Dusan Bogdanovic’s extraordinary ability to absorb and incorporate musical style and/or genre into his composition ranks him as one of the finest composer-guitarists alive today. This is starkly evident in his African Sketches, which, much like Beethoven was able to take disparate elements to elevate a genre (for example his use of canonic and fugal elements in the Diabelli Variations), Bogdanovic combines the rhythms and melodies of West Africa with the counterpoint of the Renaissance to elevate the idea of sketch- an indeterminate 20th century musical genre usually delineated from major works by their brevity and experimentalism. The outside movements, Allegro and Allegro Ritmico are similar thematically (just in a different key), but the first focuses on a 3 against 2 cross rhythm while the third focuses primarily on 3 against 4 (with some 3 against 5). The second movement, Misterioso is based off an African lullaby.
By 1819, Fernando Sor had fought against Napoleon, lost, sided with Napoleon (hardly the janissary), retreated with Napoleon’s armies back to Paris and finally settled in London for 4 years. He had achieved musical prominence in London as the guitarist of highest repute, and started both a voice studio and a guitar studio, teaching the aristocracy and their affluent propinquity; where he lived a life of luxury and fame. At 37 he was perhaps at the pinnacle of his life, and after his move from England he suffered from a series of personal and professional setbacks (perhaps most effectively evinced by his Op. 59).
If Op. 59 was written at Sor’s nadir, Op. 7 & 22 were written at his zenith. I have chosen to match the Largo from Op. 7 with the last two movements of Op. 22 to illustrate Sor’s understanding of genre and his flexibility as a composer. Op. 7 is much more mysterious, harmonically extended and progressive than Op. 22, where both movements follow well established genres and are harmonically straight forward. The Largo is programmed first to preserve the composer’s stylistic anachronism.
In 1953 Hans Werner Henze fled the mounting pressures of his success in Germany to Italy. His move had a profound affect on his compositions, which can be heard throughout his 1958 Kammermusik, from which Drei Tentos is excerpted. Hardly abstract music as the titles would imply, the work is based off the poem [In lovely blue…] by Friedrich Hölderlin, written when the author was committed to an insane asylum. The poem is included in this program above.
The first movement is given the subtitle “lovely little brook,” is built off the interval F# to G#, and is written in the Expression style (wide dynamic contrast, extended range etc). The second movement is subtitled “the eye often discovers,” and is roughly an ABA form, defined by jarring asymmetrical rhythms in the A sections and a flowing B section. The B section also has echoes of Stravinsky employing ideas of stasis, a technique that gives the impression of musical movement, but remains harmonically stagnant. Stasis passages can give the listener a musical impression of white noise, like engines or trains; sounds Henze was likely hearing more and more of in the late 1950s. The last movement, “Son of Laios” show’s Italy’s influence on Henze as he merges the his host country’s Bel Canto style and Germany’s new found Expressionism. [In lovely blue…]’s influence on Drei Tentos is pervasive, but general themes include: a distrust of all things of man- particularly technology, God in nature, exile and redemption.
Early in his life Federico Moreno Torroba was well known for his zarzuela’s (a type of Spanish operetta); and it was likely this fame, along with his conservative, neoromantic aesthetic, that brought Torroba to Andres Segovia’s attention in the 1920s. Segovia, who was always eager to enrich the guitar’s repertoire, was looking for a like-minded composer, and at their first meeting solicited Torroba to write a piece for the guitar. Torroba’s first piece was a short dance piece in E major for guitar, and though no copy of that piece survives, it is believed by some scholars that that first piece was later incorporated in Torroba’s first major work for the guitar, Suite Castellana as the third movement, Danze.
The first movement, Fandanguillo, is a traditional Spanish dance in ¾ time, where two distinct characters can be heard, a declamatory singer that opens the piece and a guitar, which plays behind the vocal line. The second movement Arada is a slow lyrical piece that is heavily influenced by French Impressionism, as heard in the pedal tones, arpeggiated diminished chords, and obfuscated tonalities.
Miroslav Tadić, another Balkan composer, is also able to synthesize disparate sources, most notably integrating American Jazz harmonies into Balkan meters and themes. Rustemul is a lively Romanian dance in 6/8 meter, Makedonsko Devojče, or the Macedonian Girl is an arrangement of a traditional Yugoslavian pop that extols beauty Macedonia women Walk Dance concludes in a vibrant 11/8 meter.