, May 2007
Antoine de Lhoyer is just coming into recognition as an important figure in nineteenth century guitar composition, his work having languished in obscurity in the intervening years. He was just as unlucky in politics: having been on the wrong side of the French Revolution, he spent 1803-1814 at a safe distance in the court of the Czar in St. Petersburg. While there he tutored the Czar’s daughters and, along with Fernando Sor, who also spent time at the Russian court, inspired a vibrant and largely unsung interest in the guitar in Russia.
The Frenchman’s music is quite different than that of his Spanish contemporary. Sor, though called the “Beethoven of the guitar”, is actually closer to Chopin in writing short-scale works, some of which serve well as exercises for the ambitious student. All of the Lhoyer works with which I am familiar are multi-movement sonata-form pieces written for guitar duo. This provides the space, both temporally and in terms of having twice as many hands at play, to develop themes and material at much greater length and complexity. The duos concertants are rhythmically propulsive. While not based directly on dances in the way we have come to associate with later guitar-adapted composers such as Albéniz and Granados, these works definitely groove. These factors make the prospect of listening to a discful of Lhoyer’s works, at least for me, more enjoyable than in the case of Sor.
The other significant representation of Lhoyer’s work on CD comes in the shape of two volumes on the Norwegian label Simax (vol. 1: PSC1119 and vol. 2: PSC1189), performed by guitarists Martin Haug and Erik Stenstavold. These have proven difficult to acquire, at least in the United States — I have only the second one. Until that changes, Naxos’s work will be the way most listeners have the opportunity to hear this composer. Haug and Stenstavold on Simax play original instruments. The notes on the Naxos release do not discuss what instruments Mela and Micheli play — important information for guitar fans! — but they sound like modern guitars. The sound of the latter, being brighter, fuller and a bit more percussive, serves the music better.
I hope that, as in so many cases, this is the opening salvo of a comprehensive project by Naxos. As his works become more widely known, more often and variously interpreted, I believe that Antoine de Lhoyer will be seen as fully the equal, and sometimes the superior, of better-known early-Romantic guitar composers. Bravo to Naxos for getting this ball rolling!