ClassicsOnline Home » CASTELNUOVO-TEDESCO, M.: Music for Two Guitars, Vol. 1 (Brasil Guitar Duo) - Sonatina canonica / Les guitares bien temperees: Nos. 1-12
With a catalogue of more than 200 works with opus numbers, and many others without, few composers have written such a wide variety of immediately appealing music, as rewarding for performers and listeners alike, as Castelnuovo-Tedesco. His Sonatina Canonica, Op. 196 is a staple for many guitar duos, its warm tonal language enlivened by ingenious counterpoint. Fired by profound admiration for the music of J. S. Bach, his Les Guitares Bien Tempérées, Op. 199 comprises 24 preludes and fugues in all major and minor keys, the first dozen of which are performed here by the award-winning young Brasil Guitar Duo.
By David Denton
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s name is so linked with the Spanish influences of his Guitar Concerto, that it comes as something of a surprise to discover he was Italian.
Born in Florence in 1895, he earned his early living as a child prodigy performer, but increasingly turned to composition, becoming so prolific that even today much of his output has never been published. Though it is often inferred that inspiration had begun to wane before the age of 30, he continued writing at an ever increasing rate, the indifferent critical reaction to these later works tending to divert attention from the masterpieces of his younger years. After spending the Second World War as a film composer in Hollywood, he returned to Italy for extended periods, his interest in guitar music germinated on hearing the legendary guitarist, Andres Segovia, and as a result he was to write over a hundred scores for the instrument. This new release offers music from the 1960s, with the short three-movement Sonata Canonica—whichalmost comes into the category of light music—and Les Guitares Bien Temperées (The Well-Tempered Guitars). Itwas his affectionate response to Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and here we have just the first twelve preludes and fugues, and though in outline looking back, the music is attractively modern and at times distinctively jazzy. The Ninth prelude must surely be one of the most bitter-sweet melodies ever composed for guitar. The disc is performed by the Brasil Guitar Duo of Joao Luiz and Douglas Lora, and you need go no further than the opening of the Sonata to hear their razor-sharp articulation. Always ideally balanced, they weave the intricate fabric of The Well-Tempered Guitars to produce the most gorgeous sound. Superb sound quality.
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968)
Music for Two Guitars • 1
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, born in Florence, studied composition and piano at the Istituto Musicale Cherubini and later at the Liceo Musicale of Bologna. His mentors were Pizzetti and Casella, members of the influential and progressive Società Italiana di Musica, a group of composers, including Malipiero and Respighi, with whom Castelnuovo-Tedesco became closely associated.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s interest in writing for the guitar began with his introduction to Andrés Segovia, who had travelled to Italy with Manuel de Falla, at the Venice International Festival in 1932. As a result he was to compose over a hundred works for the instrument, including concertos, chamber music, many solos and some of the finest pieces for two guitars, the latter inspired by the illustrious French duo, Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya.
In 1939, as a result of Mussolini’s anti-Jewish edicts, Castelnuovo-Tedesco was obliged to seek refuge abroad, but after settling in California he became a prolific writer of film music between 1940 and 1956, in the same period composing more than seventy concert works. As a member of the faculty of the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music, he numbered among his pupils Henry Mancini, Nelson Riddle, André Previn, and the composer John Williams.
A guitar tradition of duo playing stretches back to the early nineteenth century when Fernando Sor wrote several outstanding duets to perform with his friend, Dionisio Aguado, while various other composer/performers such as Mauro Giuliani and Fernando Carulli also composed fine works for two guitars. In the twentieth century a number of distinguished duos established an international reputation, the most eminent being the famous duo of Ida Presti and Alexandre Lagoya to whom Castelnuovo-Tedesco dedicated the works on this recording.
Sonatina Canonica, Op. 196, was written in 1961. The composer, in a letter to the dedicatees, Presti/Lagoya, on 9 October, 1961, commented: This is a small work, ‘without pretensions’, a Sonatina Canonica for two guitars in three movements, and I hope that this is ‘playable’and that also it will be pleasant to play! Probably there will be some necessary ‘adjustments’...We can make any changes that you wish. (Or you yourselves can make them without consulting me.)
Though Sonatina Canonica may by its title suggest a genre that pays tribute to past styles, it is actually a thoroughly contemporary work, lyrical and sometimes humorous in nature, with three contrasting movements. The sonatina opening, grazioso e leggero (graceful and light), first presents a virtuoso blending of guitar colours and strong melodic themes. A central section introduces skittish dotted rhythms with an elegantly ornamented quasi Musette, followed by a vigorous recapitulation which re-states elements of the central part. The slow movement, Tempo di Siciliane, in 6/8, is one of the composer’s most tender and inspired offerings for the guitar, in which he skilfully deploys the guitar duo to achieve not only the articulation of beautiful themes but also the careful working out of sublime chordal effects. Then comes Fandango en Rondeau, ritmico e deciso (rhythmical and decisive), an energetic dance yet with some moments of introspection, including a brief melody indicated as ‘expressive and a little passionate’ before the main theme returns with its vivacity and excitement.
The Well Tempered Guitars, 24 Preludes and Fugues for two guitars, Op.199 (1962), was also dedicated to Presti-Lagoya. In May 1962 Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote to the duo announcing that having finished Prelude and Fugue No. XIV, he was well on the way to completing the entire set. Op. 199 proved to be a landmark in the guitar’s history and the most ambitious undertaking for two guitars ever conceived. The first edition was fingered by Evangelos and Liza Assimakopoulos as Ida Presti died in 1967 at the age of 43. The variety of moods, colours, techniques and styles within the set is immense, certainly in one sense paying homage to the great precedent of J. S. Bach, but at the same time exploiting the depths of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s gifts for melodic inventiveness, wit, vivacity, introspection and lyricism.
These twelve Preludes and Fugues were completed in Beverley Hills, California, between 8 March and 11 May 1962, each movement being carefully annotated chronologically by the composer, (and for that reason the dates are provided below). There is an element almost of a diary here in which Castelnuovo-Tedesco records his moods and emotions throughout a short creative period entirely dedicated to the production of this quite extraordinary collection of pieces, so varied, colourful and brilliant, ranging from the joyful to the melancholic. Castelnuovo-Tedesco organizes his Preludes and Fugues by selecting the keys for each in a cycle of rising fifths (alternating minor and major).
Prelude and Fugue No. 1 in G minor were completed respectively on 8 and 11 March 1962. The Prelude, marked Très fluide, matches triplet patterns against expressive chords. A middle section offers a contrast, the time signature changing from 12/16 to 6/8. Throughout the piece each guitar part shares the work-load equally, the various elements being transferred between the two players. The first Fugue of the set establishes the composer’s own distinctive approach involving a melody (molto espressivo) of some complexity especially rhythmically. The countersubject as the second guitar enters includes chromatic thirds, short fragments of scale runs, and chords reminiscent of the Prelude. A middle episode (pp dolcissimo) brings in gentle arpeggios characteristic of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s innovative concepts of the guitar.
In Prelude and Fugue No. 2 in D major (14 and 15 March) the Prelude, Très soutenu et pompeux, in 2/4, begins in a French style dotted rhythm, followed by a contrasting short chordal episode which dissolves into rippling demi-semi quavers. The Fugue is a lively Gigue recreating the spirit of the eighteenth-century dance. A brief coda (Tempo del Preludio) recalls aspects of the Prelude.
Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in A minor (17 and 18 March), and marked Andante molto mosso, begins with a flowing accompaniment (uguale mormorando), over which an expressive theme is played. The first guitar then takes this accompaniment while the theme, with slight modifications, is heard in the bass. From this opening, a delicate conversation is woven, the fluidity of the first few bars being shared between both parts in superbly blended flowing lines. A contrasting short middle section offers a momentary change of mood before the discourse is resumed leading on to a gentle recapitulation in the form of a coda, ending, as it began, mormorando. The Fugue (modéré et tranquille) begins towards the top of the fingerboard, being answered, at the interval of a fifth, in the middle register. The countersubject introduces a little motif which becomes henceforth an integral structural element. A middle section modulates through various keys before returning to the subject and a lyrical coda.
In the Prelude and Fugue No. 4 in E major (19 and 21 March) the Prelude begins with a warm Italianate melody articulated within flowing arpeggios. A central section introduces three-voice chordal elements for both partners before a remarkable passage in harmonics brings the movement to a poetic conclusion. In contrast, the Fugue is Allegretto giocoso (Tempo di Bourrée), con spirito, the predominant mood being that of wit and playfulness.
With the Prelude and Fugue No. 5 in B minor (23 and 24 March) Castelnuovo-Tedesco provides another flowing Prelude, Piuttosto mosso e agitato (somewhat troubled and agitated), in 2/2 time, the first section articulated in rising triplets. After a middle episode in the style of a Funeral March, the basic scheme of the two moods is repeated. The Fugue, rhythmically complex as triplets and straight quavers interact, is marked not only calmo but also dolce—semplice e tranquillo (sweet—simple and quiet).
Prelude and Fugue No. 6 in F sharp major (25 and 27 March) offers a Prelude, marked Rapid and light, with a straightforward scalic melodic line accompanied by rapid semiquavers, the theme switching between guitars and in different registers. As the piece progresses the tune grows more complex, becoming decorated with new harmonies as well as a number of embellishments. This Fugue takes the form of a resolute March in 2/2 time, beginning with a strangely poignant upward climbing melodic line full of developmental possibilities in terms of complex harmonic modulations.
Bearing the same expression instructions as Prelude No. 5 in B minor, the Prelude of the Prelude and Fugue No. 7 in C sharp minor (23 and 24 April) begins with a little angular tune followed by a series of chromatically descending chords, before modulating skittishly towards more distant keys. The second guitar then takes the main part accompanied by a pedal note in the treble. Having stated his intentions, the composer is at liberty to bring the two guitars together in contrapuntal and harmonic unity before concluding with a finale which synthesizes all the threads of the work. In clear distinction, the Fugue is ‘very moderate and melancholy’, set in 4/4 time, the rhythmic elements derived closely from the Prelude. The coda is marked ‘sustained and dramatic’ and then ‘solemn and sustained’.
The Prelude of the Prelude and Fugue No. 8 in A flat major (27 and 29 April) represents one of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s most graceful pastoral melodies, andantino dolce e tranquillo, the theme in 6/8 being accompanied either in the treble or the bass. A middle section offers a slight change of both mood and tune before progressing back for the recapitulation. The Fugue, Allegretto grazioso in 6/8, begins with a lilting theme high up on the fingerboard, though the texture soon develops into rhythmic complexity. A middle episode presents the main subject over one of the composer’s ‘murmuring’ accompaniments, once more distributing the highlight evenly between the two partners, before the final page reconciles all the elements in serene resolution.
The Prelude and Fugue No. 9 in E flat minor (29 and 30 April) begins with a Prelude marked mesto, funebre (sad, funereal), opening with chords accompanied by sparse drum-like bass notes. This gives way to downward arpeggios reminiscent of Sylvius Leopold Weiss’s Tombeau sur la Mort de M. Comte de Logy, a favourite transcription for guitar often performed by Andrés Segovia. As the Prelude progresses, chords and arpeggios are brought together. The Fugue, moderate and sad, soon modulates to tonalities remote from E flat minor in a truly twentieth-century manner. It is another work which in its range covers the entire guitar fingerboard.
In Prelude and Fugue No. 10 in B flat major (3 and 5 May) the Prelude, alla Rumba in 8/8 time, casts off all inhibitions and enters into a lively dance, the bass accompaniment being indicated as ‘a little marked and burlesque’. A quasi recitativo insertion in the middle provides a moment to catch one’s breath followed by un poco arioso high up on the guitar’s fingerboard and then an exciting coda. The Fugue follows this mood with a burlesque March, where the predominant mood is established by a witty rhythmic motif at the beginning, played con spirito. This device is set against staccato quavers in an increasingly elaborate display of counterpoint ultimately resolved by bold chords.
The Prelude in the Prelude and Fugue No. 11 in F minor (7 and 8 May) is designated as lento, cupo e spettrale, (slow, gloomy and ghostly), this mood being created by rapid chords contrasted against a recitativo melody. Of all the Preludes, this is the most impressionistically atmospheric. The Fugue, very moderate and sad, in 6/4, begins with straight crotchets but rapidly becomes rhythmically more complex, characterized by slightly syncopated quavers, a feature which recurs throughout the work. Harmonics provide a touch of delicate colour towards the climax.
Beginning as quasi Fanfara, the C major Prelude of the Prelude and Fugue No. 12 in C major (10 and 11 May) soon advances into a tonality of flats, modulating away from the open strings of the guitar into the sonorities which unusual keys can provide for the instrument. The Fugue, in 12/8, is graceful and flowing, con spirito, the entire piece possessing a dance-like, Bachian exuberance.