SOR: 25 Progressive Studies, Op. 60 / Fantaisie Elegiaque (Bonnie Silver/ Nicholas Goluses) (Naxos: 8.553342)
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Fernando Sor (1778 - 1839)
Guitar Fantasies and Studies, Opp. 58- 60
In the late 1820s the Spanish-born guitarist and composer Fernando Sor settled in guitar-mad Paris. Since his exile from his native land in 1813, he had achieved notable successes, first in Paris and London, and later during his triumphant tour across Europe to Russia. Now back in Paris, Sor was in the ironic position of the parvenu; most of the great guitarists of Europe were already established in Paris, and had already acquired entrenched followings. The competition included the likes of Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841), a Neapolitan who had helped fire the French guitaromanie as early as 1808, Francesco Molino, (1768-1847) a Piedmontese also accomplished on the violin, with a knack for accessible chamber music and connections to the Bourbon court, and Matteo Carcassi (1792-1853), a Florentine remembered better as a teacher than a virtuoso. fu spite of such competition, Sor had a great deal to offer, especially his reputation as a complete musician, a composer who had written successful operas, ballets, piano works and songs as well as guitar pieces.
Throughout the 1830s Sor continued to compose, to perform occasionally, and to attract a select clientele of pupils who probably provided the greater part of his income. Many of the fashionable young women of that era took music lessons, some in hopes of attracting a suitable husband, others to entertain family and friends in the bourgeois parlour; the guitar remained a popular instrument, suitable both for accompaniment and for solos. Sor's pupils included talented amateurs, professional guitarists such as Napoleon Coste (1805-1883), and even the exiled General Jose de San Martin (1778-1850), one of the heroes of South American independence. Sor's real affection for some of his pupils is apparent in his later compositions; the present pieces, published in about 1835 to 1837, were his last published guitar solos - two major concert works composed for or dedicated to particular students, and his last set of pedagogical works.
In this century, Sor has been characterized as a musical conservative, a Haydn in the age of Berlioz. This reputation is largely based on his better-known earlier works, continuously available since the nineteenth century, with their clear polyphony, full harmonies, and the measured proportions of classicism. Sor's well-crafted and dignified studies and minuets found their way into the concerts of Segovia and Bream, and became standards of the modem guitar repertory, but this categorization of Sor's truvre is difficult to defend in light of the imagination, variety, and experimentation evident in his later works, little known and not commercially available until the last few decades, and still rarely heard in concert. While Sor still avoided virtuosic posturing or the dramatic effects of \Monsieur Crescendo," Rossini, in those years the world's most popular and influential composer, he was very much a part of the romantic musical "scene." He shared a publisher (Pacini) with Rossini and Paganini, presented concerts with the likes of John Field and the young Franz Liszt, and lived until 1832 in apartments in the Hotel Favart, facing the Theatre des Italiens (later the Opera-Cornique), the Parisian centre of bel canto and also of the French music publishing industry. In his later works, Sor explored various romantic genres from funeral marches to nationalism and bucolic festivals, and he demonstrated that he was capable of expressing, through music, the most profound emotions.
The Fantaisie ...expressement composée et dediée à son élève Madame Boischevalier , née Mertian, Op. 58, begins with an Andante largo in A minor, followed by an Andante which modulates between the major and minor, concluding with a waltz in A major. The waltz figures prominently among Sor's later compositions, as the minuet had among his earlier works, perhaps a concession to fashion, but more probably because of Sor's obvious aptitude for the form. The Fantaisie elegiaque ...à la mort de Madame Beslay, nee Levavasseur, Op. 59, is a two-movement work in E consisting of an expressive Andante largo and a Marche funèbre. It may be Sor's most powerful, most emotional work, from the dramatic diminished chord with which it opens, to the eerie notes struck with left hand only, to the words "Charlotte!" and "Adieu!" written over the music (perhaps to be spoken?) toward the end of the funeral march. The musicologist Matanya Ophée has discovered that Mme Beslay was an accomplished pianist who had studied the guitar with Sor. The daughter of a Napoleonic officer, she married Charles Beslay in 1833 and a few years later died in childbirth. Like Mozart's Requiem, Sor's elegy also seems to anticipate the composer's own death in 1839.
It is appropriate that the man who wrote some of the guitar's greatest studies should compose a new set of lessons as his last published work for solo guitar. The Introduction à l'Etude de la Guitare en vingt cinq leçons progressives. .., Op. 60 consists of very easy to intermediate works, carefully fingered for the left hand. More realistic as teaching pieces than the famous Opp. 6 and 29 concert studies, these melodic miniatures, paragons of simplicity and elegance, provide useful introductions to the most commonly used key-signatures and to such devices as scordatura and harmonics; they also demonstrate that music need not be complicated or difficult in order to be beautiful.
Richard M. Long
Nicolas Goluses is Professor of Guitar at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, and has also held the Andrès Segovia Faculty Chair at Manhattan School of Music, where he received the Pablo Casals Award for Musical Accomplishment and Human Endeavour and the Faculty Award of Distinguished Merit. He has appeared as a soloist, chamber-music player and with orchestras throughout the Americas, in Europe and the Far East. Committed to the performance of new music, Nicolas Goluses has given the first performances of a number of concertos for guitar and orchestra as well as of solo and chamber music by many of the world's leading composers.
Performing editions by Nicholas Goluses are publicised by Tuscany editions, Temple Terrace, Florida, USA, distributed by Theodore Presser, Co., Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, USA.