COSTE: Guitar Works, Vol. 5
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Guitar Music Vol. 5
Napoleon Coste was France's greatest guitar composer. Born in a villagein eastern France and called after the new Emperor (the famous battles ofTrafalgar and Austerlitz were both fought in the year of his birth), Coste wasat first groomed for a military career. From the age of six, young Napoleonalso began to play the guitar, taking his first lessons from his mother. At theage of eleven he suffered an extended and serious il1ness; plans for hismilitary career were abandoned, but his musical talents blossomed. Coste gainedlocal fame as a performer and teacher of the guitar in Valenciennes, and in1828 even played duets with the visiting Italian virtuoso Luigi Sagrini (theyperformed Giuliani's Op. 130). In 1830, the year of the July Revolution, hemoved to Paris to pursue his career. Paris was not only one of the greatcultural centres of the world, it was also, in the 1820s, home to a guitaromanie,a rage for the guitar, which probably did not so much abate in the 1830s asbecome less remarkable in a city which saw new fads commencing daily Coste, whohad apparently had little formal training in music, studied theory andcomposition and also became the friend and pupil of Fernando Sor (1778-1839),the esteemed Spanish composer and guitarist.
All of the works on this recording (with the exception of Op. 41) wereprobably written in the last decade of the composer's life. Over a decadeearlier, an accidental fal1 had damaged his right arm and hand, effectivelyending his concert career. Coste nevertheless continued teaching and composing;his last pieces, which he published himself, represent a sort of apogee of hisart. Free of both editorial and technical restraints (he, after all, wouldnever be expected to play them), he wrote here some of his most imaginative,expressive, and difficult works. A quintessential Romantic, the composer foundinspiration in the changing seasons (Opp. 41-42), in Alpine landscapes andnostalgia for his lost youth (Op. 44), in tragic emotion (Op. 43), and inpoetic sensibility (Op. 45).
Coste's La Ronde de Mai, precedee d'un Larghetto: Divertissement,Op. 42, opens with an elaborate introduction, filled with shimmeringChopinesque cadenzas (one in harmonics), which leads directly into a rhapsodicscherzo, far from the folkloric dance of spring suggested by the title.
Feuilles d'Automne: Douze valses, Op. 41, is a splendid set of waltzes, perhapsthe finest ever written for guitar. A rich assortment of melodies seems to pourfrom the composer's fecund imagination; the mood shifts constantly, at timesrustic and bumptious, then gentle and wistful. The music was probably composedas early as 1856, since a work by the same name (and described as Op. 27, anumber later assigned to a different piece) was among the five pieces Costesubmitted in a celebrated competition that year. The Feuilles d'Automne remainedunpublished until 1876, a year which also saw the resurrection abroad of thecareer of the French waltz king, ?ëmile Waldteufel, and a new wave of popularityin the Third Republic for this venerable dance. The Feuilles d'Automne werededicated to Coste's friend and disciple Soffren Degen, a Dane whose preciouscol1ection of Coste manuscripts are today preserved in the Royal Library inCopenhagen.
Coste dedicated Marche fun?¿bre et Rondeau, Op. 43, to "MmeCoste, my pupil and my wife." The funeral march was a musical genrecapable of expressing the most profound emotions, and consequently, it wasparticularly appreciated by romantic composers such as Beethoven, Chopin, andLiszt. The solo guitar may seem an odd choice of instrumentation for a funeralmarch, but there were a surprising number of precedents. As early as 1806- 7,The guitarist and publisher Anton Diabelli composed as Trauer Marsch uponthe death of his beloved teacher Michael Haydn, and another to commemorate thedeath of the Empress Maria Theresia. Another Viennese guitarist composer, SimonFranz Molitor, penned a Marche fun?¿bre to commemorate the death of hisfellow guitarist Franz Tandler. Coste's friend and teacher, Fernando Sor,composed several funeral marches-for guitar (in his Fantaisie etegiaque, Op.
59), for harpolyre, and for military band-including one commissioned for thefuneral of Tsar Alexander I (1801-1825). Coste's contemporary and rival, JohannKaspar Mertz, included a Trauer Marsch among his gloomy NanienTrauerlieder for two guitars. Coste's Roudeau is light and tuneful,in striking contrast with the preceding piece.
Souvenir du Jura: Andante et Polonaise, Op. 44. The Jura is a region of western Francewhich the Bourbon kings of the Ancien Regime had annexed from the medievalstate of Burgundy, referring to it as the Franche-Comte. Coste's birthplace ofAmondans was located in the Jura, on a fertile plateau south of Besan?ºon andnot far down the picturesque Loue river from Ornans, which was immortalized bythe painter Gustave Courbet. Much of the rest of the region consists offorested mountains, deep glacier-gouged valleys, and picturesque lakes. Here andthere, subterranean rivers erupt from rocky hillsides; one such resurgence, thesource of the Lyson river, inspired Coste to compose his Op. 47. The musicalconnection between the region and the music is not evident, but the florid Andanteand the tuneful Polonaise nevertheless constitute one of Coste' smost attractive and popular solos.
Divagation: Fantaisie, Op. 45. The curious title Divagation implieswandering about with no particular destination; it is probably a reference tothe sort of "rambling" which was basic to Romantic musical andliterary culture, from Byron's Childe Harold to Liszt's Annees dep?¿lerinage. The title is also descriptive of the music, which features avery free introduction of schizophrenic mood changes, frenetic scales and passionatecadenzas, and concludes with a brilliant waltz-like allegretto.