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ClassicsOnline Home » BRITISH GUITAR MUSIC
By Göran Forsling
Julian Bream was the inspiration for many of the works
by British composers for the guitar. Building on the
work of the great guitarist Andrés Segovia, Bream
commissioned music from a number of composers with
international reputations, thus creating a whole new
repertoire of guitar music, which had until then belonged
largely to the sound world of Spain and Latin America.
At the same time Julian Bream played an important rôle
in the revival of interest in the Elizabethan lute, with his
recitals of solo lute music, accompaniments for singers
such as Peter Pears and Robert Tear, concerts with the
harpsichordist George Malcolm and the establishment of
his own consort, bringing early music to a new audience.
The present recording begins with William
Walton’s only piece for solo guitar, his five Bagatelles.
Dedicated to Malcolm Arnold, these miniatures have
won firm favour among guitarists. They were first
performed by Julian Bream in 1972. When Bream had
first asked him to write a piece for solo guitar, Walton
had expressed some uncertainty in taking on such a task.
As he later remarked, “never having thought of writing
for the solo guitar I asked Julian for a fingerboard chart,
which would explain what the guitar could do. I
managed to write some rather pretty pieces for him
except that the first six notes of the first piece all need to
be played on the open strings. So when he begins to
play, the audience will probably think he’s tuning the
bloody thing up!”
Walton need not have worried: with its fanfare-like
opening, the first Bagatelle seizes the attention at once.
The first section is full of charm and wit fused with jazzy
harmonies. This leads to a more melancholic midsection,
where a beautiful reflective melody is set
against lush accompanying chords. A return to the
opening material is heard before a conclusion in
triumphant style. The second Bagatelle is slightly
reminiscent of Satie, with its hypnotic accompaniment
set underneath a cool, breezy melody. The third of the
set, entitled Alla Cubana, uses the syncopated rhythms
often found in Latin-American music. The serene fourth
Bagatelle leads to a virtuoso tour-de-force fifth, an
exciting climax to the set.
One of the leading British composers of today, Peter
Maxwell Davies has written compositions that cover a
wide variety of forms and musical styles, including
works for the guitar. Farewell to Stromness was, in fact,
originally a piano solo from a set of cabaret-style pieces
called The Yellow Cake Revue. It is a simple, haunting
lament, such as a Scottish piper or fiddler might have
played. The present arrangement is by Timothy Walker.
Alan Rawsthorne abandoned studies of dentistry
and of architecture to enter the Royal Manchester
College of Music in 1925, at the age of nineteen,
studying the piano with Frank Merrick and later, abroad,
with Egon Petri. His Elegy for guitar was his last
composition, left unfinished at his death in 1971 and
completed by Julian Bream. It is a moving work, full of
passion and deep emotion, and from its broody dark
opening Rawsthorne creates an atmosphere of sadness
and despair. A hectic toccata-like section follows before
a return to the opening section, in a work that seems a
premonition of mortality.
In 1957 Lennox Berkeley wrote his Sonatina,
Op. 52, for Julian Bream, who gave the first
performance the following year. The first movement is
in traditional sonata form, its lyrical opening reminiscent
of English folk-song. The second movement suggests
French influence, a characteristic trait of a composer of
partly French ancestry and a pupil of Nadia Boulanger.
It begins with a simple motif that twists and turns
throughout a variety of moods, magically recalling the
reflective delicacy of some of Debussy’s piano music.
The final movement is in rondo form.
The same composer’s Theme and Variations,
Op. 77, was written in 1970 for the Italian guitarist
Angelo Gilardino who gave the first performance the
following year in Italy. Again as in the Sonatina, both
English and French influences can be heard. The theme
is followed by six short and finely crafted variations,
with a final variation of particular beauty, ending with
an air of meditation.
Berkeley’s Quatre pièces pour la guitare were
written when the composer was a student of Nadia
Boulanger in Paris between 1927 and 1932. Berkeley
had been present at Andrés Segovia’s Paris début recital
in 1924, a performance that must have made a strong
impression on the young composer as the Quatre pièces
were dedicated to the great Spanish guitarist. Although a
very early composition, it demonstrates the composer’s
understanding of writing for the guitar and of its
possibilities, confirmed in his later guitar pieces.
Curiously Segovia never performed the Quatre pièces,
which were found among his papers only in 2001.
Richard Rodney Bennett is one of the most versatile
of British composer/performers. His compositions range
from solo instrumental pieces to full symphonic works,
and from brass band compositions to opera. As if all
these activities were not enough he writes film music
and regularly performs as a jazz pianist, singer and
composer, touring extensively throughout the world.
The Five Impromptus of 1968 were his first
compositions for the guitar, and were dedicated to Julian
Bream. Each one explores a different mood, restless,
tranquil, gritty or sensual.
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