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8.553986 - SOR: 6 Bagatelles, Op. 43 / Progressive Pieces, Op. 44
In about 1827 the Barcelona-born guitarist and composer Fernando Sor settled in Paris, the end of a long European odyssey which had begun a decade earlier in his native Spain. In spite of prodigious musical talents and an excellent musical education at the monastery of Monserrat, Sor had chosen a military career, and in about 1810-1811 switched his allegiance to the new king, Napoleon's brother Joseph. When the brief Bonaparte reign collapsed in 1813, Sor was forced to flee from his homeland, never to return. His musical talents had carried him to Paris, where he had already published a few works; to critical acclaim in London; and on one triumphant tour in the mid 1820s as far as Moscow, where he charmed the new Tsaritsa and saw his ballets presented by the Bolshoy company. Unlike some of the guitarist-composers of his day, Sor's fame rested on his universal musicianship – he wrote operas, ballets, piano music and songs, as well as music for the guitar – but it was on the guitar that he excelled as a performer, and it was this instrument that was best suited to provide him with a comfortable livelihood in Paris in the 1820s.
The guitar had spawned a fad in France at the end of the Old Régime, then a virtual guitaromanie during the First Empire. Many of the best guitarists in Europe gravitated to Paris: native French guitarists, returning émigrés, some pupils, or those who claimed to have been, of the formidable Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) in Vienna, and plenty of Italians whose works invariably reflected the new flamboyant bel canto style. Sor's competition included the likes of Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841), a Neapolitan who had helped tire the French guitaromanie as early as 1808, and who still had a considerable following Francesco Molino, (1768-1847) a Piedmontese also accomplished on the violin, with a knack for accessible chamber music, and Matteo Carcassi (1792-1853), the Florentine author of perhaps the most famous guitar method ever written.
Teaching the fashionable instrument to wealthy amateurs and dilettantes became an important source or income for the professional guitarists in Paris. The emphasis on pedagogical works in the late 1820s is clear evidence: Carulli's new Méthode complete, Op. 241, and his L'Anti-Méthode, Op. 272, both appeared in 1825, and Aguado's Escuela was published in both French and Spanish editions in Paris in 1826. Sor himself wrote a Method – published perhaps as early as 1828 but certainly by 1830 – which is more a philosophical than a technical work, and contains relatively little music. Sor also ended his long term publishing arrangement with Antoine Meissonnier in 1828, and ventured into a new arrangement with Pacini, one of the most influential and successful of Paris publishers. That Sor felt (and resisted) commercial pressure seems evident from comments he made in his Method and even on the music itself. The selections recorded here chronicle Sor's determination to preserve his artistic integrity and at the same time comply with the demands of the public.
The six pieces of Mes Ennuis: Six Bagatelles, Op. 43 (c. 1830-31) are an Andantino and Allegretto in C; a Cantabile and Mazurka in A; and an Andante in D minor and a Valse in D (the latter two requiring a scordatura). The keys, contrasting tempi, and scordatura suggest that the pieces were intended to be played in pairs. The title "Mes ennuis" and also the subtitle "dédiées à qui les voudra" seem to reflect that Sor would rather have been writing works on a larger scale; nevertheless, these miniatures reveal his uncompromising craftmanship and melodic gifts, and they are more difficult to play than they either appear or sound.
The Vingt-quatre petites pièces progressives, pour servir de leçons aur Élèves tout à fait Commençants, Op. 44 (1831) constitute one of Sor's important sets of pedagogical pieces (the others are the 24 Studies, Opp. 6 and 29; 24 Progressive Lessns, Op. 31; 24 Very Easy Exercise" Op. 35; and 25 pièces (Introduction to the Study of the Guitar, Op. 60). In this group, Sor once again demonstrates his extraordinary ability to write didactic music with attractive melodies and clever harmonies, while not even venturing beyond the second position until the final waltz. In an introduction, he explains that many believed that these pieces should have been published along with his Method, but that he had intentionally published them separately so that beginners would not be distracted from (or completely ignore) the text.
As in Op. 43, these six works of Voyons si c'est cà: Six Petites Pièeces Faciles Op. 45 (1831) are apparently arranged in pairs: Andantino and Allegretto in G, Andante [Variato] and Valse in C, and Andante and [Valse] in A. The title, which may be translated "Let's see if this will do", apparently refers to the fact that Sor's works, even his pedagogical compositions, were considered too difficult by many of the amateurs of his day. Sor is here responding (or claiming to do so) to their demands that he write little pieces that they could perform with minimal practice, the sort of pieces that Carulli and Carcassi wrote prolifically. On the title page, Sor also indicated his purpose is gradually to "lead up to that [which is considered to be] difficult" and he dedicated the opus "to those with the least patience," but some of his impatient public apparently remained unsatisfied, because Sor later composed and published Est-ce bien ça? ("Is this it?"): Six Pieces, Op. 48 (c. 1832), and À la bonne heure ("Finally!") Six Vales, Op. 51 (c. 1832), which were actually clever parodies of the pedagogical works of his rivals.
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