SOR: Grande Sonates, Opp. 22 and 25 / Divertissement, Op. 23 (Adam Holzman/ Bonnie Silver) (Naxos: 8.553340)
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Fernando Sor (1778 -1839)
Guitar Music Opp. 22 to 25
Fernando Sor was born in Barcelona and received his early musical training at the monastery of Montserrat, where he sang in the famous choir. Sor was a prodigy; his opera Il Telemaco nell'isola di Calipso was produced in 1797, when he was only nineteen. Training in music seems an unusual background for a military career, but Sor did join the army, and his administrative duties do not seem to have significantly curtailed his musical activities. The Napoleonic invasion of Spain in 1808 created a dilemma for young officers such as Sor. As educated men, they were well aware of the backwardness of the Spanish Borbón regime, which had ignored the philosophical and scientific developments of the Enlightenment and which continued to sponsor anachronisms such as the Inquisition; they were also cognizant of the opportunities offered by the revolutionary reforms the Bonapartes would impose. A performer or composer such as Sor might also have noted that Imperial Paris offered far greater possibilities for career advancement than did Spain. Sor remained loyal to the Borb6n dynasty for a while, but eventually joined other liberal officers in supporting the French. Consequently, the defeat of the French in 1813 doomed Sor, and others like him, to an exile from his native land which proved permanent.
Sor's musical career was far more successful than his military career had been, taking him from Paris to London, and on one triumphant tour as far as Moscow. In the late 1820s, Sor returned to Paris, where he remained until his death, publishing his works, teaching, and giving occasional concerts, sometimes with his brother Carlos or his friend Dionisio Aguado. He composed over sixty works for one or two guitars, as well as several dozen songs, a few ballets, and other miscellaneous works. His music for guitar, especially the larger-scale works and the studies, was composed in the international classical style and demonstrates a polyphonic approach and an academic concern for form often missing in the music of contemporary guitarists. Sor wrote many of the jewels in the crown of the guitar repertory, but even his lesser works demonstrate consummate craftsmanship and compare favourably with equivalent pieces by virtually any of the composers of his age.
Sor's Opp. 22-25 were first published in Paris in 1825-27, but it is probable that at least several of them had been written much earlier, while he was still living in Spain. One clue is the dedication of the Grand Sonata, Op. 22 to \the Prince of the Peace," a soubriquet that Manuel Godoy Alvarez de Faria (1767-1851), minister to the mediocre Spanish King Carlos IV, had earned by negotiating a treaty with the French Republic in 1795. Godoy's pro-French policies and his amorous relationship with the Queen earned him the hatred of the heir apparent and many Spaniards; consequently, Godoy accompanied the royal family into exile in 1808. Sor may have met Godoy through the Duchess of Alba, whose protege he had been briefly, before her death in 1802. It is possible, but less likely, that the dedication occurred at some later time, perhaps while the Borbóns were in exile at Compiegne. Brian Jeffery, in his writings on Sor, further observes that several of the pieces in Op. 23 had been previously published in Paris as early as 1810.
The Grand Sonata [No.1, in C], Op. 22, with its four movements, is on a far larger scale than Sor's earlier, single movement sonatas, and seems to have been conceived as a sort of classical symphony for solo guitar: Allegro, Adagio, Minuet to, and Rondo allegretto; the digressions into the key of C minor were atypical of most guitar composers of the period, but not of Sor, who used the key often.
Two different editions of Cinquieme Divertissement tres facile..., Op. 23, were published by Meissonnier in Paris in 1825 or shortly later. Although both editions shared the same plate number they included different pieces, so that a total of ten pieces were at one time or another included under this title and opus number; variants of two of these, as noted above, had also been published by Castro in Paris in c. 1810. The complete list is as follows: Valse [No.1] in D (No.1 in both editions); Allegretto [incorrectly titled "Valse"] in D (lst ed., No.2, Castro No.2); Allegretto in A (2nd ed., No.2); Valse [No.2] in D (No.3 in both editions); Minuet to in D (lst ed., No.4, Castro No.1); Allegretto [No.2] in D (2nd ed., No.4); Allemande in D (lst ed., No.5); Menuet in G (2nd ed., No.5); Andante in F (2nd ed., No.6); Valse in E (lst ed., No.6, 2nd ed., No.7).
Six of the Huit Petites Pieces, Op. 24, are minuets, a dance form which Sor favoured but which was already declining in fashion. Both Grand Sonatas also contain attractive minuets.
The Second Grand Sonata, Op. 25, also in the key of C, differs significantly and almost self-consciously from the first, opening with an extended Andante largo in C minor, followed in succession by an Allegro non troppo, a theme with variations (Andantino grazioso), and concluding with a Minuet to.
The American guitarist Adam Holzman enjoys a distinguished international reputation. Victory in five international competitions includes first prize in 1983 at the Quebec GFA Concours International de Guitare, top award at the Ninth Concorso Internazionale di Interpretazione di Gargnano in Italy and Bronze Medal at the Third Toronto International Guitar Festival. In addition to performances throughout the United States of America, Adam Holzman has appeared abroad, with concerts in Holland, Italy, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama, and reached an even wider audience when he was twice chosen to perform in historic masterclasses by the legendary Andrès Segovia. He is founder of the Guitar Department at the University of Texas at Austin, where, in addition to his active performing career, he heads a thriving guitar studio. From 1992 to 1994 he held the title Maestro Extraordinario from the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo León, Monterrey, Mexico, where he served as artist-in-residence.