Angel was born in Mexico where he began his career in Music. He studied at the Real Conservatorio Superior de Musica in Madrid and finished his studies at the Ecole Superior de Musique et Art Dramatique, Schola Cantorum de Paris with First Honours. He has been five times awarded the prize of Arts in Mexico by the National Council for the Culture and the Arts.
Winner of the International Competition at the Rachmaninoff Conservatory in Paris he was invited by The Trinity College in Cambridge to play for the Heitor Villa-Lobos hundredth anniversary celebration. He has been a guest both teaching and performing at Music Festivals in several European countries as well as in China and the United States.
Notes on Pieces
William Walton (1902-1983)
III Alla Cubana
V Con slancio
The Five Bagatelles, William Walton’s only work for solo guitar, were dedicated to Malcolm Arnold as a 50th birthday present, but it was Julian Bream who guided the composer through the intricacies of an instrument about which he knew so little, and who gave the first performance. Walton’s only previous experience of the instrument had been Anon in Love, six songs for tenor and guitar.
Walton was near the end of his life; he had no energy for further operas, symphonies or concertos. The loss to the wider world of music proved to be of positive benefit to the guitar. Aided by a chart of the fingerboard provided by Bream, Walton produced what he called ‘some pretty pieces’. Guitarists liked them, and they rapidly found a place in the repertoire. Walton himself liked them so much that he later orchestrated them under the title Varii Capricci.
A certain astringent charm that can only be called Waltonian suffuse these five short pieces, from the arresting harmonics of No.1 to the headlong con slancio (‘leaping’) of No.5. The gentle accompanying figure of No.2 is reminiscent of Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1. The third, Alla Cubana, brought a rare touch of Latin America to British classical music. In No.4, Walton finds exquisite music in the common scale, as Verdi and other composers of genius have before him.
Enrique Granados (1867-1916)
This simple but elegant piece comes from Granados’ Opus 1 for piano, whose title, Cuentos para la juventud, can be translated as ‘Scenes from Childhood’, and perhaps perceived as an acknowledgement of the work of the same name by Robert Schumann, who preceded Granados by nearly 60 years and who died eleven years before the Spanish composer was born. By that time the Romantic movement contained a higher proportion of nationalism, and nowhere more prominently than in the Spain of Granados, Albéniz and their contemporaries.
Danza Española No.5
Completed in 1900, the Danzas Españolas fill four volumes of music based on the traditional melodies and rhythms of Spain. To No.5 (Andaluza¹) Granados imparts a romantic passion that is almost classical in its purity and elegance.
Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909)
Albéniz began his musical career as a prodigiously gifted child pianist. A spirit of adventure led him to stow away on a ship bound for the Caribbean. After living from hand to mouth, playing in cafés and other places of entertainment, a tour of South America and a visit to San Francisco led him eventually back to Spain and a serious study of composition. A meeting with the musicologist Felipe Pedrell set him in the direction of original Spanish melodies and rhythms, and away from the influences of France and Russia. This overwhelming interest in the folklore of his country made him a pivotal figure in the Nationalist movement in Spanish music, and permeates all his music, nearly all of which was written for the piano. The characteristic pieces in Suite Española, of which Cádiz is one, have universal appeal, not only to pianists but to guitarists from Segovia onwards.
Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)
Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy
Though much of Falla’s early music reflected Spain’s national instrument, the guitar, his tribute to Debussy is the only piece he wrote directly for it. It was Falla’s response to the Parisian Revue Musicale’s request to leading composers such as Bartók, Ravel and Stravinsky to contribute to a special edition, and it appeared in 1920, soon after Debussy’s death in 1918.
Homenaje is in the form of a slow habanera, well suited to the guitar’s musical capabilities, but there is nothing ‘guitaristic’ about it: this spare, concentrated music is beyond mere instrumentation, as Falla himself demonstrated when he arranged it for piano and again for orchestra. The direct quotation from Debussy’s Soirée dans Grenade towards the end reflects the French composer’s intense feelings about Spain.
Joaquín Malats (1872-1912)
A pianist by training, Joaquín Malats studied in Paris and toured in Europe and the Americas before returning to hs native Barcelona, where he spent most of his life. Serenata Española is one of a number of essentially salon pieces that through their skilful use of rhythm and melody achieve an atmospheric impression of Spain.
Darius Milhaud (1892-1974)
Darius Milhaud had the education of an all-round musician, studying violin, ensemble, harmony, counterpoint, composition and conducting. He also played the piano, on which he improvised melodies when he was a child. He was a prolific composer of operas, concertos, ballets and much orchestral, instrumental, vocal and chamber music, but nevertheless found time to write one guitar piece, Segoviana. Milhaud’s idiom was never anything less than uncompromisingly modern, and that may have delayed its acceptance into the general guitar repertoire.
Vicente Asencio (1908-1979)
The three parts of Suite Mística suggest the triptych of religious scenes often used as an altarpiece in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The central movement, Dipsô (‘I thirst’, one of the seven last words of Christ on the cross), was the first to be composed, in 1971, and was dedicated to Andrés Segovia. The other two movements were added later to form the Suite. It represents a departure from the folklore-inspired style of Asencio’s other compositions for guitar, but the combination of his poetic nature and intense religious beliefs resulted in a deeply-felt work.
Frank Martin (1890-1974)
Quatre pièces brèves
4. Comme un gigue
The importance of the Swiss composer Frank Martin is all too often underestimated. His reclusive nature is partly responsible: he tended to withhold his compositions from publication until he himself was satisfied that they had reached a kind of perfection.
The Quatre pièces brèves were composed in 1933, and waited a long time before coming to public attention. Like Walton’s Bagatelles, they are their composer’s only work for solo guitar, though Martin included the instrument in some chamber music. They belong to the period in which he began to be interested in serialism, and it is possible that these four short pieces served him as a testbed for his incipient thoughts. But Prélude has a key signature, which does not accord with the principles of serialism. Then, too, the titles seem to suggest a looking back to the suites of dances written by Bach, a composer who Martin revered above all others. It is this curious feeling of a Bach suite recast in the mould of modern serialism that gives the work much of its fascination.
In 1933 both Martin and Segovia were living in Geneva, though whether the great guitarist asked the Swiss composer to write something for him, or whether Martin hoped that Segovia might like the four short pieces well enough to play them, is not clear. In the event Segovia never played them, though he had gone to the extent of showing Martin some music by Castelnuovo-Tedesco as a guide.
A new version by Martin was performed by Hermann Leeb in 1938, prompting Segovia to ask Martin for a new copy of the work since he had lost the first one. Disappointed by Segovia’s treatment of him, Martin refused; and it was left to Julian Bream to make the first recording and thus secure the recognition this music deserves. Bream tried to get Frank Martin to compose another piece for guitar, but the composer was already 80 and, in Bream’s words, it was ‘a bit late in the day’.