About this Recording
8.570779 - CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Music for Two Guitars, Vol. 2 (Brasil Guitar Duo) - Fuga elegiaca / Les guitares bien temperees: Nos. 13-24

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968)
Music for Two Guitars • 2


Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, born in Florence, studied composition and pianoforte at the Instituto Musicale Cherubini and later at the Liceo Musicale of Bologna. His mentors were Pizzetti and Casella, members of the influential and progressive Società Italiana di Musica, a group of composers, including Malipiero and Respighi, with whom Castelnuovo-Tedesco became closely associated.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s interest in writing for the guitar began with his introduction to Andrés Segovia, who had travelled to Italy with Manuel de Falla, at the Venice International Festival in 1932. As a result he was to compose over one hundred works for the guitar, including concertos, chamber music, many solos and some of the finest pieces for two guitars, the latter inspired by the illustrious French duo, Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya.

In 1939, as a result of Mussolini’s anti-Jewish edicts, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was obliged to seek refuge abroad. After settling in California, he became a prolific writer of film music between 1940 and 1956, in the same period composing more than seventy concert works. As a member of the faculty of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, he numbered among his pupils Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, André Previn, and the composer, John Williams.

A guitar tradition of duo playing stretches back to the early nineteenth century when Fernando Sor wrote several outstanding duets to perform with his friend, Dionisio Aguado, while various other composer/performers such as Mauro Giuliani and Fernando Carulli also composed fine works for two guitars. In the twentieth century a number of distinguished duos established an international reputation, the most eminent being the famous duo of Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya to whom Castelnuovo-Tedesco dedicated the Preludes and Fugues, Op. 199.

The two movements of Fuga elegiaca for two guitars were composed in September and October 1967, the composition being written in response to the passing of Ida Presti at the tragically young age of 43 in April of that year. Fuga elegiaca proved to be one of the composer’s final works before his death in March 1968, and for that reason is without an opus number. The Preludio is founded on a series of repeated chords. This begins agitato e tremante (agitated and trembling), followed by a theme in thirds shared between the performers and interspersed with more thickly textured chords. The Fuga opens with a gently poignant subject in A minor. After a short development section, this motif returns in octaves and chords, the coda making reference once more to the themes of the Preludio.

The Well-Tempered Guitars, 24 Preludes and Fugues for two guitars, Op. 199 (1962), proved to be a landmark in the guitar’s history and the most ambitious undertaking for two guitars ever conceived. The first edition was fingered by Evangelos and Liza Assimakopoulos. The variety of moods, colours, techniques and styles within the set is immense, certainly in one sense paying homage to the great precedent of J.S. Bach, but at the same time exploiting the depths of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s gifts for melodic inventiveness, humour, vivacity, introspection and lyricism.

The final twelve Preludes and Fugues of the set of 24 were completed in Beverley Hills, California, between 14 May and 3 June 1962, each movement being carefully annotated chronologically by the composer, and for that reason the dates are provided below. There is an element almost of a diary here in which Castelnuovo-Tedesco records his moods and emotions throughout a short period entirely devoted to the creation of this quite extraordinary collection of pieces, so varied, colourful and brilliant, ranging from the joyful to the melancholic. Castelnuovo-Tedesco organizes his Preludes and Fugues by selecting the keys for each in a cycle of rising fifths (alternating major and minor).

Prelude No. 13 in G major (completed 14/15 May), Allegretto—Moderato e grazioso, has two contrasting motifs, a brilliant downward plummet in triplets and a trumpet-like fanfare of chords. The movement ends with gentle harmonics. The Fugue, in the form of a Minuet and Trio, is a perky dance reminiscent of Boccherini. The Trio, a little agitated and mysterious, sets a terse melody over a repetitive bass before the Minuet’s return, dolce e grazioso.

Prelude No. 14 in D minor (16/17 May), begins with a gentle tune, set to chords, Grave—sostenuto e pomposo, which will provide the opening subject of the Fugue. The Prelude explores the implications of this theme with a few moments quasi recitativo. The Fugue enters at a quicker pace than the Prelude. A middle section uses some of the chordal patterns heard earlier but transformed by the faster tempo. The final bars are slow and funereal.

Both components of the Prelude and Fugue No. 15 in A major were written on 18 May. The Prelude begins molto animato in 2/2 time with a running accompaniment set against the melody, I hear America singing/The varied carol I hear. The theme is switched between the duo partners until ultimately both parts join in a chorus of chordal statement culminating in a final run, brillantissimo. The Fugue this time is in the tempo of a gavotte, Allegretto grazioso, leading to contrasting sections indicated as quasi Musette I and quasi Musette II before a short reprise of the opening.

Prelude No. 16 in E minor (Prelude, 20 May, Fugue not dated), starts agitated and tempestuously, with rapid triplets punctuated by chords marked squillante (shrill, sharp). In contrast the Fugue is indicated as cupo e mesto (gloomy and melancholy). But despite these markings, the work’s elegance expresses a sweet sadness rather than plumbing tragic depths, a slightly more sombre mood emerging in the coda where the words cupo e mesto are repeated.

A touch of Badinerie (jesting) characterizes the opening of Prelude No. 17 in B major (24/25 May), reinforced by the instruction as quick as possible. The glorious virtuosity of the first section with its alternating semiquavers is followed by playful melodic passages. But the light-hearted banter of the beginning is not to be denied and returns in the coda rounded off by a few bars, dolce e grave. The Fugue is in the style of a Bourrée, deliberately reminiscent of J.S. Bach’s keyboard writings, a charming pastiche exquisitely crafted in honour of the great Baroque master.

One of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s favourite expression marks, scorrevole (smooth-flowing), indicates the style of the delightfully memorable Prelude No. 18 in F sharp minor which combines dexterity with melodic inventiveness. In the Fugue (dated 26 May) the composer reverts to a slow, melancholic mood, a pensive work in which indications such as grave, dolcissimo, misterioso, intenso, espressivo and un poco appassionato set the temperature as we reach the end of the third book of the collection.

Marked quasi Arietta, the Prelude No. 19 in C sharp major (22/23 May) is one of the composer’s most ethereal movements, the melody in the middle voice drifting on a carpet of treble chords. The unusual key contributes an extra sheen to the harmonic resonance of the work. The Fugue takes the Prelude’s opening and develops it further, creating an organic unity between the two compositions.

Prelude No. 20 in G sharp minor (27/28 May) takes as its substance repeated patterns of energetic and rhythmic chords divided between the two guitars. The Fugue deploys the melody of the Prelude as its subject in the form of a decisive March in 4/4 time. An episode in the central section offers a brief cadenza which emerges later as a coda in terms of a grandiose chorale and a climactic bar which returns to the original rhythmic patterns.

With the last few compositions in flat keys, Prelude No. 21 in E flat major (20/29 May) embarks on a fluid lyricism, allegretto and scorrevole, in which melody and harmony are closely integrated in a two-part texture later broken into by accompanying chords. The Fugue, Andantino Pastorale, takes the tempo of the Siciliana in 6/8 time, the pastoral elements including snatches of birdsong.

Prelude No. 22 in B flat minor (30 May and 2 June) finds the composer in diabolical mood with the Prelude marked Allegretto mefistofelico. The Mephistophelian aspects are expressed through rapid demisemiquavers shared and echoed between the two duo partners among short bursts of staccato chords, the overall effect reminiscent of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s solo guitar work, Capriccio Diabolico. The Fugue continues the slightly mischievous wit though indicated as cupo e severo (gloomy and severe).

Prelude No. 23 in F major (31 May/3 June), is in the form of the Furlana or Forlana, a north Italian folk courtship dance especially associated with Venice and popular in the French court between 1690 and 1750. The composer imbues the work with a rustic quality, the 6/8 rhythm enhanced by graceful harmonic modulations. The Fugue is marked very tranquil— simple and idyllic. The changing of the time signature to four-four but the retention of the main notes of the opening Prelude’s melodic line alters the character subtly, providing a perfect complement to the first movement as the familiar material is modified into expressive counterpoint.

Finally Prelude No. 24 in C minor (1/3 June) presents an elegy to be played at pleasure, quasi improvvisando. It is as if the composer experiences regret at reaching the end of his long musical journey, the Prelude being remarkable for its plaintive harmonies as well as expressive themes. However, the rhythmic and decisive Fugue disperses all doubt and strides boldly forward. A cadenza episode, molto agitato, provides a tumultuous contrast of virtuosity, until Tempo I returns in a vigorous coda.

Thus many moods and contrasting colours have been experienced through the composer’s intense creative activity in the early summer of 1962. This unique cycle of Preludes and Fugues represents one of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s finest achievements among his many outstanding guitar compositions, a treasury of imagination and vitality which in terms of extended writing for guitar duo may never be surpassed.

Graham Wade

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