Radamés Gnattali composed his Suite Retratos in 1958 for mandolin, choro group, and string orchestra. He dedicated the work to his close friend and great mandolin master, Jacob do Bandolim.
Suite Retratos is comprised of four dance movements based on popular forms associated with and named after Brazilian composers from the past. The first movement is a choro entitled Pixinguinha; it is followed by a waltz, Ernesto Nazareth, and a Scottish dance Anacleto Medeiros. The suite ends with a corta jaca dance Chiquinha Gonzaga. The recording of this suite, done in the early 60s with Jacob do Bandolim as a soloist and Gnattali as director of the orchestra, set a new and higher standard in the choro style by incorporating written music into the more traditional improvised choro form.
In the late 70s the mandolinist Joel Nascimento persuaded Gnattali to arrange the suite for a small group based on the conjunto regional, the most common formation of a choro group. When the arrangement was ready, Joel gathered together some friends that had accompanied him previously and surprised maestro Gnattali on his 73rd birthday with the first rendition of Suite Retratos for conjunto regional. The group formed for this occasion was named Camerata Carioca, and represented a true revival of this style being appointed by music critics as one of the most important contributions to the choro language. The recording of this ensemble in 1979 moved the Assad brothers to ask Gnattali to prepare a version for two guitars. The version was ready in 1981 and the Assads immediately incorporated it into their repertoire. Suite Retratos has become a standard in the two-guitar literature and has been recorded by most of professional guitar duos in activity today.
Aquarelle is the French word for watercolor, a traditional painting style that uses pigments dissolved in water. The first time I saw a watercolor I was impressed by the number of techniques employed to spread colors in different textures that give an ethereal look to the painted subject. Following the idea of spreading pigments on a paper, I started building a motif of three notes like three different pigments that form the basis of a palette. Based of this single motif, I created multiple voicing layers to simulate the superposition of colors on an Aquarelle. The three-note melodic material is reinforced by the 3-3-2 rhythmical pattern that is very common in Latin music and occurs frequently in the music from the northeast of Brazil. The piece was written in 1986 and was my first attempt at composing for solo guitar. It was in that same year that I met David Russell at a guitar festival in Israel and showed him the piece. I had always been impressed by his excellence as a performer and was very pleased that he promptly decided to include Aquarelle in his repertoire. When the piece was published, it was a pleasure to dedicate it to him.
Remembrance was composed in 1994 and is part of a set of 22 short pieces written for the Japanese movie Summer Garden (Natsu No Niwa). It is a very evocative, slow song used as an emotional sound reinforcement for a character who is briefly trapped by memories from the past.
Sonata was written in 1999, commissioned by the Gendai Guitar magazine in Japan, and dedicated to the guitarist Shin Ichi Fukuda. Following the classical approach of the sonata form, the first movement starts on A sharp, which is the fourth augmented note of the E major scale, characterizing the Lydian mode that will be the harmonic basis of most of the piece. The A and B sections are based on two popular Brazilian styles from the 60s: the waltz in 6/8 time and the Bossa Nova infused with choro colors. After the traditional development section, the first movement ends with new and fresh elements, which generate the basic idea for the third movement.
The second movement, in song form, starts off with an introduction based on blocks of chants from the northeast of Brazil with its characteristic Lydian mode. Following the introduction, the song is displayed twice, the first time accompanied by an ostinato bass pattern and the second time in a lower register accompanied by a higher counter part. The introduction is then recapitulated in a mirror process established by the inversion of the blocks of chants.
The third movement draws material from the previous two movements in a rondo form. Very virtuosic and flashy, this movement recalls the high influence of French impressionism on Brazilian music.
JOBINIANA No. 1
Antonio Carlos Jobim was an influential figure in Brazilian music from the end of the 1950s until his death in 1994. After a long career and an impressive list of accomplishments, he is widely considered to be among the most important Brazilian composers of all times. One of the founders of the internationally-acclaimed style known as Bossa Nova, he also wrote music in many different styles throughout his life. His music is at the same time simple and quite sophisticated. His melodies can be often angular but also highly chromatic. His harmonies generally modulate to far keys, but it is done with such great taste that these transitions sound natural and smooth.
Some years ago I decided to pay homage to this great writer by creating a series of pieces that I named Jobinianas. The first one from this set, Jobiniana No. 1, is written for two guitars and gives my personal view of Jobim’s musical universe highlighting his fine textures, nice melodies, and interesting harmonies. The other pieces in the set are conceived for solo guitar and accompanying musical instruments.
MARACAÍPE (Commissioned by Chia Teng and Theresa Lee)
Maracaípe, written for and dedicated to the Beijing Guitar Duo, was named after a beach of the same name situated on the northeast coast of Brazil, within the state of Pernambuco. The piece is a musical description of a brief visit to its sand and water. Maracaípe is a surf paradise and is home to a world surf tournament. Although it is a place full of vitality during the daytime, in the evenings its air carries a certain melancholy.
Written in two parts, Maracaípe offers a vision of this melancholy mixed with the strength and energy of the surfing waves through the first part called Wistful Rider. Based on a five-note motif, this part comprises an introduction, which is also a brief development of the main motif, an A section, which is a sort of Modinha, an old Brazilian court dance, and a B section representing the increasing high waves. The second part depicts a crab walk on the beach sands through an energetic type of dance with origins on the northeast region of Brazil. This part also provides a return to the melancholic Modinha, and after a return to the crab walk dance ends the piece with a vigorous sequence of transpositions of the original five-note motif.