|About this Recording
8.554194 - COSTE: Guitar Works, Vol. 2
Napoléon Coste (1805-1883) was France's greatest guitar composer and, together with Mertz, the guitar composer most representative of the Romantic style. He was born in the village of Amondans, south of Besançon and not far down the picturesque Loue river from Ornans, immortalized by the painter Gustave Courbet. Coste's father, the village mayor and a former infantry captain, named his son for the new Emperor and groomed him for a military career. From the age of six, young Napoléon began to play guitar, taking his first lessons from his mother; after his recovery from an extended and serious illness which struck him at age eleven, the family seems to have abandoned any plans for his military career. The teen-aged 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 centers 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 and also became the friend and pupil of Fernando Sor (1778-1839), the esteemed Spanish composer and guitarist.
The critic Fétis stated that Coste came to know all of the great guitarists of the city. This would have included, in addition to Sor, his compatriot Dionisio Aguado and the Italians Carcassi, Carulli, Castellacci, and Molino. There is evidence that these guitarists were divided into several rival groups; the 'Carullists' and 'Molinists' were not particularly friendly if we are to believe the tongue-in-cheek illustrations of Charles de Marescot, and Sor's few writings seem to indicate little love for most of the Italians. Coste probably tried to cultivate a broad and popular following with his earliest works, which included charming dances and variations on popular themes. His youthful talent was readily recognized, since several of his early compositions were immediately issued by the prestigious publisher Richault. His earliest known work (no 'Opus 1' has been identified) was a brilliant set of Variations et finale ... sur un motif favori de la famille suisse de Weigl, Op. 2, published in about 1830. Given this date, it is likely that Coste composed this piece either before or shortly after he arrived in Paris. Joseph Weigl's popular Viennese opera Die Schweizerfamilie had been revived in Paris in 1827, and the cuckoo's theme also inspired several other guitarists, notably Pietro Pettoletti (Op. 23).
English country dances (contredanses) had become a rage in France during the Ancien Régime; by the nineteenth century a 'quadrille' (originally the name given to a square or group of dancers) had itself become a dance, consisting of five consecutive figures (contredanses): le pantalon, l'été, la poule, la trénis, and a finale. Paris-based guitarists such as Ferdinando Carulli had written literally dozens of contredanses quadrillées for guitar solo or with other instruments in the previous decades. Coste's Deux Quadrilles de contredanses ..., Op. 3 (c.1831) were charming and more accessible to amateurs than were his variations.
The subject of Coste's Fantaisie ... sur un motif du ballet d'Armide ..., Op. 4, suggests the growing artistic differences between the French composer and his Italian rivals. Had an Italian guitarist written a 'Fantasy on Armide' (several, notably Legnani, in fact did), it would have been a set of variations based on the celebrated duet from Rossini's otherwise unsuccessful opera of 1817. Coste's work, which he published himself in 1832, was based instead on a theme from the ballet in Act V of Gluck's Armide, written a half century earlier but still being performed, albeit not without controversy. A few years earlier, Armide had been the subject of a heated exchange between Hector Berlioz, writing in his Corsaire, and F.H.J. Castil-Blaze of the Journal des Débats. Berlioz had been an admirer of Gluck from his youth, and the romantic aesthetic that he championed throughout his life had its roots in the German music of Gluck and Weber. The alternative seemed to be the Italian style, personified by Rossini, which Berlioz perceived as superficial and excessively flamboyant. In this work Coste appears to be asserting his ideological affinity for the faction of Berlioz (to whom he would later dedicate his Op. 15), although he would never abandon brilliance or virtuosity as an important element of his art.
In about 1835, Coste began an association with the luthier Lacôte, who published an edition of his Souvenirs de Flandres: Marche, quatre valses et un rondeau ..., Op 5, dedicated to the composer's mother. From this time, many of Coste's works would call for a low D note, which could be attained by tuning the sixth string down a full step, as Sor often did, or by having a custom guitar constructed with a seventh string, as Coste did. It has been speculated that the idea originated with Sor, who had seen seven-string guitars in Russia, but Sor's pieces had called for this scordatura before he travelled to Russia, and additional bass strings on instruments were an old idea that had come full circle – Carulli sometimes played a ten string guitar, and Legnani's had eight. Coste's Valse favorite and the following waltz (Nos. 4-5, tracks  and ) in this group were later recast by the composer into his bravura Op. 46. The Fantaisie de concert ..., Op. 6, published by Coste himself in 1837, consists of elaborate variations on a theme of Meyerbeer, whose operas had taken Paris by storm in the preceding years.
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