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Il labirinto della chitarra -
Guitar music from 17th-century Italy
see end of review for track listing
Private Musicke (Pierre Pitzl, Hugh Sandilands, Daniel Pilz, Christopher
Dickey (guitar), Jesús Fernandez Baena (theorbo), Leonardo
Massa (cello), David Mayoral (percussion), Daniel Oman (colascione))/Pierre
rec. 18 - 20 November 2010, Bischöfliches Palais, St Pölten,
ACCENT ACC 24239 [59:04]
The guitar does not play a central role in the modern classical
music scene; certainly not in comparison with the piano or the
violin. There are many celebrated players of these instruments
who perform with the major orchestras, but how often does a
guitarist take centre-stage? On the other hand, among amateurs
the guitar is far from uncommon but in all probability they
play mostly popular tunes rather than classical music. In fact
this is in line with the first stages in the development of
the guitar. The 5-course guitar, known as guitarra spagnuola,
came to Italy at the end of the 16th century and soon became
so dominant that it developed into serious competition for the
lute. "In the first half of the 17th century there were already
over 100 publications with guitar music. Perhaps its instant
popularity was due to the fact that it was easy for a beginner
to play. A notation system known as alfabeto or 'Italian
alphabet' was quickly developed. With the Italian alphabet,
even an amateur who couln't read music was able to play easy
dances and accompany songs"; so say the liner-notes.
In the early days of historical performance practice the guitar
wasn't taken all that seriously. The late James Tyler played
a crucial role in the rediscovery of the guitar of the renaissance
and the baroque. This came about through his research and writings
and his own performances and recordings. Today the guitar regularly
turns up in performances of early music both in a solo role
and in the basso continuo. It has to be said, though, that its
growing popularity has led to less plausible appearances. It
seems out of place in performances of North-German repertoire,
for instance. You can hear this in a disc with cantatas by Buxtehude
by the Lautten Compagney Berlin (review).
It is however pleasing that the number of early music recordings
with music for guitar is growing.
The present disc also bears witness to the trend of playing
guitar music with additional instruments, like a string bass,
another plucked instrument or percussion. The documentation
of this disc falls short in telling us about the original scoring
of the pieces in this programme. From the liner-notes I gather
that all of them - or at least the large majority - were written
for just one guitar. The question is why so few of them are
performed with one guitar. The liner-notes state that it is
an instrument which invites improvisation, also because the
notation of many pieces is rather sketchy. That may be true,
and there is no objection to a guitarist using his own - historically
informed - imagination in working out such pieces. But it escapes
me why such improvisations should be a licence to add instruments
The liner-notes are a bit confusing in this respect. In the
English version it is stated that there is documentary evidence
of Francesco Corbetta travelling with an accompanying instrumental
ensemble and that this has "moved us to perform several solo
pieces as chamber music". Strangely enough there is no reference
to this in the German liner-notes which seem to be the original.
So, what exactly has happened here? Has the translator added
something of his own? Talking about the liner-notes, I am just
wondering who wrote them. The name of the author is given as
Asher Middwoch. My search on the internet was fruitless.
I suspect that this could be a pseudonym, probably of Pierre
Pitzl? In German Aschermittwoch means Ash Wednesday
and Middwoch is the Bavarian version of Mittwoch.
So is this a little joke?
Returning to the subject of ensemble performances, the very
fact that Corbetta performed with an ensemble tells us nothing
about the type of instruments which accompanied him. And what
about the other composers on this disc? For instance, the guitar
is accompanied by the theorbo in various pieces - was this common
practice at the time? And what exactly was the role of the percussion?
Was it used with the guitar, and if so, when and where? This
takes us to the question about where exactly pieces like those
recorded here were performed: in the homes of private persons
or in public, at the court of aristocrats or in royal palaces?
Most of the music on this disc is written in the so-called mixed
style, a mixture of strummed (rasgueado) and plucked
(punteado) techniques. A notation system for this style
was also developed. The result was an increase in virtuosity
and a proliferation in experiments in regard to harmony. All
the composers on this disc were guitar players themselves. The
best-known are Gaspar Sanz - his famous Canarios is almost
always included in performances of guitar music - and Francesco
Corbetta. The latter was guitar teacher of Louis XIV of France,
which is an indication that the guitar also developed into an
instrument of the upper classes. He later went to England with
Charles II. Probably the first composer to adopt the mixed style
was Giovanni Paolo Foscarini, who also moved in aristocratic
circles. Sanz, on the other hand, switches between the two styles.
He appears in a programme with Italian music because he studied
in Naples and his compositions show Italian influences.
There are also some little-known names. About some of them hardly
anything is known, like Carlo Calvi and Domenico Pellegrini.
One of the most eccentric composers is Giovanni Battista Granata,
a pupil of Corbetta. He left no fewer than seven books with
pieces for the guitar. Ferdinando Valdambrini left some compositions
which even guitarists don't understand.
In the light of my criticism I should hasten to add that musically
speaking this is a fine disc. The music is great and often intriguing
and the performances are excellent. Even so, I would have liked
it more if the guitar pieces had been played with a guitar alone.
If a performer decides to play these works as ensemble pieces,
he should try to explain why he does so and how he has come
to his decisions in regard to the scoring.
Johan van Veen
Francesco CORBETTA (c.1615-1681)
Balletto fatto nella Bariera sopra la Sala di Bologna
Sua Corrente [0:51]
Giovanni Paolo FOSCARINI (?-c.1650)
Gaspar SANZ (1640-1710)
Carlo CALVI (17th C)
Sarabanda I [0:44]
Sarabanda II [0:47]
Domenico PELLEGRINI (17th C)
Giovanni Paolo FOSCARINI
Caprice de Chacone [4:05]
Giovanni Battista GRANATA (1620?-1687?)
Ferdinando VALDAMBRINI (1623-c.1690)
Nicola MATTEIS (?-after 1713)
Aria I [1:21]
Aria II [1:45]