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8.553722 - SOR: 3 Pieces de Societe, Op. 36 / 6 Petites Pieces, Op. 42
Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
Fantasia: Introduction and Variations on "Ye Banks and
Braes", Op. 40
In the late 1820s the Spanish guitarist and composer Fernando Sor (1778- 1839), settled in guitar-mad Paris. Sor's musical talents had already taken him to Paris, London, and on one triumphant tour in the mid 1820s as far as Moscow where he had charmed the new Tsaritas and seen his ballets presented by the Bolshoy company. Settled in Paris, Sor was surrounded by a small circle of friends and relatives, including his brother Carlos and his daughter by his first wife (Sor's second wife, the ballerina Félicité Hullin, had returned to Russia to pursue her career). Sor concentrated on publishing his works, giving occasional concerts, and especially teaching fashionable bourgeois dilettantes. The dedicatees of the works included here, Talbott, Pastou, Houzé, Burdett, were aIl either friends or pupils.
The competition among professional guitarists seems to have been fierce in Paris. A small fad in the Revolutionary era had become guitaromanie during the Empire, and in the 1820s many of the guitarists in Europe gravitated to Paris, some to stay, a few to move on. There were native French guitarists, returning émigrés, pupils, or those who claim to have been, of the formidable Giuliani in Vienna, and especially Italians, whose works invariably reflected the new flamboyant bel canto style. In the face of such competition, Sor remained essentially conservative, crafting music with clear polyphony and the measured proportions of classicism. While his music was capable of expressing profound emotions, Sor rarely resorted to virtuosic posturing and only rarely reflects the influence of Rossini, in those years the most popular and influential composer in the world. This is particularly ironic since at the time Sor lived in the Hôtel Favart, across the street from the Théâtre des Italiens, later the Opéra Comique, the Parisian centre of bel canto and also for the French music-publishing industry.
In 1828, Sor ended his long-term publishing arrangement with Antoine Meissonier and ventured into a new arrangement with Pacini, one of the most influential and successful of Paris publishers, whose clients included Rossini. The arrangement probably involved Pacini as a selling agent with Sor self-publishing or at least subsidising Pacini, since Sor has his own exclusive plate-numbers for many of the Pacini editions after Op. 34 (Op.36, for example, was "1-Sor") and later, in his introduction to his Op. 51, Sor remarked that he himself had become a publisher. Teaching and the sale of sheet music were important sources of income to a fashionable guitarist, and so many of Sor's works of the next years were either pedagogical, or major pieces dedicated to his best pupils and a few friends, or light works for the salon and parlour. It is not clear whether artistic integrity or money had been an issue between Meissonnier and Sor, but it is likely that Sor's new arrangement improved his position in both respects.
The Trois Pièces de Société, Op. 36 (1828) comprised Sor's second set of "society pieces" (the first was Op. 33). They were dedicated to Mr. Pastou, a friend who was also the dedicatee of the Six Waltzes, Op. 17. The "society pieces" each consist of two short movements; the first is a Minuet in A minor and an Allemande in A major; the second begins with a Lento cantabile and closes with a lively Minuet, both in G. The third, an Andantino and Chasse in F with a modulation in F minor, requires the unusual scordatura of the sixth string to F, a device which occurs here and there in Sor's work but is rare elsewhere.
The Sérénade, Op. 37 (1828- 1829) was dedicated to Mlle. S. Talbot, who was also the dedicatee of the Divertissement militaire for two guitars, Op. 49. The "serenade", really a sort of suite, was an unusual form for Sor, but very common in his day. There are four movements, an Andante cantabile in E, Andantino in E minor, Allegretto in C, and another Allegretto in E minor/E major. In the tradition of the Viennese serenade, the final movement is a march, complete with a bugle-call towards the end.
Although there are only three variations, the scordatura of the sixth string to D and the extensive use of harmonics in the third variation combine to make Fantaisie ...sur un air favori Ecossais "Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doune,” Op. 40 (c.1829 -30) one of Sor's most original and effective works in this genre. The melody was a traditional Scots tune, "The Caledonian Hunt's Delight,” which became internationally known in the version published by James Johnson in his Scots Musica Museum, Vol. 4 (1792), with new words by Robert Burns. With his choice of themes Sor may be recalling his years in Britain, or he may merely be reflecting the fascination with Scottish culture that swept through Europe in the Romantic era, when Macpherson's Ossian tales were listed among the greatest masterpieces of literature and Sir Walter Scott was the most translated novelist of his age. This set of variations, composed by a Spaniard living in Paris, is thus part of the same phenomenon as Rossini's La Donna del lago, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, and Mendelssohn's Scottish Symphony and Hebrides Overture. The piece was dedicated to a certain Mary Jane Burdett.
Sor's Six Pièces, Op. 42 (1830-31) were dedicated to Mlle. [Natalie] Houzé, a favourite student who was also the dedicatee of his Six Waltzes for two guitars, Op. 39; the "Spanish" Fantasy, Op, 54bis; and the recently discovered Fantasy in D. The second, fourth and sixth pieces are waltzes, suggesting that these pieces were intended to be played in pairs, as was also the casein many of his other collections of miniatures.
Richard M. Long
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