About this Recording
8.554558 - BARRIOS MANGORÉ, A.: Guitar Music, Vol. 1 (Goni)

Agustín Barrios (1885-1944)
Guitar music, Vol. 1

Agustín Pío Barrios Mangoré was born in southern Paraguay on 5th May, 1885, and died on 7th August, 1944, in San Salvador, El Salvador. Many consider Barrios to be the greatest guitarist composer of all time. In view of this fact, it is curious that his music lay undiscovered and unappreciated for over three decades after his death. In the mid-1970s comprehensive editions of his music appeared, making it possible for guitarists of Antigoni Goni's generation to include in their study the music of Barrios, augmenting and complementing more traditional repertoire by Sor, Giuliani, Carcassi, Tarrega and Villa Lobos. The revival began in 1977 when John Williams released an entire recording of music by Barrios which focused a long overdue recognition on this forgotten Latin American guitarist. Today Barrios' music is frequently performed by major concert artists and is appreciated by audiences world wide.

Young Barrios never studied in a formal music conservatory, and completed only two years of high school. He made his living from performing, and had no other professional skills in any other pursuit except playing the guitar and composing music. Performing according to a life-style which required him to travel constantly, Barrios never really settled down in one particular country. He lived extended periods of time in Brazil (1915-1919), Uruguay (1912-1915, 1919-1927) and El Salvador (1939-1944). In none of these places did he establish a conservatory nor did he pursue the systematic publication of his music. He escaped from Latin America only once, in 1934, when he visited Europe, staying just fifteen months, but his lifelong goal of reaching the United States never came to fruition.

Barrios unfortunately never received the recognition and material success that his talent merited. Thus it is particularly fitting that his music be featured in a number of Naxos recordings. The initial volume offered here by Antigoni Goni begins with Maxixe, an urban dance from Brazil. Barrios himself recorded this work in 1929 but he did not perform it in concert to any great degree. A virtuoso display of both technical prowess and compositional skill, Maxixe is one of Barrios' greatest works in the genre of music inspired by folk tradition.

The lively Maxixe is followed by the majestic tremolo piece Un sueño en la floresta, perhaps the most difficult and complex tremolo piece ever conceived for the guitar. The extremely romantic flavour and soaring melody belie the fact that the technical work required here is formidable, requiring extended left-hand stretches, long musical phrases, intricate independent movement of voices, a virtuosic cadenza and even a high C that requires a twentieth fret on the traditional nineteen-fret classic guitar. (Barrios had the Brazilian luthier Romeo DiGiorgio make him a special instrument with twenty frets). Un sueño en la floresta elevates the technique of tremolo to a new level, carrying it well beyond the earlier Francisco Tárrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra and sueño. Barrios wrote this piece about 1917 and recorded it in 1929.

The romantic waltz, Vals Op. 8, No. 4, also called Vals Brillante, was composed in Paraguay in 1923. Only three of Barrios' works carry opus numbers: Waltze, Nos. 3 and 4 of Opus 8 (which supposedly included a total of six waltzes) and Preludio, Opus 5, No. 1. The tuneful Vals, Opus 8, No. 4, is one of Barrios' most frequently played pieces and features an extended passage using the technique of campanella (playing stopped strings against a repeated pedal note on an open string).

Barrios was influenced by nineteenth century romanticism (he greatly admired Chopin and Beethoven). A humoresque is defined as a nineteenth century composition of a fanciful, or simply good-humoured nature. Here the music lives up to this description. Barrios created his Humoresque in Uruguay in 1921 and it is one of only ten works that he ever published.

Sarita (‘Little Sara’) was dedicated to the daughter of a friend and probably written in the early 1920s. Barrios recorded the piece twice in 1924 and 1928. The style here is typical, being an eclectic blend of romantic and popular traits in the classical form of a mazurka.

Madrigal – Gavota again demonstrates the tendency in Barrios to mix and juxtapose in his compositions harmonic forms and ideas from different musical periods. A madrigal is a vocal work dating from the Renaissance and a gavotte is a popular seventeenth century baroque dance where the accent is on the third beat of the bar in common time. Barrios combines a striking melodic line that does indeed sound as if it could be sung with words with the rhythmic accent of the gavotte. Dedicated to one of his six brothers, the poet-playwright Martin, Barrios created this work in 1918 and recorded it twice in 1921 and 1929. It is the first original work that incorporates many characteristics of Barrios' music, including four-voiced harmonic texture, a strong melodic identity, use of all registers of the guitar, and an expressive, emotional quality, which dominates the work.

The traditional vidalita is a slow, minor key song form dating from the eighteenth century and cultivated by the gauchos of the pampas region of Argentina. Barrios created his Vidalita con variacianes early in his career and recorded it in 1914 in Buenos Aires. This work is typical of Barrios' early period when he performed in cinemas and theatres as interval entertainment.

The waltz Junto a tu carazón (‘Close to Your Heart’) is another unique mosaic of classical and popular elements. This piece is in the form of a valse Bostan, known for its sophisticated rhythm and contrasting slow minor key section. Barrios recorded this work in 1928 and it is probable that it was included in the six waltzes of Opus 8.

Mabelita (‘Little Mabel’) is dedicated to the daughter of a good friend in Uruguay and dates from the early 1920s.

Tu y Yo (‘You and I’) is a transcription of a work by the nineteenth century composer Alphons Czibulka. Barrios transcribed and performed Tu y Yo early on in his career and the first reference to it is from a programme in Brazil dated 1918. Also called Gavota romántica, this work incorporates all the pathos and expression of popular romantic music from around the turn of the century.

Villancico de Navidad (‘Christmas Carol’) was written in El Salvador in 1943 and dedicated to the infant Matilda Arias with the dedication Los ángeles del ciela cantan a Matilda en sus días (‘The angels sing to Matilda in her days’).

The extended waltz Pepita is a work dating from about 1913 and shows the influence of late nineteenth century composers like Emil Waldteufel (1837-1915) whose popular waltzes Barrios admired and transcribed, often including in his concerts Waldteufel's famous Skater's Waltz.

Barrios grouped four works together as the Suite Andina (‘Andean Suite’) though no evidence exists to suggest that he actually performed them in concert as such (another such case was the Suite Aborigen, which purportedly included one of his major lost works, Invocación a la Luna).

Aconquija is the name of a peak in the Andes in northern Argentina. The single note opening phrase is based on a melody Barrios heard a native musician playing on the indigenous flute called the quena (he also called this work Aire de Quena). Barrios recorded Aconquija in 1928. Aire de Zamba was written in 1923 and recorded by Barrios twice in 1924 and 1928 and is based on the Argentine folk-dance, the zamba. Córdoba is Argentina's second largest city where Barrios undoubtedly spent time in his wanderings. This work was written about 1924 and recorded by the composer in the same year. Cueca is a popular folk-dance from Chile, written about 1925 and recorded by Barrios in 1928. In the Cueca and Aconquija Barrios employs the technique of melodic tambora, playing the strings with a percussive stroke of the thumb of the right hand.

Rico Stover

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