SOR: Souvenir d'Amitie / 6 Petites Pieces, Op. 47 (Jeffrey McFadden) (Naxos: 8.553985)
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Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
Complete Works forGuitar, Opp. 46-48, 50 & 51
In the first years ofthe nineteenth century, Paris became the centre of the guitar world; most ofthe worlds best guitarists settled there, drawn by the city's venues, itspublishers, its wealthy and enthusiastic dilettantes, as well as itsfashionable reputation. Fernando Sor (1778-1839) settled there in about 1827 atthe end of along European odyssey which had begun a decade earlier in hisnative Spain, followed by post-Napoleonic exile to Paris, an extended stay inLondon, and a celebrated visit to Russia. Back in Paris, Sor's principalcompetition included several native Frenchmen and a number of Italians,including the Neapolitan Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841), who had helped firethe French guitaromanie as earlyas 1808 and who still had a considerablefollowing; the Piedmontese Francesco Molino (1768-1874), also accomplished onthe violin and with court connections, and the Florentine Matteo Carcassi(1792-1853), later the author of perhaps the most famous guitar method everwritten. The rivalry among these professionals is only slightly exaggerated bya humorous illustration in Charles de Marescot's little book, LaGuitaromanie, depicting a pitched battle between 'Carulistes' and'Molinistes' clubbing each other with their guitars.
Op. 46: Souvenird'Amitie: Fantaisie (c. 1831) was one of several works which Sor composedfor or dedicated to other guitarists. The dedicatee in this case, Jules Regondi(1822-1872), was only about nine years old when Sor wrote this work in homageto his prodigious abilities. Born in Geneva, Regondi began performing when hewas five, and toured Europe in the company of his father; he probably met Sorin Paris in about 1830. Shortly after this meeting the young performer moved toLondon where he was abandoned and left destitute by his father. He managed tosurvive and establish a successful career as composer and virtuoso of both theguitar and concertina. Sor's work consists of three continuous movements -Andante moderato, Andantino, Allegretto - all in the amiable (forguitarists) key of A. In spite of the youth of the dedicatee this is ademanding work, and unusual because of the brief appearance of a tremolo, atechnique Sor rarely employed but for which Regondi became well-known.
Sor probably intendedthe Six Petites Pi?¿ces, Op. 47 (c.1832) to be performed in pairs, asevidenced by the tempi and key signatures: Andante in D minor and Allegrettoin D major, an Andante in E major and Allegretto in E minor,and a Cantabile and Valse in A major. One of his pupils, MileCrabouillet, was the dedicatee of both Op. 47 and Op. 50: Le Calme: Caprice (c.1832).
The latter piece, a lyrical single movement (Andante) in E major, isanother demanding work; if Mile Crabouillet could play it well, she must havebeen a prized disciple. Several of Sor's works of about 1832 were musical jokesor parodies written in response to persistent criticism that his music was toodifficult for the amateurs. In his introduction to Op. 48, Sor explained thathe had received numerous requests over time to write 'easy' works, but in spiteof his best efforts, including a number of lessons for beginner, none had beensufficiently easy to satisfy some amateurs. His Op. 45, entitled Voyons sic'est ?ºa ('Let's see if this will do'), had even been criticized, he said,for requiring bass notes which could not be played on open strings, and becauseits No. 5 actually 'began to incline toward harmony,' and No. 6 was almostentirely written in three voices. His response to these critics, in which hevowed not to afflict them with such inconveniences, thus was Est-ce bien ?ºa?Six Pi?¿ces... Op. 48 (c. 1832). Is this it? - a new group of pieces whichare obviously parodies of the pedagogical music of his rivals. The remark aboutthe bass notes may have been a reference to Carulli, who had about a yearearlier published a method for a new ten-string guitar. This instrument,'invented' by Carulli, was not actually designed to extend the range of the guitarbut rather to provide more open bass strings which need not be fretted by theleft hand. Sor's pieces are themselves hilarious to anyone who has playedthrough the minor, pedagogical works of these Italians; the Waltzes (Nos.
2 and 4), the Minuet (No. 3), and the Rondo (No. 6) all recallCarcassi in general and his Op. 100 in particular, but the unnamed No. 5 isclearly a satire on Carulli's bombastic bel canto style.
Op. 51: ?Ç la bonneheure: Six Valses (c. 1832) was supposedly created in response to newcriticism that Op. 48 had not been typical of his music. In a newintroduction, Sor noted with mock ruefulness that there had been a time hewould have felt such criticism to be the reflections of a publisher concernedonly with sales, but having become a publisher himself...! These new waltzes, hecontinued, were for those who had neither the time nor the desire to study,those who instead desired to play without straining their heads to discover thecorrect fingering nor wearying their hands by practising passages. For these,he had written music with the greatest use of open strings, and with almost asmany fingerings as there were notes. One of his 'critics', he recounted, uponseeing several of these new pieces, had exclaimed '?Ç la bonne heure!' (Finally!),thus providing him with his title. In spite of this sarcasm, the music is quitecharming, lacking any trace of bitterness, and in several of the waltzes Sor'sability to extract attractive little melodies from the open strings isdownright ingenious. Parisian amateurs (who did not mind being patronised)certainly had the attractive yet easy music they desired.