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Gregg Nestor

Dancing on Air

by Gregg Nestor

Clear Note
Clear Note
On this recording the two cultural streams, that of folk and the other of the concert hall, are juxtaposed, some of the pieces being straightforwardly “folk”, the rest examples of how contemporary composers have enthusiastically used these resources.
The guitar has long been associated with folk music and composers over the centuries have been indebted to folk songs. One only has to think of Schubert, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Bartók, Dvorák, Vaughan Williams, Rodrigo, etc., to realise the extent of this umbilical relationship between so called “art” music and the folkloric. On this recording the two cultural streams, that of folk and the other of the concert hall, are juxtaposed, some of the pieces being straightforwardly “folk”, the rest examples of how contemporary composers have enthusiastically used the resources of their national heritage.

Gregg Nestor’s arrangements of Hebrew folksongs are a rich reminder of the generations of anonymous musicians whose creativity endures in a wealth of traditional works. The Hebraic Suite (1983) comprises songs that were rooted in everyday living, centered around the Rabbi, the hearth, parents, and the dance, etc., music and daily routines being inextricably intertwined. Here the emphasis is on community life and family relationships, though dance rhythms and religious cadences are never far away.

Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986), one of the twentieth century’s leading Polish composers, resided in Paris from 1920 onwards until moving to the United States for the war years. His works include symphonies, concertos, string quartets and a quantity of piano and film music.

Tansman and Andrés Segovia first met in 1925 at a musical soirée given in Paris by Henri Prunières. On hearing Segovia play, Tansman was converted to a lifelong love of the guitar and thereafter wrote a number of works for it.

Concerning In Modo Polonico (In Polish Mode) (1962), Tansman wrote: “I have been fascinated by Andrés Segovia’s musical personality since the first contact I had with his art, and I am proud to have been among the first young composers to have composed a work for him. This suite is inspired by the ancient court dances of Poland. Some of them, the Gaillarde, the Branle, have counterparts elsewhere in Europe. Others are typically Polish (the Polonaise, the Mazurka). The subject has been treated in a language which seems to me most suited for a work based on national or traditional forms – that is I have avoided any voluntary stylization or modernization which, if adapted to the pure melodic lines, the popular harmonic style, and rhythmic meters, would result in something artificial and hybrid.”

Among these dances the Kujawiak is a form of Mazurka originating in the Kujawy district near Warsaw, while the Oberek, is a type of faster Mazurka, a dance in three-four time characterised by a strong accent in the middle of the measure. The Kolysanka is a lullaby, a recurrent theme in folk music of all countries. The Polonaise, like the Mazurka, for ever made famous by the genius of Chopin, began as a folk dance, in triple metre, played at weddings and festivals, and was later transformed into a more sophisticated dance appropriate for the court and the ballroom.

The traditional English folk song Greensleeves is a tune twice mentioned by Shakespeare in The Merry Wives of Windsor. The first official reference to the piece was in the Register of the Stationers Company in 1580 where it was called “A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves.” It is sometimes alleged that Henry VIII wrote Greensleeves but scholarly opinion is against this.

John W. Duarte (1919-2004), a prolific composer for guitar, was also a writer, critic and teacher, determined to elevate the standards of the instrument to which he had dedicated his life. He was particularly interested in folksongs, often incorporating them into his compositions but by no means confining himself merely to those from his own country. His English Suite, Op. 31, undoubtedly his most performed work, written 1963/1965, was dedicated to Andrés Segovia and his wife on the occasion of their marriage. Originally the opening movement was part of a group of “fairy tale” pieces as represented in piano works under that title by Medtner. Segovia suggested that this concept should be expanded into a suite based on folk music but ultimately Duarte decided to integrate his own material and folk themes. Thus the Prelude begins with a “fairy tale” section before leading into the Sussex song, Low down in the Broom and returning to the original melody. The second movement, Folk Song, opens with The Cuckoo from Somerset, while in Round Dance the central section is the song, The Ballad of Robin Hood.

The Londonderry Air, the most evocative and best loved of all Irish folk songs, was first found in print in a collection edited by George Petrie, The Ancient Music of Ireland, (1855). It was given to Petrie by Miss Jane Ross of Limavady, who took down tunes from the peasants who came to town on market days. The song was described as an anonymous air and attributed incorrectly to Jane Ross of Londonderry, which led to the title Londonderry Air being associated with the piece.

A number of lyrics have been set to this melody but the most popular is Oh Danny Boy, written in 1910 by Frederick Edward Weatherly, an English lawyer. This has been universally adopted as a poignant anthem sung with passion wherever Irish people are gathered.

Suite Piemontese, Op.46 (1970) by John W. Duarte was described by the composer as “written for composer/guitarist Angelo Gilardino and based on folk-tunes from Piemonte, the region of his birth”. The first movement, Pastorale, celebrates Il pastor fedele, the faithful shepherd, “the sounds of whose pipes or of nearby birds are heard”. The second movement, Canzona, is based on a tune which Gilardino remembered from his youth, the counter-melody to its second statement developing into the theme of the central section. Finally La Danza provides an episode poking mild fun at a typical village band which plays out of tune.

Eduardo Sáinz de la Maza (1903-1982), brother of the guitarist Regino Sáinz de la Maza for whom Rodrigo’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez was composed, first studied the guitar in Madrid with Daniel Fortea (1878-1953), and later with Miguel Llobet (1878-1938), both former pupils of the great Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909). Though less internationally famous than Regino, Eduardo Sáinz de la Maza emerged as a much loved composer whose warmly poetic guitar works evoke many moods of Spanish life. Habañera is a characteristically lyrical tribute to Cuba, a country rich in folk music that is both rhythmic and melodic.

Finally Duarte’s Variations on a Catalan Folk Song, Op. 25 (1956), was written for and on the suggestion of guitarist John Williams. The theme is from Miguel Llobet’s superb arrangement of Cançó de lladre (The Robber’s Song), one of the great collection of traditional folk pieces from Catalonia characterised by beautifully poetic verses.

GRAHAM WADE, March, 2009

Graham Wade, a graduate of Jesus College, Cambridge, and formerly Head of Strings at Leeds College of Music, is acknowledged as one of the foremost international writers on classical guitar. His publications include highly acclaimed studies of Segovia, Rodrigo, and Bream, as well as books on guitar history. He has written liner notes for record companies such as Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Naxos, and RCA, and conducted guitar seminars at conservatoires and festivals in the USA, Canada, Spain, Austria, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Hungary, Greece, Czech Republic, New Zealand, etc. In 2002 he was awarded the Schott Gold Medal for his contribution to Rodrigo studies. Graham Wade is an Advisory Editor for British and American editions of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and for many years wrote programme notes for Segovia and Bream.

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