About this Recording
8.554198 - LEGNANI: Fantasia, Op. 19 / 36 Caprices, Op. 20

Luigi Legnani (1790-1877)
Fantasia, Op. 19
36 Caprices, Op. 20

In the eighteenth century the "classical" guitar evolved into its most common modern configuration; the five double courses of the early century were replaced by six single strings. This development extended the bass range of the instrument, but, more significantly, permitted the sort of rubato and vibrato associated with the violin or the human voice. More expressive and versatile than its predecessors, the "new" guitar was capable of clear counterpoint and facilitated dozens of instrumental devices such as legati, harmonics, and flamboyant scale passages. Masters of the instrument emerged throughout Europe, and not surprisingly many of the greatest were from the Italian peninsula, which still dominated opera and exported its instrumentalists to the cultural capitals of Europe. Virtuoso guitarists and composers such as Moretti, Giuliani, and Carulli brought their innovations to Madrid, Vienna, and Paris, respectively, and inspired dozens of local imitators Guitarists shared prestigious concert programmes with pianists, violinists, and sopranos, and publishers issued hundreds of works to satisfy the thousands of professionals, dilettanti, and parlour musicians now playing the guitar.

Luigi Rinaldo Legnani (1790-1877) was the greatest Italian guitarist of the second generation. His predecessors had established the audiences for the guitar and made possible his career as a touring performer; on the other hand, they had also raised the technical standards and the expectations of these audiences. Legnani's virtuosity was often compared with that of his friend Paganini, who was himself a competent guitarist and who once stated that he considered Legnani "first" among guitarists. Bone quotes a Spanish critic who wrote of Legnani's "remarkable agility of execution," of his "tone of infinite depth and rare singing beauty," and celebrated his cantabile on the bass strings. Nothing less was expected from a concert artist in the days of Chopin and Liszt.

Legnani was born in Ferrara in 1790, but his family moved to Ravenna when he was eight; that ancient city served as his home base throughout his life, and it was there that he died in 1877. Legnani stodied mosic and the guitar in Ravenna, performed with the local opera company, and made his début as a guitarist in Milan in 1819. He was an instant success, and his concert tours expanded to include all the western capitals, from Madrid to St Petersburg. For the next thirty years, Legnani became part of the European musical mainstream. He collaborated with the Viennese pianist and publisher Max Joseph Leidesdorf in several compositions, and the arias of his good friend Rossini formed the bases for many of his fantasies and variations. Legnani not only performed with the great violinist Paganini, he also stayed with him at his estate near Parma during one of the latter's extended convalescences, and assisted him in preparing a number of works for publication. Like many guitarists, Legnani became fascinated with guitar construction and sought ways to improve his instrument. He collaborated with the Viennese luthiers Georg Ries and Johann Anton Staufer, both of whom created "Legnani model" guitars; in later life (after 1850), Legnani retired to Ravenna, where he himself became a renowned builder of violins aud guitars. For this recording, Pavel Steidl performs on a copy of a Staufer made to Legnani's specifications.

Legnani's career as a composer parallel led his solo career. His first works were published by Ricordi in Milan about the time of his début concert in 1819. The next group of works were published in Vienna about the time of his concerts there, and so on. It is sometimes alleged that Legnani wrote over 250 works for the guitar, but this is probably not true. In 1839 the Viennese firm of Artaria, having not published any of Legnani's works for six years and well aware that he had published some works elsewhere in the interim, apparently decided to avoid any conflicting opus numbers by numbering their new series of his latest works beginning with Op. 201, thus creating a lacuna of over one hundred opus numbers. Similar lacunae occur in the works of the guitarist Castellacci and a few other musicians.

Both of the works recorded here were first published by Artaria in Vienna in 1822. The Fantasia, Op. 19, is a cheerful two movement work (Largo in A minor, Allegro in A major) which eschews the usual theme and variations formula and celebrates the composer's technical brilliance. The Thirty-Six Caprices for guitar, Op. 20, may have been inspired by Paganini's Twenty-four Caprices for violin, Op. 1 (composed in about 1805 but first published in Milan in 1820). Both cycles demonstrate a youthful exuberance and flamboyaut virtuosity, and both are didactic showpieces for their respective instruments. Like Paganini's Capricci, Legnani's are alternately dramatic, expressive, or brilliant as the composer explores most of the textures possible on his instrument. As an unusual feature, Legnani's Thirty-six capricci also include pieces in twenty-two different keys; only C# minor and G# minor are missing. The guitar, like many instruments, "prefers" certain keys over others for physical and organological reasons: ease of playing; the ready availability of certain open strings, especially in the bass; and the rich resonance of sympathetic strings in certain keys. This is why about half of the guitar repertoire seems to be in a half dozen keys, and the other pieces rarely venture beyond three flats or four sharps. In part because Legnani's Capricci venture into this unexplored territory, they have become classics of guitar pedagogy, constantly in print since their introduction. But the transcendent technical difficulties which some or the Capricci consequently present also explain why all but a few or these works, in spite of their unquestionable pedagogical and musical value, are rarely recorded or heard in concert.

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