About this Recording
8.554196 - SOR: 6 Divertimenti, Opp. 1 and 2 / 6 Petite Pieces, Op. 5

Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
March from Cendrillon
Six Divertimenti, Op. 1
Six Divertimenti, Op. 2
Thème varié et un menuet, Op. 3
Fantasia, Op. 4
Six petites pièces, Op. 5

Fernando Sor is one of the most significant and one of the most revered figures in the history of the guitar. Born in Barcelona, Sor received his early musical training at the monastery of Montserrat, where he sang in the famous boys' choir. His opera Il Telemaco nell'isola di Calipso was produced in 1797, when he was only nineteen. In spite of his musical gift, Sor at first embarked upon a career in the army, but this was shattered by the Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808 and its aftermath. Like many young Spanish officers, Sor was torn between the backward Borbón monarchy to which he had sworn loyalty, and the progressive new Bonaparte régime. A performer and composer such as Sor would also have known that Imperial Paris, with its abundance of publishers and its glittering venues, offered greater opportunities for a musical career than did provincial Madrid. Sor remained loyal to the Borbóns for a while and even contributed a few patriotic songs to the cause, but eventually he joined the new Bonaparte regime.

As early as 1810 a few of Sor's works for guitar, still unpublished in Spain, appeared in Paris in Salvador Castro de Gistau's Journal de musique étrangère. The defeat of the French at Vitoria in 1813 and the restoration of the unforgiving Borbóns ended Sor's military career and doomed him to a permanent exile from his native land, but it also launched his international musical career. Sor fled from Spain to Paris, where his reputation as a composer had preceded him. In the next years he visited London, and on one triumphant tour in the mid 1820s travelled as far as Moscow. In the late 1820s he returned to Paris, where he remained until his death in1839, publishing his compositions, teaching, and giving occasional concerts. In all, he published over sixty works for one or two guitars, as well as several dozen songs, a few ballets, and other miscellaneous works.

Sor is not known to have composed ballets before about 1820, but thereafter he wrote several; unfortunately, most of them have not survived. His first great success was Cendrillon, which had its first performance at the King's Theatre in London in 1822. The classic version of the folk-tale Cinderella (or Cendrillon, La Cenerentala, Aschenbrödl) had been defined in 1697 by Charles Perrault in his Contes de ma mère l'oye (‘Tales of Mother Goose’). A century later, in Sor's lifetime, the story experienced a curious resurgence. Perhaps Perrault's heroine, like Mary Shelley's creature, provided a metaphor for some of the historic developments of the age; the ascendance of the bourgeoisie or of the parvenu nobility of the Napoleonic era, or perhaps a new generation could look back with relief on the passing of some of the harsher aspects of rural life under the Old Régime which Perrault's tales had depicted only too vividly. Sor was not the first composer to be attracted to the plot. In 1810, Nicolas Isouard (1775-1818) saw his opera performed at the Opéra-Comique, and the following year the guitarist Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841) had written an extended programme piece for solo guitar (his Opus 44) based on the story Rossini's celebrated opera, which was first performed in Rome in 1817, would be heard throughout Europe in the next decade.

In 1823, following closely upon its London success, Sor's Cendrillon received its first Paris performance at the Salle Le Peletier; it was to be presented 104 times in Paris in the next seven years, making it one of the most popular ballets of the decade. Why had Sor turned to ballet at this point in his career? The enormous popularity of ballet in London and Paris in those years seems an obvious answer, but the piano reduction of Cendrillon (London, 1822) suggests still another attraction the genre may have held for Sor: it identifies one of the London ballerinas as Mlle. Hullin, probably the same Félicité Hullin who became Sor's [second] wife in Paris, travelled with him to Russia, and danced the title-rôle of Cendrillon for the Bolshoy in 1825. Sor's own arrangement for guitar of the popular Marche from the third act was published in Paris in about 1823, probably to coincide with the ballet's premiere there.

The opus numbers of the remaining works on this recording were assigned by Sor's Parisian publisher Jean-Autoine Meissonnier (1783-1857) in his editions of 1816 or later. Since all of these pieces had been published earlier, without opus numbers, they are neither Sor's earliest compositions nor even his earliest published works. The Six Divertimentos, Op. 1, were first published in London in 1813-15. They consist of an Andante and Waltz in G, an Allegretto in D, an Andante in C, a Thema [with Variations] in the same key, and a Marcia in F. The second set of Six Divertimentos, Op. 2, was also first published in London, at about the same time. They include a Minuetto and Waltz in G, Andantino in D, Minuetto and Waltz in C, and a Siciliana in E.

Sor's Thème Varié et un Minuet, Op. 3, in its final form, was published by Meissonnier in c.1816. The jaunty little theme and its half dozen inspired variations had been composed before Sor left Spain and had first appeared (without opus and without the Minuet) six years earlier in an edition published in Paris by Salvador Castro de Gistau. The same theme and several of the variations, somewhat modified, were used again by the composer in his fourth Fantaisie, Op. 12. Sor's

Fantasia [No. 2] in A, Op. 4 consists of two movements, a brief Introduction (Andante largo) and an energetic Rondo (Allegretto) resembling a caccia, a musical genre which imitates the sounds of a hunt. The Six Petites Pièces, Op. 5 were first published in Paris in about 1814, when Sor first arrived there from Spain; they were dedicated to his [first] wife. The pieces are a Menuet and Valze in G, a Menuet and Allegro in C, a remarkable Andante Largo in D, and a little unnamed piece in the same key. The key signatures suggest these pieces may have been intended to be played in pairs.

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