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8.554355 - COSTE: Guitar Works, Vol. 5
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Napoléon Coste (1806-1883)
Guitar Music Vol. 5

Napoléon Coste was France's greatest guitar composer. Born in a village in eastern France and called after the new Emperor (the famous battles of Trafalgar and Austerlitz were both fought in the year of his birth), Coste was at first groomed for a military career. From the age of six, young Napoléon also began to play the guitar, taking his first lessons from his mother. At the age of eleven he suffered an extended and serious il1ness; plans for his military career were abandoned, but his musical talents blossomed. Coste gained local fame as a performer and teacher of the guitar in Valenciennes, and in 1828 even played duets with the visiting Italian virtuoso Luigi Sagrini (they performed Giuliani's Op. 130). In 1830, the year of the July Revolution, he moved to Paris to pursue his career. Paris was not only one of the great cultural centres of the world, it was also, in the 1820s, home to a guitaromanie, a rage for the guitar, which probably did not so much abate in the 1830s as become less remarkable in a city which saw new fads commencing daily Coste, who had apparently had little formal training in music, studied theory and composition and also became the friend and pupil of Fernando Sor (1778-1839), the esteemed Spanish composer and guitarist.

All of the works on this recording (with the exception of Op. 41) were probably written in the last decade of the composer's life. Over a decade earlier, an accidental fal1 had damaged his right arm and hand, effectively ending his concert career. Coste nevertheless continued teaching and composing; his last pieces, which he published himself, represent a sort of apogee of his art. Free of both editorial and technical restraints (he, after all, would never be expected to play them), he wrote here some of his most imaginative, expressive, and difficult works. A quintessential Romantic, the composer found inspiration in the changing seasons (Opp. 41-42), in Alpine landscapes and nostalgia for his lost youth (Op. 44), in tragic emotion (Op. 43), and in poetic sensibility (Op. 45).

Coste's La Ronde de Mai, précédée d'un Larghetto: Divertissement, Op. 42, opens with an elaborate introduction, filled with shimmering Chopinesque cadenzas (one in harmonics), which leads directly into a rhapsodic scherzo, far from the folkloric dance of spring suggested by the title.

Feuilles d'Automne: Douze valses, Op. 41, is a splendid set of waltzes, perhaps the finest ever written for guitar. A rich assortment of melodies seems to pour from the composer's fecund imagination; the mood shifts constantly, at times rustic and bumptious, then gentle and wistful. The music was probably composed as early as 1856, since a work by the same name (and described as Op. 27, a number later assigned to a different piece) was among the five pieces Coste submitted in a celebrated competition that year. The Feuilles d'Automne remained unpublished until 1876, a year which also saw the resurrection abroad of the career of the French waltz king, Émile Waldteufel, and a new wave of popularity in the Third Republic for this venerable dance. The Feuilles d'Automne were dedicated to Coste's friend and disciple Soffren Degen, a Dane whose precious col1ection of Coste manuscripts are today preserved in the Royal Library in Copenhagen.

Coste dedicated Marche funèbre et Rondeau, Op. 43, to "Mme Coste, my pupil and my wife." The funeral march was a musical genre capable of expressing the most profound emotions, and consequently, it was particularly appreciated by romantic composers such as Beethoven, Chopin, and Liszt. The solo guitar may seem an odd choice of instrumentation for a funeral march, but there were a surprising number of precedents. As early as 1806- 7, The guitarist and publisher Anton Diabelli composed as Trauer Marsch upon the death of his beloved teacher Michael Haydn, and another to commemorate the death of the Empress Maria Theresia. Another Viennese guitarist composer, Simon Franz Molitor, penned a Marche funèbre to commemorate the death of his fellow guitarist Franz Tandler. Coste's friend and teacher, Fernando Sor, composed several funeral marches–for guitar (in his Fantaisie étégiaque, Op. 59), for harpolyre, and for military band–including one commissioned for the funeral of Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825). Coste's contemporary and rival, Johann Kaspar Mertz, included a Trauer Marsch among his gloomy Nänien Trauerlieder for two guitars. Coste's Roudeau is light and tuneful, in striking contrast with the preceding piece.

Souvenir du Jura: Andante et Polonaise, Op. 44. The Jura is a region of western France which the Bourbon kings of the Ancien Régime had annexed from the medieval state of Burgundy, referring to it as the Franche-Comté. Coste's birthplace of Amondans was located in the Jura, on a fertile plateau south of Besançon and not far down the picturesque Loue river from Ornans, which was immortalized by the painter Gustave Courbet. Much of the rest of the region consists of forested mountains, deep glacier-gouged valleys, and picturesque lakes. Here and there, subterranean rivers erupt from rocky hillsides; one such résurgence, the source of the Lyson river, inspired Coste to compose his Op. 47. The musical connection between the region and the music is not evident, but the florid Andante and the tuneful Polonaise nevertheless constitute one of Coste' s most attractive and popular solos.

Divagation: Fantaisie, Op. 45. The curious title Divagation implies wandering about with no particular destination; it is probably a reference to the sort of "rambling" which was basic to Romantic musical and literary culture, from Byron's Childe Harold to Liszt's Années de pèlerinage. The title is also descriptive of the music, which features a very free introduction of schizophrenic mood changes, frenetic scales and passionate cadenzas, and concludes with a brilliant waltz-like allegretto.

Richard Long


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