COSTE: Guitar Works, Vol. 3

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Napoleon Coste(1805-1883)

Guitar Works Opp.


Napoleon Coste was France's greatest guitar composer, and, together withMertz, the guitar composer most representative of the Romantic style. Born inthe village of Amondans in western France, Coste was named after the newEmperor and groomed for a military career by his father, the village mayor anda former infantry captain. From the age of six, young Napoleon also began toplay guitar, taking his first lessons from his mother. At the age of eleven, Costesuffered an extended illness, and the plans for his military career wereabandoned. Instead, he won local fame as a performer and teacher of the guitar,and in 1830, the year of the July Revolution, he moved to Paris to pursue amusical career. The French capital, one of the great cultural centres of theera, had also become home to the guitaromanie, a rage for the guitar.

Coste, who had received little formal training in music, was able to studytheory and composition in Paris and also to he friend the likes of Fernando Sor(1778-1839), the esteemed Spanish composer and guitarist.

The compositions presented on this recording probably date to the late1830s and 1840s, although several of them survive only in manuscripts of alater date. During those years the guitar virtuosos of the previous generation,including Sor himself, were dying or retiring, and the musical era of Chopin,Berlioz, and Liszt had begun. Coste, having mastered the technical virtuosityof his predecessors, was left to forge a brilliant new guitar repertoryreflecting the musical innovations and sensibilities of the age. The piecespresented here-popular dances and airs of the period, two homages to the operacomposer Bellini, and an original work evoking the medieval tournament-reveal acomposer immersed in the intellectual and artistic mainstream of Paris duringthe July Monarchy.

The Deuxi?¿me polonaise, Op. 14 was unpublished in Coste'slifetime, and survives in several manuscripts dating from the 1850s; although it is entitled"Second Polonaise," no predecessor has been discovered. Coste'sversion of this popular dance lies, in spirit, somewhere between the concertpolonaises en rondeau by the likes of Weber and Mayseder (not to mentionthe guitarist Mauro Giuliani), and the "art" polonaises of Chopin. Aflorid introduction in the key of E minor (Coste used the same introductionlater, in his Op. 27) leads to the lively dance in E major; an extended middlesection in A major functions as an elaborate Trio, and is followed by arecapitulation of the theme and a bravura ending.

The poets of the Romantic era loved all things medieval; they portrayedthe Middle Ages as a time of simplicity, social order, faith, and chivalry, incontrast with their own age of political revolution, cynicism, andtechnological transformation. Coste selected a quintessentially Romanticsubject for his Le tournoi: fantaisie chevaleresque, Op. 15 (chivalrousfantasy) the sort of knightly tournament which had been celebrated in thehistorical novels of the late Sir Walter Scott. The dedicatee of the piece wasnone other than Hector Berlioz, whose musical and literary careers were bothcatching fire in the early 1840s. Berlioz was himself a guitarist; in fact, theguitar and flute were the only instruments over which he could claim any degreeof mastery, and it has been speculated that the orchestral harmonies of evenhis largest-scale works may have owed something to his guitar. Whether Coste'sdedication reflects a friendship between the two men or an attempt by thecomposer to catch the attention of the celebrated critic of the Revue etgazette musicale is not certain. In any case, the original edition of themusic also informs us that the piece was performed by the composer at the ParisConservatory.

Coste's Fantaisie sur deux motifs de Norma, Op. 16, was publishedin Paris 1843, about seven years after the death of Vincenzo Bellini, the mostRomantic of the bel canto composers. Norma, arguably Bellini'sfinest work, had been first performed in Milan in 1831; two years laterBellini arrived in Paris, where he knew Chopin and Rossini and wrote Ipuritani, just prior to his sudden fatal illness. The French Romantics ofthe 1830s had little affection for the music of Rossini and Donizetti, but thelyricism and atmosphere of Bellini was more to their liking. In his Memoires,Berlioz recalled attending a performance of I Montecchi ed iCapuletti at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence. His initial outrage atthe quality of the production-"All (the principal characters) exceptJuliet (who was played by a large fat woman) and Romeo (by a small thin one),sang out of tune"-melted during a particularly moving aria, after which he"was completely carried away and applauded frantically." Coste'saffection for Bellini, exhibited here, is but further evidence that theguitarist was in the mainstream of the French Romanticism of his age. A shortintroduction in A minor (Allegro assai) by Coste is followed by anarrangement in A major (Moderato) of Bellini's aria "Ah! bello a meritorna," upon which Coste rhapsodizes, briefly quoting "Guerra,Guerra." The second half of the piece parallels the first; Costeconstructs a bridge in A minor (Andante) to Bellini's "Si, finoall'ore" (Allegretto) which he sets as a galop and to which he addsa cadenza and an energetic coda.

In the 1830s the composer and musicologist Fran?ºois-Joseph Fetissponsored a series of "Concerts historiques" to revive the music ofearlier centuries. A tune entitled La romanesca, first performed in thehistoric concert of November, 1832, was acclaimed for its simple but hauntingmelody and was repeated in subsequent concerts for several years. Coste'sguitar solo La romanesca, Op.19b,appears to be a transcription of this piece, and was issued by the Parisianpublisher Richault at the peak of its popularity. A manuscript of the samemusic, arranged for violin and guitar by Fernando Sor and dated 1835, has alsosurvived; Sor had been one of the celebrity participants in several of theConcerts historiques (playing a lute!), and was also Coste's teacher andfriend, so either could have provided the other with the score. No historicalsource for the piece has been located and neither the melody nor the chordprogression conforms to the traditional sixteenth century sequence called"Romanesca," so it is possible that the music, along with some of theother works represented as historical curiosities, was composed by Fetishimself or by one of his friends. On the other hand, Coste himself wasinterested in early music and was one of the first "modern"guitarists to transcribe Baroque guitar music, that of Robert de Visee, fromthe old tablatures.

Andante et Allegro survives in a single manuscript, probably autograph,filled with alterations and corrections. That this is stylistically an earlywork has been observed by the guitarist and musicologist Simon Wynberg, whoedited the modern edition of Coste's works for Editions Chanterelle (and whoseresearch was invaluable to me in assembling these notes). These two movements,in C and A minor respectively, recall in particular the compositions of Coste'sfriend and teacher Fernando Sor.

There are several extant manuscript versions of Coste's Introductionet variations sur un motif de Rossini, none autograph; the date April 15, 1844,on one copy establishes only that the piece was composed some time before thatdate. Because the manuscripts were no
Item number 8554353
Barcode 636943435328
Release date 05/01/2000
Category Romantic
Label Naxos Classics
Media type CD
Number of units 1
Artists Steidl, Pavel
Steidl, Pavel
Composers Coste, Napoleon
Coste, Napoleon
Disc: 1
Deux Quadrilles
1 Introduction - polonaise
2 Fantasie chevaleresque
3 Andante sostenuto - Allegro
4 Fameuse aires de danse du 16eme Siecle
5 Sur deux motifs de Norma de Bellini
6 Sur un motif de Rossini
7 I. Premiere quadrille
8 II. Deuxieme quadrille
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