About this Recording
8.553985 - SOR: Souvenir d'Amitie / 6 Petites Pieces, Op. 47
English 

Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
Complete Works for Guitar, Opp. 46-48, 50 & 51

In the first years of the nineteenth century, Paris became the centre of the guitar world; most of the worlds best guitarists settled there, drawn by the city's venues, its publishers, its wealthy and enthusiastic dilettantes, as well as its fashionable reputation. Fernando Sor (1778-1839) settled there in about 1827 at the end of along European odyssey which had begun a decade earlier in his native Spain, followed by post-Napoleonic exile to Paris, an extended stay in London, and a celebrated visit to Russia. Back in Paris, Sor's principal competition included several native Frenchmen and a number of Italians, including the Neapolitan Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841), who had helped fire the French guitaromanie as earlyas 1808 and who still had a considerable following; the Piedmontese Francesco Molino (1768-1874), also accomplished on the violin and with court connections, and the Florentine Matteo Carcassi (1792-1853), later the author of perhaps the most famous guitar method ever written. The rivalry among these professionals is only slightly exaggerated by a humorous illustration in Charles de Marescot's little book, La Guitaromanie, depicting a pitched battle between 'Carulistes' and 'Molinistes' clubbing each other with their guitars.

Op. 46: Souvenir d'Amitié: Fantaisie (c. 1831) was one of several works which Sor composed for or dedicated to other guitarists. The dedicatee in this case, Jules Regondi (1822-1872), was only about nine years old when Sor wrote this work in homage to his prodigious abilities. Born in Geneva, Regondi began performing when he was five, and toured Europe in the company of his father; he probably met Sor in Paris in about 1830. Shortly after this meeting the young performer moved to London where he was abandoned and left destitute by his father. He managed to survive and establish a successful career as composer and virtuoso of both the guitar and concertina. Sor's work consists of three continuous movements – Andante moderato, Andantino, Allegretto – all in the amiable (for guitarists) key of A. In spite of the youth of the dedicatee this is a demanding work, and unusual because of the brief appearance of a tremolo, a technique Sor rarely employed but for which Regondi became well-known.

Sor probably intended the Six Petites Pièces, Op. 47 (c.1832) to be performed in pairs, as evidenced by the tempi and key signatures: Andante in D minor and Allegretto in D major, an Andante in E major and Allegretto in E minor, and a Cantabile and Valse in A major. One of his pupils, Mile Crabouillet, was the dedicatee of both Op. 47 and Op. 50: Le Calme: Caprice (c.1832). The latter piece, a lyrical single movement (Andante) in E major, is another demanding work; if Mile Crabouillet could play it well, she must have been a prized disciple. Several of Sor's works of about 1832 were musical jokes or parodies written in response to persistent criticism that his music was too difficult for the amateurs. In his introduction to Op. 48, Sor explained that he had received numerous requests over time to write 'easy' works, but in spite of his best efforts, including a number of lessons for beginner, none had been sufficiently easy to satisfy some amateurs. His Op. 45, entitled Voyons si c'est ça (‘Let's see if this will do’), had even been criticized, he said, for requiring bass notes which could not be played on open strings, and because its No. 5 actually 'began to incline toward harmony,' and No. 6 was almost entirely written in three voices. His response to these critics, in which he vowed not to afflict them with such inconveniences, thus was Est-ce bien ça? Six Pièces... Op. 48 (c. 1832). Is this it? – a new group of pieces which are obviously parodies of the pedagogical music of his rivals. The remark about the bass notes may have been a reference to Carulli, who had about a year earlier published a method for a new ten-string guitar. This instrument, 'invented' by Carulli, was not actually designed to extend the range of the guitar but rather to provide more open bass strings which need not be fretted by the left hand. Sor's pieces are themselves hilarious to anyone who has played through the minor, pedagogical works of these Italians; the Waltzes (Nos. 2 and 4), the Minuet (No. 3), and the Rondo (No. 6) all recall Carcassi in general and his Op. 100 in particular, but the unnamed No. 5 is clearly a satire on Carulli's bombastic bel canto style.

Op. 51: À la bonne heure: Six Valses (c. 1832) was supposedly created in response to new criticism that Op. 48 had not been typical of his music. In a new introduction, Sor noted with mock ruefulness that there had been a time he would have felt such criticism to be the reflections of a publisher concerned only with sales, but having become a publisher himself…! These new waltzes, he continued, were for those who had neither the time nor the desire to study, those who instead desired to play without straining their heads to discover the correct fingering nor wearying their hands by practising passages. For these, he had written music with the greatest use of open strings, and with almost as many fingerings as there were notes. One of his 'critics', he recounted, upon seeing several of these new pieces, had exclaimed 'À la bonne heure!' (Finally!), thus providing him with his title. In spite of this sarcasm, the music is quite charming, lacking any trace of bitterness, and in several of the waltzes Sor's ability to extract attractive little melodies from the open strings is downright ingenious. Parisian amateurs (who did not mind being patronised) certainly had the attractive yet easy music they desired.


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