the music in sustained harmonies. The mist is soon cleared by the winds of a compound meter jig in the much brighter Dorian mode (minor scale with a raised 6th scale degree). The theme of this dance is first stated unaccompanied in the warm middle register of the guitar before it soars into the heights of the guitar’s range, accompanied by open fifths and the occasional added major 3rd. The music becomes yet one shade brighter as it moves firmly into the jolly world of the Mixolydian mode (major scale with a lowered 7th scale degree) accompanied by the deep pedal tones of the lowest string of the guitar. The music then reaches a climax as the dance theme returns suddenly stated in full, strummed harmonies and gradually recedes back into the dark world of the opening material, now darkened further by the low register of the guitar. In this palindromic manner, the music fades away into the mist from whence it came, leaving many of the opening questions unanswered.
The Gavotte en Rondeau was originally composed as the third movement of the Partita for Solo Violin in E major, BWV 1006 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Written in about 1720 while Bach worked under Prince Leopold at Cöthen, this piece, along with the other five pieces for solo violin, six suites for cello, and six Brandenburg Concerti, is a testament to the sudden outburst of secular, instrumental music prompted by the freedom from liturgical duties Bach experienced at this position. After Bach’s move to Leipzig in 1723, he was once again responsible for music in the church. During his time there, Bach reused the prelude of this partita in Cantatas 120a and 29 as a sinfonia for organ, strings, brass, and percussion. Bach was to reuse this music one final time in 1737 when he transcribed the entire suite for an unspecified chordal instrument. Since the early 20th century, it has been assumed that this transcription was for lute, and it has thus joined a collection of other lute works as the fourth lute suite of Bach. Recent scholarship, however, seems to point to the lute-harpsichord as a more promising candidate for this mystery instrument. Not only was Bach known to have designed and owned such an instrument, but also many passages of the suite are impossible to play on a Baroque lute in standard tuning. Over the years, the Gavotte from this suite has grown to have a life of its own and is often performed as a stand-alone piece. This movement is somewhat unusual in the dance suite tradition because of its rondo form. In most dance suites and partitas, each of the dance movements is in binary form, which can be diagramed AABB. In contrast to this, rondo form utilizes a recurring rondo theme (much like a refrain) that alternates with sections of new material in a manner diagramed ABACADA etc. In this work, the first appearance of the rondo theme is repeated so listeners have the chance to familiarize themselves with the theme. See if you can keep track of how many times the rondo theme appears!
Leo Brouwer wrote Un Dia de Noviembre for a Cuban film of the same name in 1972 in which a young die-hard revolutionary is suddenly diagnosed with a brain aneurism, which causes him to completely re-evaluate his priorities and reconnect with his family and friends. The piece was orginally scored for guitar, flute, bass, and percussion and later transcribed for solo guitar by Brouwer himself. The piece consists of two sections of contrasting moods arranged in a ternary (ABA) format. The first of these sections (itself in a small ternary form) is a very sorrowful and lyrical tune in A minor over a descending bassline built largely from a rhythmic (short-short-long-long) motive. The second, A-major section is as bright and joyful as the first was dark and melancholy, but the ligher mood cannot be maintained and the music eventually slips back into the A-minor world of the first section where it ends dies away with the faint ping of an artificial harmonic.
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