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ClassicsOnline Home » BARRIOS MANGORE: Guitar Music, Vol. 1
Guitar music, Vol. 1
Agustín Pío Barrios Mangoré was born in southern Paraguay on 5th May,
1885, and died on 7th August, 1944, in San Salvador, El Salvador. Many consider
Barrios to be the greatest guitarist composer of all time. In view of this
fact, it is curious that his music lay undiscovered and unappreciated for over
three decades after his death. In the mid-1970s comprehensive editions of his
music appeared, making it possible for guitarists of Antigoni Goni's generation
to include in their study the music of Barrios, augmenting and complementing
more traditional repertoire by Sor, Giuliani, Carcassi, Tarrega and Villa
Lobos. The revival began in 1977 when John Williams released an entire
recording of music by Barrios which focused a long overdue recognition on this
forgotten Latin American guitarist. Today Barrios' music is frequently
performed by major concert artists and is appreciated by audiences world wide.
Young Barrios never studied in a formal music conservatory, and
completed only two years of high school. He made his living from performing,
and had no other professional skills in any other pursuit except playing the
guitar and composing music. Performing according to a life-style which required
him to travel constantly, Barrios never really settled down in one particular
country. He lived extended periods of time in Brazil (1915-1919), Uruguay
(1912-1915, 1919-1927) and El Salvador (1939-1944). In none of these places did
he establish a conservatory nor did he pursue the systematic publication of his
music. He escaped from Latin America only once, in 1934, when he visited
Europe, staying just fifteen months, but his lifelong goal of reaching the
United States never came to fruition.
Barrios unfortunately never received the recognition and material
success that his talent merited. Thus it is particularly fitting that his music
be featured in a number of Naxos recordings. The initial volume offered here by
Antigoni Goni begins with Maxixe, an urban dance from Brazil. Barrios
himself recorded this work in 1929 but he did not perform it in concert to any
great degree. A virtuoso display of both technical prowess and compositional
skill, Maxixe is one of Barrios' greatest works in the genre of music
inspired by folk tradition.
The lively Maxixe is followed by the majestic tremolo piece Un
sueño en la floresta, perhaps the most difficult and complex tremolo piece
ever conceived for the guitar. The extremely romantic flavour and soaring
melody belie the fact that the technical work required here is formidable,
requiring extended left-hand stretches, long musical phrases, intricate
independent movement of voices, a virtuosic cadenza and even a high C that
requires a twentieth fret on the traditional nineteen-fret classic guitar.
(Barrios had the Brazilian luthier Romeo DiGiorgio make him a special
instrument with twenty frets). Un sueño en la floresta elevates the
technique of tremolo to a new level, carrying it well beyond the earlier
Francisco Tárrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra and sueño. Barrios
wrote this piece about 1917 and recorded it in 1929.
The romantic waltz, Vals Op. 8, No. 4, also called Vals
Brillante, was composed in Paraguay in 1923. Only three of Barrios' works
carry opus numbers: Waltze, Nos. 3 and 4 of Opus 8 (which supposedly
included a total of six waltzes) and Preludio, Opus 5, No. 1. The
tuneful Vals, Opus 8, No. 4, is one of Barrios' most frequently
played pieces and features an extended passage using the technique of campanella
(playing stopped strings against a repeated pedal note on an open string).
Barrios was influenced by nineteenth century romanticism (he greatly
admired Chopin and Beethoven). A humoresque
is defined as a nineteenth century composition of a fanciful, or simply
good-humoured nature. Here the music lives up to this description. Barrios
created his Humoresque in Uruguay in 1921 and it is one of only ten
works that he ever published.
Sarita (‘Little Sara’) was dedicated to the daughter
of a friend and probably written in the early 1920s. Barrios recorded the piece
twice in 1924 and 1928. The style here is typical, being an eclectic blend of
romantic and popular traits in the classical form of a mazurka.
Madrigal – Gavota again demonstrates the tendency in Barrios to
mix and juxtapose in his compositions harmonic forms and ideas from different
musical periods. A madrigal is a vocal work dating from the Renaissance and a gavotte
is a popular seventeenth century baroque dance where the accent is on the
third beat of the bar in common time. Barrios combines a striking melodic line
that does indeed sound as if it could be sung with words with the rhythmic
accent of the gavotte. Dedicated to one of his six brothers, the
poet-playwright Martin, Barrios created this work in 1918 and recorded it twice
in 1921 and 1929. It is the first original work that incorporates many
characteristics of Barrios' music, including four-voiced harmonic texture, a
strong melodic identity, use of all registers of the guitar, and an expressive,
emotional quality, which dominates the work.
The traditional vidalita
is a slow, minor key song form dating from the eighteenth century and
cultivated by the gauchos of the pampas region of Argentina. Barrios created
his Vidalita con variacianes early in his career and recorded it in 1914
in Buenos Aires. This work is typical of Barrios' early period when he
performed in cinemas and theatres as interval entertainment.
The waltz Junto a
tu carazón (‘Close to Your Heart’) is another unique mosaic of classical
and popular elements. This piece is in the form of a valse Bostan, known
for its sophisticated rhythm and contrasting slow minor key section. Barrios
recorded this work in 1928 and it is probable that it was included in the six
waltzes of Opus 8.
Mabelita (‘Little Mabel’) is dedicated to the daughter
of a good friend in Uruguay and dates from the early 1920s.
Tu y Yo (‘You and I’) is a transcription of a work by
the nineteenth century composer Alphons Czibulka. Barrios transcribed and
performed Tu y Yo early on in his career and the first reference to it
is from a programme in Brazil dated 1918. Also called Gavota romántica, this
work incorporates all the pathos and expression of popular romantic music from
around the turn of the century.
Navidad (‘Christmas Carol’)
was written in El Salvador in 1943 and dedicated to the infant Matilda Arias
with the dedication Los ángeles del ciela cantan a Matilda en sus días (‘The
angels sing to Matilda in her days’).
The extended waltz Pepita
is a work dating from about 1913 and shows the influence of late nineteenth
century composers like Emil Waldteufel (1837-1915) whose popular waltzes
Barrios admired and transcribed, often including in his concerts Waldteufel's
famous Skater's Waltz.
Barrios grouped four
works together as the Suite Andina (‘Andean Suite’) though no evidence
exists to suggest that he actually performed them in concert as such (another
such case was the Suite Aborigen, which purportedly included one of his
major lost works, Invocación a la Luna).
Aconquija is the name of a peak in the Andes in northern
Argentina. The single note opening phrase is based on a melody Barrios heard a
native musician playing on the indigenous flute called the quena (he
also called this work Aire de Quena). Barrios recorded Aconquija in
1928. Aire de Zamba was written in 1923 and recorded by Barrios twice in
1924 and 1928 and is based on the Argentine folk-dance, the zamba. Córdoba is
Argentina's second largest city where Barrios undoubtedly spent time in his
wanderings. This work was written about 1924 and recorded by the composer in
the same year. Cueca is a popular folk-dance from Chile, written about
1925 and recorded by Barrios in 1928. In the Cueca and Aconquija Barrios
employs the technique of melodic tambora, playing the strings with a
percussive stroke of the thumb of the right hand.
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BARRIOS MANGORE: Guitar Music, Vol. 1