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MarioCastelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968): Music for guitar
In the 1920s Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco emerged as one of Italy's mostpromising young composers. Hailed as a member of the Italian "Five"with the likes of Malipiero and Respighi, Castelnuovo-Tedesco's careerflourished as his symphonic music, concertos, piano music, and song-cyclesreceived critical acclaim as well as performances by Heifetz, Gieseking,Piatigorsky, and Toscanini. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was also a respected musiccritic, championing the music of Falla and Stravinsky, among others. ASephardic Jew, he felt an affinity for Spanish music and frequently foundinspiration in Spanish culture. In the 1930s he met Andres Segovia and begancomposing for the guitar, but his career in Europe was drawing to a close. In1938 Mussolini agreed to embrace Hitler's racial policies. Encouraged bySegovia and others, Castelnuovo-Tedesco decided to emigrate to the UnitedStates. His first guitar concerto, the Concerto in D, Op. 99, was written in1939, during this period of dislocation, and the beautiful second movement wasthe composer's addio to his beloved Florence.
Armed with warm recommendations from Heifetz, Toscanini, and others,Castelnuovo-Tedesco found work in Hollywood. Film had only emerged from thesilent era about a decade earlier, so composing for it was anew craft, similarin some respects to traditional genres such as incidental music and programmemusic, but burdened with complicated technical considerations and therequirement to collaborate, often without credit. Castelnuovo-Tedesco wasuniquely suited to the profession because of the unusual speed and accuracy ofhis work, and because of his almost instinctive orchestration. He was involvedin the scoring of about a hundred films between 1940 and his retirement in1956, and the music cues from these films were used again by the studios instill another hundred or more films. Because of his success in film scoring,Castelnuovo-Tedesco also became a highly sought-after teacher whose pupils includedHenry Mancini, Jerry Goldsmith, Andre Previn, and Nelson Riddle, but duringthis period and thereafter he never ceased to compose his own music, includinga great deal of chamber music and many pieces for the guitar.
"Escarraman", A Suite of Spanish Dances from the XVIthCentury (after Cervantes), Op. 177, is along neglected masterpiece in theguitar repertory. Like many of the composer's efforts, it contained passages inits unedited form (Castelnuovo-Tedesco was not a guitarist) which were literallyimpossible to perform. Escarraman was one of those colourful but disreputablecharacters to be found in Spanish literature in the Siglo de Oro, an underworldcharacter who appeared in the jacaras of Francisco Gomez de Quevedo andothers. The illustrious Cervantes, an admirer of Quevedo, also depicted thisunderworld on occasion, and several of his comic Entremeses inspiredCastelnuovo-Tedesco's suite. Early in 1955 the composer wrote La guardacuydadosa, based on Cervantes' shabby soldier who guards the street whereinresides a pretty scullery maid; the soldier chases off several potentialsuitors, but in the end his beloved chooses another with better financialprospects. Evidently pleased with this charming little burlesque,Castelnuovo-Tedesco added to it five more movements to create the suite. Basedon several passages in El rufian viudo, the pieces are less dances thanthey are little narratives, with subtly shifting moods and recurring motifs,strongly suggesting the sound-track to a film that was playing in thecomposer's mind. The Gallarda begins in a dark minor key, quite unlikethe Renaissance dance of the same name, and changes keys several times beforeending on a triumphant major. El Canario is also far removed from itsnamesake, the dance from the Canary Islands with the insistent hemiola;Castelnuovo-Tedesco's is more like a Murciana, mixing in attractive falsetas.
In El Villano ('The Country Bumpkin') a clumsy rustic dance almostevolves into a waltz. Pesame dello amor (I am sorry) is reminiscent of aRenaissance fantasy, beginning with a simple but touching theme and thencreating a rich texture based primarily on imitation. El Rey Don Alonso elBueno consists of tongue-in-cheek contrapuntal variations on a nurserytheme, an effervescent march with bugle calls. La guarda cuydadosa ('Thesoldier in love') is another witty march, scherzando and frenetic; forthe guitarist it is a picaresque adventure, with danger at every turn ofphrase.
When Segovia gave the first performance of Castelnuovo-Tedesco's Sonata"Omaggio a Boccherini", Op. 77, in Geneva in 1934, a critic namedGuilloux, writing of the event in the Journal de Gen?¿ve, observed thatthe guitarist was such an artist that he could have made J'ai du bon tabac, alittle French children's song, into a masterpiece. Castelnuovo-Tedesco, uponreading the review, obtained a copy of this tune and composed his Variationsplaisantes sur un petit air populaire, Op. 95, which he dedicated to M.
Guilloux. The composer sets the mood by providing Satie-esque instructions (thetheme is "Grumpy and jerky", the first variation, "Fat andvain"). The third variation, entitled A l'espagnole (Hommage ?áGranados), is a clever paraphrase of Granados' Danza espanola No. 6,
Jota (Rondalla aragonesa); the fourth variation, Interm?¿deromantique, is a tremolo, and the piece concludes with L'inevitableFugue.
Aranci in flore, Op. 87a, was written in 1936 for AldoBruzzichelli, a Florentine friend who played the guitar and who later becameone of Castelnuovo-Tedesco ' s publishers. According to one anecdote,Bruzzichelli, who was the proprietor of a cafe in the Piazza Santa MariaNovella, had managed to locate a rare basket of oranges forCastelnuovo-Tedesco's son Lorenzo, who was ill. This act of kindness inspiredboth the father's gratitude and this lovely pastoral music, which evokesSicilian orange-trees in blossom, and anticipates the Siciliana movement of thecomposer's later (1961) Sonatina canonica for two guitars.
The Tarantella, Op. 87b,written for Segovia in the sameyear, became the composer's best-known guitar solo and a standard element inthe guitarist's repertory. Castelnuovo-Tedesco was exploring Italian traditionsin those years, and so it was only appropriate that he explore thepossibilities of this most popular of national dances; he wrote several othertarantellas in his career, notably the Tarantella scura from Piedigrotta1924, Op. 32.
Variations ?á travers les si?¿cles, Op. 71 (1932), was probablyCastelnuovo-Tedesco's first work for guitar, written shortly after he metSegovia in Venice in 1932. Segovia had asked the composer to write guitar musicfor him, and sent him a copy of Sor's Mozart Variations, Op. 9, andPonce's Variations on Las Folias as examples of well-written guitarmusic. Castelnuovo-?¡Tedesco chose for his theme a Chaconne in D minor,inspired perhaps by Segovia's famous transcription of Bach, on which he wasworking at the time. It was first performed in the 1933-34 concert season,followed by a Preludio ('Variation I'), several waltzes, and afox-trot on the same theme. The first two movements represent the Baroqueperiod, the waltzes recall the Romantic era, and the Fox-trot evokes thecontemporary period with its jazz rhythms, hence the title "?á traversles si?¿cles" ('Through the centuries'). Castelnuovo-Tedesco also madeuse of the