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8.554197 - SOR: 6 Waltzes, Opp. 17 and 18 / 6 Airs, Op. 19
Fernando Sor was one of the most influential and esteemed of the pioneers of the new "classical" guitar in the early nineteenth century. After a brief military career in his native Spain. Sor embarked upon a musical career which took him to Paris around 1813-14, and then on to London, where he remained from l815 to 1823. A letter to the editor of the Giulianiad in the early 1830s summarises Sor's influence on the London musical scene: "It is a fact, that until the arrival of Sor in this country, which took place about fifteen or sixteen years ago, the guitar was scarcely known here, and the impression he then made on his first performance at the Argyll Rooms, which I attended, was of a nature which will never be erased from my memory, it was at once magical and surprising; nobody could credit that such effects could be produced on the guitar! indeed, there was a sort of suppressed laughter when he first came forth before the audience, which, however, soon changed into unbounded admiration when he began to display his talents … the beautiful compositions of Sor have touched and inspired my soul beyond all others."
In the mid 1820s Sor travelled across Europe to Moscow, where he charmed the new Tsarina, saw his ballets presented by the Bolshoy, and was commissioned to write a march for the funeral of Tsar Alexander I. Afterwards, he returned to Paris, where guitar mania raged and competition for guitar audiences was fierce. There were native French guitarists, returning émigrés, and many 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. He eschewed virtuosic posturing, but his uncompromising approach to composition resulted in music which makes considerable technical and musical demands on the performer. Sor was one of the few guitar-composers who was as well known in his lifetime for his non-guitar compositions – ballets and orchestral works, songs, works for piano, and so forth.
Except for the Air varié (in C), which was published in Paris without opus number around 1810 by Salvador Castro de Gistau (at a time when Sor had not yet departed from Spain), all of the pieces recorded here seem to date from Sor's London period and were first published in 1823-1825 in Paris. Sor's Parisian publisher at the time was Jean-Antoine Meissonnier (1783-1857), himself a French guitarist and composer. Meissonnier had discovered the guitar on a youthful trip to Naples; upon his return to France, his concerts, sometimes given with his younger brother, Joseph (b. 1790), were highly acclaimed. In 1814 he began his music-publishing business and the exiled Sor became one of his most prestigious clients. The assignment of the earliest opus numbers of Sor's publications appears to have been the work of Meissonnier, since several of these works had appeared earlier, from other publishers, and without opus numbers.
The Six Waltzes, Op. 17 and Six Waltzes, Op. 18, reflect the rage for this dance that was sweeping through Europe at this moment. The waltz was not unknown prior to this time, but it had seemed foreign (as witnessed by the many spelling variants) and many objected to the overly familiar touching between the dancers and to the dangerous swirling pace of the dance. The great Congress of Vienna seemed to precipitate a shift in public opinion, as aristocrats from every European state punctuated their diplomacy with lavish balls at venues such as the Apollosaal, and the principal objections to the waltz by one generation–foreignness, familiarity, the exhilarating pace – probably contributed to its popularity with the next.
In 1819, the first London performance of Mozart's opera The Magic Flute had created a sensation. Sor was in London at the time and seems to have been caught up in the enthusiasm. He composed his celebrated Op. 9 Variation, on "Oh caro armonia" around 1820-21 and performed them with some success. It is likely that the Six Airs choisis de l'Opéru de Mozart: Il Flauto Magico, Op. 19 were part of the same phenomenon. The themes, not the best known from the opera, are Marche réligieuse, Fuggite o voi beltá fallace, Giú fan ritorno i Geny amici, O dolce armonia, Se potesse un suono, and the chorus Grand' Isi, grand' Osiri. The march title is given in French and the airs are identified by their Italian titles since the opera was still not widely performed in German. Apparently the Italian translations were not stabilised, since Das klinget so herrlich is known as Oh caro armonia in Sor's Op. 9 but as O dolce armonia in Op. 19.
Sor's Introduction et Thême Varié, Op. 20 was dedicated to his friend Meissonnier. The theme and two of the variations closely resemble the first, second, and fourth variations from a Thema varié issued by his first Parisian publisher, Castro, in 1810.
Sor dedicated Les Adieux! Sixième Fantaisie, Op. 21 to another prominent friend, the Italian violin virtuoso Francesco Vaccari (1775-after 1823). Vaccari was a pupil of Nardini who became a court musician in Spain. A copy of the first edition (Paris, 1825) in the collection of the late Robert Spencer bears an additional handwritten dedication and Londres, 28 de Julio, 1816. The musicologist Brian Jeffery has suggested that Sor may have first met Vaccari during the latter's visit to London in 1815-16, and composed the piece in that time and place. Jeffery has also discovered that Vaccari had left Spain as a result of the Revolution of 1820 and was performing again in England in 1823. Thus, a second meeting between Vaccari and Sor is feasible and might have inspired either the composition or its publication at this time; in this case the inscription could have recalled their earlier encounter.
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