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ClassicsOnline Home » BARRIOS MANGORE: Guitar Music, Vol. 2
By Peter M. Knapp
The Patriot Ledger
"Voorhorst demonstrates a formidable technique"
Agustín Barrios (1885-1944)
Guitar Music, Volume 2
Agustín Pío Barrios Mangoré was born in southern Paraguay on 5th May, 1885, and died on 7th August, 1944, in San Salvador, El Salvador. To many Barrios was the greatest of all guitarist composers. In view of this, 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 a younger generation to study his music, augmenting and complementing more traditional repertoire. The revival began in 1977 with a release by John Williams of an entire recording of music by Barrios, bringing long overdue recognition to this forgotten Latin American guitarist. Today Barrios music is frequently performed by major concert artists and is appreciated by audiences world wide.
As a young man 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. The exigencies of life as a performer brought constant travel and he never really settled down in one particular country. He spent 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.
Invocación a Mi Madre was dedicated to the composers mother, Doña Martina Ferreira de Barrios. The version heard here is taken from a non-commmercial 12-inch 78rpm disc recorded in Buenos Aires on 19th April, 1929 (perhaps a gift for his mother). It is a sentimental and tender expression of his great love for his mother and takes the form of a theme and variations somewhat in the style of a fantasia. In this work Barrios moves through several key centres demonstrating his mastery of harmonic modulation.
Undoubtedly one of Barriosmost-performed compositions, La Catedral was written in 1921 in Montevideo as a two-movement work featuring the Andante and Allegro only, which he recorded on a
12-inch disc on 1st August, 1928. Many years later he added the exquisite Preludio, providing a complete work that is an example of his finest writing. Barrios performed this work quite often throughout his career, probably more than any other of his compositions, a reflection of its popularity with the concert public. It is said that Barrios was staying in a hotel in downtown Montevideo, near the Cathedral of San José, and in the course of his practising and composing he constantly heard the bells of the cathedral ringing throughout the day. The tolling of these bells suggested to him the opening theme of the Andante religioso. Here the composer enters the cathedral, where he hears the organist playing the music of Bach, represented by the broad, horizontal chords of this movement. Thereafter he leaves to return again to the world of the street with its hustle and bustle of people and traffic, represented by the energetic and incessant semiquaver arpeggio texture of the Allegro solemne, a repeated note suggesting the incessant ringing of the church bell. The Preludio, subtitled Saudade (Nostalgia) was written in Havana in 1938, when Barrios was suffering from a decline in health complicated by a lack of money and the inevitable stress to his marital life that these difficult conditions created. In the Preludio he pours out his heart, yearning for the joy and comfort of former times. He performed La Catedral with the prelude for the first time in San Salvador on 25th July, 1938.
Also known as Confesión de Amor (Confession of Love), Confesión is an example of the genre known as romanza, a slow, melodic piece in duple metre expressive of romantic feeling. Barrios wrote this work in 1923 and recorded it on 21st June, 1928. Here he places the melody in the bass register with the harmonic accompaniment in the upper voices. A profound knowledge of the instrument is necessary to achieve this type of textural writing, and Confesión, together with his Romanza en Imitación al Violoncello, is a masterful display of virtuosity and skill.
Composed in México in 1933, Canción de la Hilandera (Spinners Song) makes use of guitar tremolo technique. Barrios purportedly wrote this piece after watching a person working at a spinning-wheel in the town of Puebla. The fascinating repetitive movements inspired him to translate into music the motions of the spinner.
Oración (Plegaria) (Prayer Fervent Prayer) reveals a quality of romantic mysticism in Barrios music, conveying thanks to God. More inclined to humanistic beliefs than strict Catholicism, he declared his belief in the immutable laws of Nature, adding that humanity and goodness impregnated his spirit as the ethical end of all existence.
Written in the 1920s, Madrecita (Little Mother) is a joyful, melodic work dedicated to the wife of Luis Pasquet of Salto in Uruguay, a great friend and supporter of Barrios.
The earliest reference to La Samaritana
(The Samaritan Girl) is from a programme dated
17th September, 1922 in Asunción, in Paraguay. Here the melody is in the bass and middle register of the guitar. Barrios included La Samaritana in his concerts throughout the 1920s and it was probably written in Paraguay, inspired by a girl he met in one of the many small country towns he visited in his constant travelling throughout South America.
Barrios reputedly composed the charming waltz
El Sueño de la Muñequita (The Sleep of the Little Doll) in Uruguay in the 1920s. The story goes that he was visiting the home of an admirer. Wearing a new pair of leather shoes that squeaked loudly when he walked, he entered the house and was confronted by a little girl rocking her doll to sleep. Hearing the noise of his shoes, she admonished him: "Shh, señor, you are going to wake my dolly!" Moved by the sincerity of the child, he answered: "I will play soft music so that your dolly can sleep". The result is a delicate and enchanting work where the melody in the second section is played entirely in harmonics.
Contemplación (Contemplation) was composed in 1922 and recorded by Barrios in 1928. It is the second in a group of four works using guitar tremolo technique, Un Sueño en la Floresta (1918 Brazil), Canción de la Hilandera (1933 Mexico) and Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios (1994 El Salvador). In all these works Barrios develops the technique of tremolo one step beyond nineteenth-century masters, such as Tárrega in his Recuerdo de la Alhambra. With Barrios the soprano melodic line moves quite independently of the underlying voices and is not limited to the fixed chord positions so characteristic of a great many tremolo works in both classical and flamenco guitar. This independent movement of voices requires great harmonic skill as well as a left-hand technique capable of long, extended stretches; both these characteristics are abundantly present in Contemplación.
Barrios greatly admired Beethoven and early in his career transcribed the well known Minuet in D, which he included regularly in his concerts. He also performed minuets by Fernando Sor. This affinity he felt with the nineteenth-century masters no doubt served as inspiration for his six minuets, four of which are included here. The Minuet in B major was written in 1928 in Argentina and is his most complex treatment of the genre. The Minuet in E major was probably written during his last years when he lived in El Salvador (1940-44). The Minuet in A major was composed in Rosario, in Argentina, and was recorded in 1924. The Minuet in C major is perhaps his simplest work from a guitarists point of view, and was written in El Salvador for his students to perform.
The Divagación en imitación al violín (Improvisation in imitation of the violin) is an early attempt by Barrios to create a work in a more strict classical vein. He recorded this work in 1914, and up to then his repertoire had centred mainly on popular songs, tangos, marches, folk-songs and waltzes. At this time he also recorded a work by the Spanish guitarist Carlos García Tolsa (1858-1909), Divagación Chopiniana (Improvisation in the Style of Chopin), which may have influenced him.
Barrios discovered the music of the great Spanish guitarist and composer Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) around 1917, and grew to admire him very greatly. Recognising the importance of the Spanish master´s work in the development of the guitar, Barrios declared: "Without Tárrega, we would not be". He regularly performed Tárrega´s music in his concerts and recorded Capricho Arabe on two different occasions. In 1939 in Guatemala Barrios composed a set of six variations on Tárregas ever popular student work Lágrima, creating a sophisticated virtuoso display of the theme, using arpeggios, appoggiaturas, tremolo, melodic harmonics, and other devices. Variations on a Theme of Tárrega is one of his most mature compositions, reflecting a lifetime of devotion to and a thorough mastery of the instrument he loved.
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BARRIOS MANGORE: Guitar Music, Vol. 2