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8.554191 - REGONDI: 10 Etudes / Introduction and Caprice, Op. 23
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Giulio Regondi (1822-72), Guitar Works, Vol. 1

Introduction et Caprice • Ten Etudes • Fête villageoise

Surviving accounts of the youth of Giulio Regondi present a Dickensian tale. Born in Geneva (or perhaps Genoa) in 1822 to an unnamed German mother who may have died at his birth, Giulio was raised by an Italian father (some say step-father or foster father) who was himself a talented guitarist, composer, and baritone. Young Regondi exhibited prodigious talents on the guitar; in Paris, in the age of such masters as Sor, Carulli, Carcassi and Molino, Regondi, usually performing in duo with his father, enraptured critics while still no more than seven or eight years old. The Spanish virtuoso Fernando Sor (1778-1839) dedicated his Fantaisie "Souvenir d’Amitié," Op. 46 (1831) to the young Regondi and may have also written for him a Grand Duet (now lost), evidence of a relationship which implies mutual respect and suggests tantalisingly that Sor may even have played some rôle in the young man’s development. The Regondis, father and son, arrived in London in 1831 and achieved critical and financial success there, touring throughout the British Isles. Then, one day in about 1835, the father handed the child a £5 note and absconded with the rest of their money, said to have been several thousand pounds sterling.

Young Giulio somehow survived this trauma, and, with the help of friends and foster parents, became a resident of London and continued to earn a living as a performer. On one occasion, he performed in duo with another child prodigy, Catherine Josepha Pelzer, who became the doyenne of the Victorian guitar world under her married name, Mrs Sidney Pratten. In 1836 he shared a concert with the Viennese pianist Moscheles and the famous soprano Maria Malibran. Several years earlier Regondi had also taken up the newly invented concertina and quickly developed a phenomenal technique on this instrument, further evidence of his extraordinary musical talents. On the concertina Regondi performed difficult works composed for violin and other instruments, and composed virtuoso works of his own, including a concerto; the concertina’s rising popularity seems to have owed a great deal to the young man’s contributions. Regondi toured the continent with the cellist Joseph Lidel, performing on both guitar and concertina; once in 1841 he performed in duo with Clara Wieck Schumann in the Gewandhaus in Leipzig. There were other concert tours, but Regondi lived most of the rest of his life in England. A member of the Victorian musical establishment, he performed several times a year in London and occasionally Liverpool, and enjoyed the patronage of, among others, Sir Charles Wheatstone, the inventor of the concertina. Regondi was reputed to have a kind and gentle nature; in later life, by one account, he was contacted by the "father" who had deserted him years earlier; he readily agreed to take in the destitute old man and to care for him in his old age.

Unlike many of the concert guitarists of his time, Regondi seems frequently to have played the works of other guitarists, such as Carulli, Giuliani, Mertz, Schulz, and Sor. Although he composed dozens of works for concertina, his extant guitar writings consist of only five concert works, all firmly within the Romantic genre and all published in 1864, and ten concert studies; a number of other works and arrangements, mentioned in concert programmes, have apparently not survived. The Ten Etudes are themselves a relatively recent addition to the guitar repertory. Although they were apparently known in Russian guitar circles around the year 1900, only three were known in Western Europe because they were published in German guitar magazines in the years just after the turn of the last century. The American musicologist Matanya Ophee managed to track down a manuscript copy of the Ten Etudes in the possession of Natalia Ivanova-Kramskaia, the daughter of the famous guitarist Alexander M. Ivanov-Kramskoi. Ophee’s publication of these pieces in 1990, a project in which guitarist John Holmquist was actively involved, was a major contribution to the guitar’s literature, almost doubling the known music of Regondi. The provenance of these pieces remains problematic; none of the surviving manuscripts are autograph and it is not clear how the pieces made their way to Russia, which Regondi is not known to have visited, while remaining unknown in the west. One possible explanation, cited by Ophee, is that Regondi gave the music to the Polish guitarist Marek Sokolowski (1818-1884) during his trip to London in 1864. An article in a 1902 Russian source states that the aging Regondi, impressed by the visiting virtuoso, told Sokolowski he was retiring from the stage and gave him his music. One problem with this account is that Regondi would have been no more than 42 years old in 1864, and is known to have given the occasional concert at least until 1868. Nevertheless, Regondi’s decision finally to publish five major works for guitar also apparently occurred in 1864, suggesting that this year might have represented a sort of water-shed to the composer, and his concert activities do seem to have diminished thereafter. Pending some new information, this remains the most likely explanation.

Regondi’s Introduction et Caprice, Op.23, features two sharply contrasting movements, an elaborately embellished Adagio in E major followed by a light- hearted Allegretto scherzando in E minor, featuring an excursion into the relative major, a modulation to E major, and many virtuosic effects such as rapid chromatic scales, passages in octaves, and so forth.

The consecutive key signatures and alternating tempi of the Ten Etudes strongly suggest that Regondi intended these pieces to be played together in sequence. If so, they would constitute, collectively, the longest and most ambitious nineteenth-century work for guitar extant. The key-changes within one of these Etudes, the second, are perhaps the most adventurous in the guitar repertory: the work begins in A minor, then modulates startlingly to A flat, to B major, to D, to C# major, to A, to F, and back to A minor. The expressive slow Etudes rival the best works of Romantic guitar composers Coste, Mertz, or Zani, and the brilliant Etude No.10 brings the cycle to an appropriately brilliant conclusion.

A village festival is a quintessentially Romantic subject, evoking a nostalgia for the rural and the folkloric; surprisingly, there are few precedents for this work in the guitar repertory, save Sor’s Fantaisie Villageoise, Op.52, and perhaps several works with rustic references by Coste. Regondi’s Fête Villageoise: Rondo Caprice, Op.20, is brisk and polished, like a Waldmüller painting of clean and handsome peasants at play.

Richard M. Long

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