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Siete qui: Home Festival Festival 2011 Dancing to the guitar
Dancing to the guitar PDF Print E-mail
“The guitar is like a little orchestra – it can accompany a singer and hold its own in all sorts of instrumental pieces; it can play alone in complex or simple solos or in several parts (...). It is incredibly fascinating when played by a true virtuoso (...). However, its melancholy, dreamy character should be given more room.” These were Hector Berlioz’s opinions, set out in his Grand Traité d’instrumentation et d’orchestration modernes in 1843. His unexpected observation of the guitar’s “melancholy, dreamy character” is probably related to the picturesque palette of sound he used in his Symphonie Fantastique. In today’s concert we have not only melancholy and dreaminess, but a “true virtuoso” of the baroque guitar.
The guitar’s history goes a long way back. Like the lute, it probably appeared first in the middle east. In ancient languages like Sanskrit, for instance, Tar means a string -- hence Se-Tar, or Sitar, typical of eastern India, usually a three-stringed instrument. A bas-relief stone carving from the 13th century B.C. shows the “Hittite guitar”, a figure-of-eight-shaped instrument similar to a modern guitar, though much smaller, and the player plucked the strings.
Skimming through the centuries to the Christian era, from the 13th century comes a series of fine color illustrations from the Cantigas de Sancta Maria (testimony of the Arab domination of the Iberian Peninsula), showing a guitar very similar to the Hittite “original”.
After this developments moved in two main directions: the body became bigger so as to achieve a bigger sound, and strings were added in the low register. The strings were sometimes made of gut, and sometimes metal.
And where does the Baroque guitar fit in? Between the middle ages and modern times – so to speak – we can see the wood and strings reverberating at their best in the able hands of Hopkinson Smith. (As I write these notes I remember him playing the lute in Bach’s and Weiss’s difficult Suites, and the Spanish vihuela at the same sublime level in many concerts between the 1970s and 2000, in the Milanese concert series “Musica e poesia a San Maurizio”.)
But now we need to take another leap from the Baroque instrument to the guitar of our days. Between 1700 and 1900 the public’s tastes evolved and the guitar acquired “noble” connotations; it was heard in solos, chamber pieces and orchestral music, in the classical repertory. Composers like Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805), Fernando Sor (1778-1839), Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840), Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) and many others wrote original pieces for the guitar. Teachers and maestri like Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) dusted off its 19th century abandon (most houses had a piano) and transcribed important music for the guitar (Bach and many others). Original music was commissioned from new composers: there was of course de Falla but also Castelnuovo Tedesco, Aranjuez, Villa Lobos, Moreno, Torroba, Ponce, Rodrigo, Turina to name only a few. Most of them had studied in Spain and had a Spanish background, and here we can seek the thread linking the Baroque and modern guitar.
Popular inspiration is everywhere – and the call of folklore and dance. Tonight’s concert offers an anthology of dances, songs and popular themes. The selection from the Instrucción de Música sobre la Guitarra Española (Saragossa, 1674) by Gaspar Sanz (17th C.) includes elaborate compositions such as Pavane, Partite (variations), Sarabandes and Follies, alternating with clearly popular motives from France, Catalonia, or Naples (La Esfachata de Nápoles, the Tarantela.) We get a noble Passacaglia del primo tono followed by a Canarios, a dance something like a tarantella, by Francisco Guerau, a composer from Majorca (1649-1717/1722) who worked in Madrid, where he became a member of the Cappella of Charles II of Spain, and where in 1694 he published his Poema Harmonico.
A manuscript from the end of the 17th century by Antonio de Sancta Cruz takes us back to the typical Spanish guitar repertory, with dances and variations on a basso ostinato (ground bass) theme whose popular roots are clear for all to see. In the piece called Jácaras a very simple motif is repeated almost obsessively, varied only occasionally, and it only needs a dancer beating her heels and clacking her castanets to make it even more familiar!
Gaspar Sanz returns with five items in the last part of the program. After his Capriccio arpeggiato comes a piece entitled Marizàpalos. This was a girl’s name, but also a very popular song in the 17th century, picked up by many guitar composers - Guerau, de Murcia, etc.) – who wrote variations or adapted it as a dance. These are the words of the song: 

Marizápalos era muchacha
enamoradita de Pedro Martín,
por sobrina del cura estimada,
la gala del pueblo, la flor de Madrid

A bit sad really, but the last Canarios will sort that out once and for all!