COSTE: Guitar Works, Vol. 4
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Guitar Works, Op. 38
Napoleon Caste was France's greatest guitar composer and, together withMertz, the guitar composer most representative of the Romantic style. He wasborn in the village of Amondans in the picturesque Loue river valley,immortalized by the painter Gustave Courbet. Caste's father, the village mayorand a former infantry captain, patriotically named his son after the newEmperor (1805 was the year of Ulm and Austerlitz, but also of Trafalgar) andgroomed him for a military career. From age six, young Napoleon also began toplay guitar, taking his first lessons from his mother. At the age of elevenCaste suffered an extended and serious illness, and the family seems to haveabandoned any plans for his military career. The youthful Caste, living inValenciennes, gained local fame as a performer and teacher of the guitar, andin 1828 even played duets with the visiting Italian virtuoso Luigi Sagrini(they performed Giuliani's Op. 130). In 1830, the year of the July Revolution,Caste moved to Paris to pursue his career. The French capital was not only oneof the great cultural centers of the world but also, since the 1820s, home to aguitaromanie, a rage for the guitar, which was attracting performersfrom throughout western Europe, especially the Italian states and Spain.
Caste, who apparently had little formal training in music, studiedtheory and composition in Paris and also became the friend and pupil ofFernando Sor (1778-1839), the esteemed Spanish composer and guitarist. One ofCaste's concerts in 1838 opened with a duet featuring Sor in his lastdocumented public appearance. The piece they performed may well have been Sor'sSouvenir de Russie, op. 63, which was the last piece Sor published inhis lifetime and his last numbered work; it was dedicated '?á son ami, N Caste.'Simon Wynberg, in his edition of Caste's works, also cites an extant copy ofSor's Divertissement, op. 62 (1838) which carries a similar, handwrittendedication. Whichever piece they performed, this friendship between the Spanishmaestro and the brilliant young Frenchman would prove historically importantfor both men, for Caste derived considerable prestige from his reputation asSor's last and greatest pupil; in return, Caste made several significantcontributions to Sor's legacy.
Caste's own compositions began to appear in print in the 1840s, and inabout 1851 he also published a Complete Method for Guitar by Fernando Sor. Thiswork, in spite of its title, was in fact anew method for the guitar by Castehimself, based on the technical principles he had learned from Sor, andaugmented with a number of Sor's studies as well as a few original pieces byCaste. It is not to be confused with Sor's own Method of over a decadeearlier, which was not really a 'method' at all in the traditional sense butinstead a remarkable discussion of guitar technique, primarily descriptive,with few musical examples. Thus, Caste's work filled a void, since it provideda pedagogical system by which beginners could learn to play in the manner ofSor, in contrast to the 'methods' of Sor's rivals such as Carulli, Carcassi,and Molino. Whether Sor himself authorized this project or would have approvedis impossible to know. Nevertheless, the work was successful if one judges bythe number of editions which followed; its profound influence on guitarpedagogy is best illustrated by the following anecdote: In 1945, the virtuosoAndres Segovia published a set of twenty studies by Sor. In his introduction tothe work, Segovia praised these pieces for demonstrating the 'right balancebetween ... pedagogical purpose and ... natural musical beauty' and recommendingthem both to the student who wished to develop superior technique, and to themaster who wished to maintain it. An instant classic, these twenty 'Segoviastudies' thereafter become ubiquitous in guitar pedagogy, and remain so today.
But, in an article in Soundboard in 1984, the Norwegian guitarist andmusicologist Erik Stenstadvold pointed out that sixteen of the Segovia twentywere among the twenty-four Sor studies Caste had selected for his 1851 Method,and, furthermore, that virtually every digression from Sor's original to befound in Caste's edition, including the occasional editorial error, isduplicated in the Segovia collection.
Nor is this the only way in which modem guitarists who perform Sor'sworks are indebted to Coste. In the 1870s, when many of Sor's works had goneout of print, Coste published new arrangements of several of the maestro'sduets. Bryan Jeffery, in his biography of Sor, notes that it was Coste who wasresponsible for the most frequently heard modern arrangement of Sor's L'Encouragement,op. 34. This piece had been originally conceived as a duet for master andstudent, with one part considerably more difficult than the other; in Coste'sedition and in the many modern editions based on it, the two guitars share backand forth the more difficult melodic lines, creating an equal duet with greaterappeal to concert performers (and audiences).
The present recording brings together Coste's most important pedagogicalcontributions to the guitar: the miscellaneous pieces he wrote for his editionof the Complete Method for Guitar by Fernando Sor, and the publication,two decades later, of his own classic set of studies, Opus 38. All of theseworks were composed for a seven-string guitar, that is, a standard guitar withan additional bass tuned to D and occasionally to C, but are playable on asix-string guitar with minor retuning.
The Introduction and Allegretto, in the keys of A minor and Amajor respectively, were taken from the Method of 1851. The latter is anexercise in thirds and sixths, with chromatic passing tones.
Coste's Twenty-Five Etudes, Op. 38, have never been out of printsince they first appeared in around 1873. As much exercises in composition asthey are technical studies, these pieces feature a harmonic sophisticationunprecedented in guitar music except perhaps in the works of Sor; several ofthem are uncompromisingly polyphonic, sustaining three and even four movingvoices. Nevertheless, Coste disguised his didactic intents with plenty ofattractive melodies, sparkling scale passages, and several brilliant cadenzas,creating one of the guitar repertory's finest sets of concert etudes. Most werededicated to a friend or pupil; No. 9, for example, was dedicated to SoffrenDegen, the Dane whose collection of Coste manuscripts has become an invaluableresource to modern scholars studying this composer's music ?ëtude No. 25was dedicated to Nikolai Makarov, the wealthy Russian nobleman and guitar aficionadowho sponsored the Brussels Concours of 1856, a competition to whichthirty-one guitar composers submitted sixty-four compositions. (Coste wonsecond prize; the first prize was awarded to Mertz). ?ëtude No. 14 was anAndante extracted from an unpublished Fantaisie symphonique, anddedicated by the composer to his wife.
The remaining pieces on this recording were also first published in the Methodof 1851. The R?¬verie Nocturne in D is an exercise inharmonics; the Preludio (No. 11) in G is an arpeggio exercise, and thelovely Andante (No. 14) in D features a melody in the bass, polyphony,and a dramatic cadenza. Preludio (No. 12) in G is another piecefeaturing almost vocal polyphony, while Estudio (No. 13) in Gminor sustains a pedal in the inner voice.