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8.555720 - Guitar Recital: Martha Masters

Martha Masters

Guitar Recital: A. Tansman / J.S. Bach / F. Sor / B. Johanson / M. Ponce / J. Rodrigo

In 1920 Alexandre Tansman left his native country, Poland, to settle in Paris. He remained there, working as a concert pianist, conductor and composer until his death, leaving only for a sojourn in the USA from 1941 to 1946. It was in Paris that he met Andrès Segovia who asked him to write something for the guitar. One of the influences on Tansman's earlier music had been Stravinsky who, when he had asked Segovia why he had never requested a work from him had been told"Because I do not want to insult your music by not playing it". Segovia was thus apprehensive and he enjoined Tansman to "first wipe your pen clean" before writing for the guitar. Tansman's response (in 1951) with the Cavatina shows how well he had learnt that lesson. Its basic four movements are written in a tuneful, transparently textured, conservatively harmonic style, well suited to the guitar. The robust Danza pomposa was later added as an optional final movement.

There is no evidence that Bach played the lute or even understood how it worked, but he loved its sound and at the time of his death he owned two lute- harpsichords (Lautenwerk), on whose keyboards he could produce lute-like sounds. A small corpus of his works are described as "Lute works", but the ascription is based on shaky premises - if not the lute for what instrument were they intended? The probable answer is the Lautenwerk, and the probability is high in the case of BWV 996, the Suite in E minor, an ungrateful key to confront on the lute. The order of the movements is conventional, and the language in which he gave their titles indicates that the style of the music is French. This is confirmed by the opening of the Prelude, in the manner of that of a French overture, and maintained throughout. The ending of the second section of the Prelude, a quasi-fugal Presto, is mirrored by that of the final Gigue, neatly tying the package by bringing the two ends of the same piece of string together to form a knot, as it were.

The musical style of Fernando Sor, the most refined of early nineteenth-century guitarist-composers, was akin to that of Mozart for whom Sor had great respect and, it seems, particular affection for his opera The Magic Flute, a performance of which he may have seen in London. His arrangements of Six Airs from The Magic Flute Op 19 appeared in Paris two years later than the Variation, Op 9 had done in London. The Air, Oh cara armonia (the title given in the first edition; Mozart's was in German: Das klingt so herrlich - That sound, wonderful), on which Op 9 is based, appears near the end of Act I of the opera and lasts for less than one minute. The variations are preceded by a solemn Introduction containing a quotation from Act II of the opera, and the Theme itself is already a modest 'variation', in that Sor has decorated it with appoggiature. The variety and brilliance of the Variations have made this Sor's most famous work - his 'signature tune'

Portland - (Oregon) based guitarist/composer Bryan Johanson bas written prolifically for the guitar, both solo and in chamber ensembles. His works have come into prominence through exposure by David Starobin, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and other notable artists. Concerning his Variation, on a Finnish folksong he writes: "This work for my father [a Swedish-speaking Finn –JD] is a set of variations based on an ancient Finnish folk melody. The melody was used when singing the text from the Kalevala, a set of loosely related folk-tales that were often sung to the accompaniment of the kantele [a type of zither -JD] and the ancient Finnish harp. The Kalevala is filled with songs of transformation and magic, and in my own work I have tried to create a music that evokes my ancestors by transforming their ancient melody into my own musical language".

The Mexican composer Manuel Ponce was one of those with whom Segovia worked the longest and most closely in increasing the then-contemporary repertory of the guitar. They complemented one another's needs Segovia's for new and substantial music to play, and Ponce's for the support of a famous artist who would propagate his work worldwide, thus enhancing his reputation and income. Segovia's letters to Ponce, published by Editions Orphée, make fascinating and revelatory reading. The theme of the present work, written in 1926, is unusual in that it consists of two sections, the first of which is repeated, but the much shorter second acts as a sort of 'tailpiece', played only once. The Finale is a wholly Hispanic fiesta that ends, as do the preceding theme and variations, unusually on a tonic major seventh chord. Ponce wrote four works in variation form for the guitar; only in this one was there a theme of his own composition.

The fame of Joaquin Rodrigo with the general public rests mainly in the Concierto de Aranjuez, the tune of the second movement of which has become elevator and supermarket music. With guitarists and their particular public it rests no less on his many solo works, based on traditional Spanish dances, or vignettes of Spanish life and places. He was uniquely focused on compiling a musical 'archive' of his country's history, life and traditions. En los, trigales, (In the wheat fields) portrays one aspect of rural life.

John Duarte

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