"Music of the Americas" is a sampler that begins with music by three of the greatest guitarist/composers of the twentieth century – neighbors of ours to the South – and continues with music arranged by me and/or written for me by North Americans, all friends of mine. First, there are masterpieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos of Brazil, Leo Brouwer of Cuba, and Agustín Barrios of Paraguay. Three ragtimes follow, my arrangements of compositions originally written for and played on the piano by the marvelous American composers William Bolcom, Max Morath and William Albright. To finish there is the superb "Fantasia for flute, guitar and ‘cello" which the composer William Neil dedicated to me and with which he won the American Academy’s Rome Prize.
The first composer represented on this CD is the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), the most famous composer of his country and of his continent as well. As prolific as he was original, Villa-Lobos wrote upwards of two thousand works – operas, ballets, symphonies, concertos, chamber music, piano pieces, and songs. Fortunately also, Villa-Lobos was a guitarist himself who enthusiastically dedicated himself to writing for our instrument, and his "Suite Populaire" (1912), "Etudes" (1929) and "Preludes (1935) became mainstays of the solo guitar repertoire. When Villa-Lobos composed this music however, its idiomatic style was radical, so rare in guitar music that one would have had to go all the way back to music written for the baroque guitar in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to best find parallels. Each of the Preludes and the one Etude played here demonstrates Villa-Lobos' seemingly unending ability to discover new, exotic and colorful guitaristic resources.
Has anyone ever written more sublimely for guitar? Certainly Villa-Lobos' music is among the most engaging work of the twentieth century, exploiting as it does the open strings and natural harmonics, as well as the left-hand slur and glissando, the resonance of arpeggios, and the mellow timbres of the bass strings sounded in the upper registers.
The Villa-Lobos group with which the CD starts comprises the complete set of all five "Preludes" and a finale, the eleventh of his twelve "Etudes". I’ve arranged the Preludes here in the order 1, 2, 4, 5, and 3 and rather than use Villa-Lobos’s numbers for the pieces, I’ve used his more descriptive subtitles. The best known of the set is probably the first, the “Lyric Prelude,” which was so often and so beautifully played by the great Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia. To me it evokes the ‘cello, another instrument Villa-Lobos played well, and it is a model of idiomatic writing for guitar I have often recommended to composers.
The exuberant, improvisatory "Prelude" which follows “The Malandro Carioca” refers to a Bohemian dandy (a “Malandro”), a resident of Rio de Janeiro (a “Carioca”). Then follow homages to three major sources of Villa-Lobos’s musical inspiration: a) the Brazilian Indians, remembered here with a haunting melody drawn from if not borrowed directly from the Brazilian Indians, b) turn-of-the-century Brazilian culture, here called by Villa-Lobos “the social life” and depicted with a waltz, and c) J.S. Bach, here evoked by Villa-Lobos’s Bach-like but impressionistic treatment of melody, harmony and development. "Etude 11" which ends the group would be remarkable for its invention had it been written yesterday, and is all the more remarkable since it was in fact written over eighty years ago. To me it appears to be based on a melody of the Brazilian Indians and it conjures the onset and passing of a downpour in the Brazilian rain forest (where, incidentally, for centuries the wood has been harvested to make the back and sides of fine guitars such as the one I play in this recording).
The next composer represented on this CD is the Cuban Leo Brouwer (b. 1939), an extraordinary figure, a man who does the work of several men. Having served as Music Director of the Havana Symphony and of the Philharmonic of Cordoba, Spain, he has conducted throughout the world. He has written dozens and dozens of film scores – one famous score for a non-Cuban film is his music for Water for Chocolate. He was also for years a unique, superb, and world-class concert guitarist and he was also unsurpassed as an organizer of guitar festivals.
Although Leo Brouwer unfortunately no longer performs as a guitarist, he continues to be a leading figure in demand at all major guitar festivals as a teacher/jurist/conductor. Like Villa-Lobos, Brouwer is a towering musical personality whose musical writing is informed by international currents at the same time it both pays loving homage to and shapes the culture of his homeland. Like Villa-Lobos also, Brouwer writes one guitar work after another, each one of which brings to light new wonderful guitaristic resources. His large oeuvre – didactic works, concert solos, chamber music and concertos – is known by all guitarists today.
When Leo Brouwer first sent me the pieces I play on this CD – which I later premiered in North America and in Cuba – the title was “Haiku”, referring to the short, sometimes enigmatic, always evocative seventeen-syllable Japanese poetic form. While Brouwer’s use of a five-tone scale in this music imparts an oriental overtone, his rhythms and melodies point to Cuban roots. To each piece is appended a verse of the Cuban poet Miguel Hernández and the title of the published score is "Epigrammatic Preludes." The way each of these miniatures instantly casts a spell and atmosphere is astonishing. The harmonies are at times fresh and unusual for the guitar but always wonderfully idiomatic, and what is more the whole set traverses an extraordinary range of dynamics and color. I have often given this score to composers to study as an example of how much one can do on the guitar with how few notes.
The composer of the next three pieces on the CD Agustín Barrios (1885-1944) was the preeminent guitarist in South America during the first half of the twentieth century, an extraordinary player who also composed exquisite miniatures. A typical Barrios recital included guitar music and transcriptions in the style of Spaniards such as his contemporary Andrés Segovia, or predecessors like Miguel Llobett or Francisco Tárrega, to which Barrios added his own wonderful compositions. Some of the same muses that inspired Villa-Lobos also animated Barrios: a) J.S. Bach, here represented by the “Prelude,” b) romantic European classical music, here reflected by the “Romance in the style of a ‘Cello”, and c) popular dance pieces of the epoch, here echoed by the “Zamba,” an Argentinean dance.
While all music lovers can appreciate Barrios’s heartfelt melodies and harmonies, his music is additionally special to guitarists because of how it feels under our fingers – the way it plays off the beauties of each of the guitar’s registers and idiomatically employs the entire range from the lowest notes to the highest. Therefore, when I want to test the qualities of a new guitar, the music I choose is often by Barrios.
The next music on the CD are my arrangements for guitar of three wonderful piano rags written by friends of mine. For me, each of these rags is unique and personal and through its innovations in harmony, rhythm and/or form gives new dimension and new life to a distinctly American style, arguably the classic American style, ragtime. The first rag is by William Bolcom (b. 1938) famous American composer of operas, symphonies, chamber music, and film scores. In 1974, William Bolcom wrote for me Seasons, an extraordinary fifteen-minute guitar solo depicting the seasonal cycle in Michigan – a masterpiece I am anxious to record for a future CD. Just a few years before composing "Seasons," Bill wrote a jewel of modern ragtime, "Graceful Ghost Rag" a sweet, gentle musical homage written upon the death of his father (1970).
Max Morath—composer of the lilting, rhythmically playful, and tender "One for Norma"—was among the first to introduce William Bolcom to classic ragtime scores. Morath was described by Rudi Blesh in the 1971 edition of "They All Played Ragtime"as "the reincarnation of the old-time all-around ragtime entertainer." Starting in the 1960s, Morath spearheaded the ragtime revival as a producer of TV documentaries and Broadway shows, and as a pianist, singer, and composer.
The wonderful, unexpected harmonic twists and turns of the third rag on this CD, "Sweet Sixteenths," attest to the wit and talent of William Albright (1944-1998), remarkable composer and exponent of new music for keyboards, especially the organ, who alas died too young. Shortly after he wrote "Sweet Sixteenths," William Albright wrote for me a guitar masterwork, the eighteen-minute solo "Shadows," which I also look forward to recording.
William Neil (b. 1954), the composer of the last work on the CD, is slightly younger than Bolcom and Albright and studied with both of them at the University of Michigan. In 1982, he won the coveted Rome Prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, in part for writing the piece which ends this CD, the "Fantasia for flute, guitar and cello (1979)." From 1984-1986 William Neil was the first composer-in-residence of the Chicago Lyric Opera’s famous commissioning program.
William Neil wrote the "Fantasia for flute, guitar and cello" reminiscing on a year he lived in Cologne, Germany. He remembered his disgust with the noise and the architectural ugliness of the city, and, at the same time, he recalled his delight in the beauty and peace of the city’s small, secluded walled gardens which he evokes here in quiet passages in which we can hear the chime-like sound of the guitar playing chords in harmonics. In writing this trio William Neil also thought about music from the seventeenth century, a time when the ensemble of wind, plucked string, and bowed string was especially popular. In the music’s first moments he elicits the spirit of earlier fantasias, capturing their virtuosic display, and throughout he features their improvisatory feeling.
It is a great pleasure to present this, the first recording of William Neil’s "Fantasia for flute, guitar and cello," a piece written for me, which I feel is among the finest chamber works for guitar of any time. In addition to its wonderful Bartokian flavor and compositional rigor, I love the clarity of its textures, the way each instrument contributes to the whole and the delicate voice of the guitar is never overwhelmed by the other more powerful instruments. In his phenomenal ability to make the guitar idiomatic and fit in the texture, William Neil recalls for me no composer more than Heitor Villa-Lobos, who I feel would be happy to have Neil’s music end a CD that begins with Villa-Lobos’s music.
My colleagues in recording William Neil’s "Fantasia for flute, guitar and cello" at an art museum in Wilmington, North Carolina are flutist Ellen Kaner and ‘cellist Robert Weber. Ellen and Robert are not yet household names – to my knowledge this was the first commercial recording for either of them – but in my opinion no one has played this music better than they have. When famous, excellent artists with whom I also played Neil’s "Fantasia for flute, guitar and cello" heard this recording, they would point to a passage played by Ellen or Robert and exclaim: “Who is THAT? What great playing!” I agree! It is with pride and pleasure that I join with Ellen Kaner and Robert Weber in bringing you this CD premiere of one of the treasures of the guitar chamber repertoire.
— MICHAEL LORIMER
Michael Lorimer Bio
Michael Lorimer, a favorite protégé of Andrés Segovia, caught the attention of American audiences in the early 1970s through tours arranged by the great impresario Sol Hurok. His popularity soon extended beyond the shores of America. The first American guitarist invited to perform in the USSR, he concertized there in 1975 and 1977 on two extensive tours. He has appeared in Israel, Cuba, throughout Europe, on most major North American recital series, with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and Orpheus, with Kronos, and with the orchestras of Atlanta, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Louisville, New Orleans, San Francisco and others.
At the same time that Michael Lorimer is an enthusiastic exponent of new music and of traditional classics, he is also the first world-class guitarist to regularly feature the baroque guitar in recital. Forty years ago, long before the present vogue in original instruments, Michael Lorimer was a pioneer bringing attention to the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century predecessor to the modern instrument. By the mid-1970s one London critic said, "If Lorimer is not the best baroque guitarist in the world at present the competition has still to present itself."
In 1987, Michael Lorimer brought to light a milestone of the guitar repertoire, the best surviving collection for any instrument of early eighteenth-century Spanish dance music, when he published a detailed study and facsimile of the Saldívar Codex No. 4, a large, hitherto anonymous manuscript from a private collection in Mexico, and identified it as the companion volume to the British Library manuscript Passacalles y Obras (1732), a legacy of Santiago de Murcia.
In addition to concerts, Michael Lorimer gives master classes at North American universities and conservatories from coast to coast. He is an engaging spokesman in demand for experimental programs in arts presentation. From 1965–1978, he lead the guitar department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. During the academic years 1980–1982, he was Distinguished Visiting Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Many of today's American performers and teachers studied with Lorimer and/or with Lorimer's students.
Michael Lorimer has written for the Guitar Review and for six years contributed a widely-praised, monthly column to Guitar Player. He edits the Michael Lorimer Editions which now numbers over forty volumes and is comprised of the Composers Series, a special forum for new guitar music; and the Classics Series, which features Lorimer's arrangements, including his well-known editions of Bach's Cello Suites 1–6, the first ever published of all six Bach suites.
Michael Lorimer was the star of the television special The Artistry of Michael Lorimer which appeared nationwide on PBS.