About this Recording
8.573059 - Guitar Music (Colombia) - MEJÍA, A. / MONTAÑA, G. / SABOYA, L. / GONZÁLEZ, H. (Escobar)

Guitar Music of Colombia
Adolfo Mejía (1905–1973) • Gentíl Montaña (1942–2011) • Lucas Saboya (b. 1980) • Hector González (b. 1961)


Colombia, in the north-west corner of the vast continent of South America, was colonized by the Spanish in the sixteenth century, gaining its independence from Spain in 1819. The country’s fertile musical traditions extend to the early colonial period and in the nineteenth century European influence became particularly potent. At all times a thriving folk culture provided a powerful indigenous source of inspiration in a complex heritage derived from Spanish, sub-Saharan Africa, and Amerindian elements.

The varied geographical parts of Colombia demonstrate their own characteristic musical identities, comprising the Atlantic and Pacific coastal areas, the Andean mountain plateau, the Llanos (the grassy plains of eastern Colombia), and the south-eastern Amazonian region. The music for guitar as represented here by modern composers provides a synthesis of many dance forms and styles in a rich blend of colour and rhythmic vitality.

Adolfo Mejía was born in Cartagena de Indias, where he began his musical studies at an early age at the Instituto Musical de Cartagena. In 1930 he visited New York to record his compositions with the Columbia recording company. After returning to his homeland in 1933 he worked as a librarian in Bogotá and studied at the National Conservatory. In 1938 Mejía won the Ezequiel Bernal prize for his composition, Pequeña Suite, and thus gained a scholarship to study in Paris at the Ecole Normale de Musique with Nadia Boulanger, Dukas and Koechlin. Returning to Cartagena he worked as a conductor and teacher. In 1970 he was awarded the National Composition Prize from the Instituto Colombiano de Cultura, and the University of Cartagena recognized his stature in Colombian cultural life with an honorary doctorate.

The bambuco, the characteristic dance form of the Andean region, presents a lively spectacle. Its choreography is a ‘pursuit dance’, where the woman moves back as the man moves forward, advancing towards him when he retreats. The dancers face each other, hands on hips, touching elbows as they turn. At the end of the dance, the man offers his partner a coloured handkerchief as a gift. Mejía’s dance begins and ends with a section in three-four time before the Bambuco itself is played in six-eight time with lively syncopated melodic patterns and its insistent bass accompaniment.

The bambuco, of African origin, takes its name from a town in western Africa named Bambuk, from which slaves were transported to Colombia. In folk culture it is usually sung to the accompaniment of the tiple (a small guitar, the Colombian Andean tiple has four courses of triple metal strings) and bandola (a flat-backed lute with six courses of strings, played with a plectrum). A Colombian poet found in the bambuco a blend of diverse qualities:

…he fundado aquel aire
la indiana melancolía
con la Africana ardentia,
y el guapo andaluz donaire

I have found in this song
Indian melancholy,
with African ardor,
and the beautiful Andalusian gracefulness

Gentíl Montaña, born in Ibagué, southern Colombia, into a musical family, took up the guitar at an early age, performing with his father who played folk-music professionally. In the 1960s, after several years of composing his own songs, Montaña began studying the classical guitar and in 1975 was awarded third prize in the Alirio Díaz Competition in Caracas. From 1976 he visited Europe and lived for a few years in Madrid, but also travelling to Greece. In 1981 he returned to Colombia where he opened a music school under the name of Fundación Gentíl Montaña. His aim, following the years of violence and disorder in his country, was to ‘exchange arms of destruction for musical instruments and develop a true tradition of the guitar in Colombia’.

In Suite Colombiana No. 3, the first movement, entitled La Canción del Soñador (The Song of the Dreamer), is written in the form of the Colombian pasillo, a dance style from the early nineteenth century which reveals a strong Spanish colonial influence. Particularly popular in the Andean regions of Colombia, like the bambuco it has the dual metre of three-four and six-eight but is more flowing and less sharply accented. Emirto de Lima wrote about the dance that it ‘possesses the aristocracy and the distinction of the waltz, the light cadence of the contradanza, the winged subtlety of the gavotte, and the serene grace of the minuet’. What the composer has given us here is a virtuosic work full of colour and vivacity, with subtle mood changes, strong rhythms, and a powerful sense of momentum.

The second movement of the suite, Nunca te olvido (I never forget you), represents Colombian guitar music at its most poignantly expressive, and is a good indication of why the composer is often regarded as a second Barrios Mangoré. In terms of idiomatic writing for the instrument the piece is flawless, combining superb lines of melody with exquisite harmonic progressions.

Daniela, (named after the composer’s daughter, to whom the piece is dedicated), is in the form of guabina, a song form in triple metre performed at a medium tempo from the Andean regions of Colombia. Widely associated with the peasant population, the genre is usually played as background music for the accompaniment of sung improvisations and danced in its traditional style by couples holding hands. But Montaña’s contribution here offers great variety of texture with passages in harmonics, ingenious harmonies and modulations, and some complex rhythmic patterns.

With Germán (named after one of the composer’s sons), we return to the bambuco, but this guitar version offers greater intricacy than the average traditional dance style. The interplay between bass and treble at the opening, the excitement of rhythmic chords, and the vivid sparkle of the treble line against its imaginative accompaniment, makes this a piece to cherish.

A final dance has been added to the sequence: Porro, a dance from the Caribbean region of Colombia, is very traditional in the Afro-Colombian culture of that region. Written in four-four metre, with a distinctive rhythmic bass line, the Porro can be either sung or danced and is often accompanied by various percussion instruments.

Suite Colombiana No. 2 is well rooted in Colombian rhythms but at the same time offers homage to Venezuelan music and its great guitarists. The suite begins with El Margariteño (pasillo), meaning a person from Isla Margarita in Venezuela, and is thus dedicated to the great maestro Rómolo Lazarde, born on the island. The music evokes the waltz style of Antonio Lauro as well as representing the ‘accelerated waltz’ that is the pasillo.

The second movement, Guabina Viajera (Traveller Guabina), is dedicated to the greatest Venezuelan guitarist of the twentieth century, Alirio Díaz (b. 1923). This is in the form of a slower waltz style, with a steady three-four metre without the syncopations of occasional excursions into six-eight characteristic of the previous movement. A fast and adventurous Bambuco follows, dedicated to Rodrigo Riera (1923–1999) from the State of Lara, Venezuela, one of the most important personalities in the development of the classical guitar in his country.

The final movement is an extended Porro, dedicated to the composer’s brother, Carlos Montaña, ‘the living legend of the requinto in Colombia’ (the requinto being a small guitar with four courses used in Spain, Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico, played with a plectrum). In this Porro the distinctive pulsing bass is a vital aspect of the musical structure and over the insistent rhythm can be heard a number of intricate chordal rhythmic patterns.

Lucas Saboya (b. 1980), born in Tunja, Boyacá, studied at the Escuela Superior de Música there. In 1995 he founded the music trio Palos y Cuerdas with his brothers to perform traditional Colombian music. Saboya later studied composition with Gustavo Parra. His prolific compositions have been widely performed and recorded internationally and he has been appointed professor at the Colombian University of Pedagogy and Technology. The composer has provided a guide to this composition:

Composed in 2011, Suite Ernestina is dedicated to Ernestina Vargas de Saboya, the composer’s grandmother, and was written for the guitarist Daniel Saboya, his brother. The title of the first movement Costurera (Seamstress) pays homage to one of Ernestina’s frequent activities. The second movement, De algún modo (Somehow) is based on the guabina, a traditional rhythmic dance of the Colombian interior. Its theme is from one of the composer’s earlier works for a typical Colombian trio of the Andean region, comprising bandola, tiple, and guitar.

The title of the third movement, Canción de cuna para seis (Cradle Song for Six), refers to Ernestina’s sons and daughters. The final movement, Zamba Negra (Black Zamba), is an Argentinianzamba evoking the African elements of Latin-American folkloric music. There is a small quote here from Manuel Ponce’s Sonatina Meridional and also an allusion to Danza Negra from Antonio Lauro’s Suite Venezolana. This is a fast zamba and includes virtuosic scale passages, harmonic modulations, and melodies characteristic of the continent’s southern folkloric music.

Hector González, guitarist and composer, studied at the Conservatory Antonio María Valencia, in the city of Cali, in the southwest region of Colombia under the direction of Hernán Moncada and at the Conservatory Oscar Esplá, in Alicante, Spain with the renowned teacher, José Tomás. He has been appointed professor at the Conservatory of Cali and at the Universities of Cauca, and Valle. Hector González performs on lute (Renaissance and Baroque), and vihuela, as well as guitar, and has made a number of recordings. He has also published a number of books and given concerts throughout South America and Europe.

His Preludio re-creates one of the rhythmic patterns of the Caribbean dance known as the paseo. The ostinato in the bass that informs the structure of the entire work comes from the characteristic beat played on a small conical drum known as caja, one of the traditional instruments.

Graham Wade

Grateful acknowledgement in the writing of these notes is due to José Antonio Escobar, as well as to Rico Stover’s editions of the music of Gentíl Montaña.

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