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8.554192 - COSTE: Guitar Works, Vol. 1
Napoléon Coste was France's greatest guitar composer and, together with Mertz, the guitar composer most representative of the Romantic style. Coste was born in 1805 in the village of Amondans. His father, the village mayor and a former infantry captain, named his son for the new Emperor and groomed him for a military career. From age six, young Napoléon also began to play guitar, taking his first lessons from his mother. At the age of eleven Coste suffered an extended and serious illness, and his parents seem to have abandoned their plans for his military career. The teenaged Coste, living in Valenciennes, gained local fame as a performer and teacher of the guitar, 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, Coste 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 studied theory and composition in Paris and became the friend and pupil of Fernando Sor (1778-1839), the esteemed Spanish composer and guitarist. By the end of the 1830s, Coste was immersed in the Parisian musical scene, and his compositions from this period demonstrate both his versatility and the broad variety of cultural influences on music during the period. Coste published many of his compositions, so it is sometimes impossible to assign each work a precise date.
The rage for the waltz dated back at least to the Congress of Vienna, but was given an enormous boost by the sensational tours of Johann Strauss I and his 28-piece orchestra during the 1830s. Musicologist Simon Wynberg has suggested that Coste's Seize valses favorites de Johann Strauss, Op. 7, published toward the end of the 1830s by Richault, probably coincided with Strauss' French tour of in 1837.
Coste's Divertissement sur l'opéra Lucia di Lammermoor de Donizetti, Op. 9, was a potpourri of themes from the popular opera which had been first performed in 1835 in Naples (a French version had appeared in 1839). Coste composed a brief introduction, followed by settings of the arias Sulla tomba che rinserra (Larghetto) and Quando rapita in estasi (Allegro moderato) from Act I; Ah! Cedi, Cedi (Cantabile); and a finale which is an elaboration of the celebrated cabaletta Spargi d'amaro pianto from Act III (Allegretto). Such fantasies, based on favourite operas, became staples of the guitar repertoire in the mid-nineteenth century, serving as souvenir folios of the best loved tunes. Coste's fantasy, which was published in 1841, may even have inspired the opera fantasies of the guitarist Johann Kaspar Mertz, who shortly thereafter began to publish his ambitious Opera Review, Op. 8 series with the Viennese firm of Haslinger. This remarkable series, which continued for years, eventually included fantasies on no fewer than thirty-six operas, a figure which did not include those fantasies which Mertz composed for other publishers, sometimes on the same operas. Mertz's fantasy on Lucia di Lammermoor (Op. 8, No. 2) was the second in the series and followed Coste's by two years.
Coste's Grand Caprice, Op. 11 survives only in the form of manuscripts in the Danish Royal Library in Copenhagen. It is possible that printed versions of the piece have been lost, but it is also possible that Coste never published the work, or at least never undertook the expense of having the music engraved. Handwritten copies, made and sold on demand, were still a viable publishing strategy in 1844 (the date on one of the copies). One reason for choosing this option might have been the technical difficulty of the piece, beyond the ability of most of the amateurs who were the principal purchasers of guitar music at the time, but most of Coste's works are technically difficult. The piece also calls for a guitar with an extra bass string, which would have further limited the piece's marketability.
The Rondeau de concert avec introduction, Op. 12 seems to be an early version of the can-can, a sort of galop which became popular in the French music halls of the July Monarchy and Second Empire. The dance, considered scandalous because the high kicking chorines revealed a great deal of petticoat, was said to be of Algerian origin, but there is little evidence of such a dance in North Africa. A French or central European origin is more likely. In any case, Coste's brilliant cancan (c. 1840-45) preceded Offenbach's celebrated version by almost two decades.
The Caprice sur l'air espagnol 'La Cachucha', Op. 13, exemplifies the enormous popularity of Spanish "national" music and dance throughout Europe in the 1830s-1840s. Ironically, Fernando Sor, who was Coste's mentor in Paris and the greatest Spanish guitarist of the age, wrote virtually nothing in this genre, and his compatriot Aguado left only a few pieces. The Italians Carcassi, Carulli, Legnani and Molino, on the other hand, all tried composing in the Spanish style. A cachucha was an Andalusian dance resembling the Aragonese jota or a particularly frenetic waltz. It is not clear why the likes of the pianist Czerny, the cellist Romberg, and the guitarists Legnani and Coste all wrote arrangements or variations on the cachucha in ca. 1840. Perhaps they were inspired by the ballerina Fanny Eissler's famous version, or Lola Montez' notorious dance El Oleana, which was said to have been a sort of cachucha. Liszt, who had a celebrated affair with Mlle Montez, later included a cachucha in his Große Konzertfantasie über spanische Weisen; the "waltz" theme of Chabrier's España is actually a cachucha, as is the climactic dance melody in the intermedio of Jerónimo Giménez's celebrated zarzuela El baile de Luis Alonso. Coste's version of the dance is energetic and imaginative, demonstrating that anecdotal affinity that French composers are said to have for Spanish music.
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