Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Top 10 Classical Guitar Pieces

So what is the Greatest Music written or arranged for the Concert Guitar ? This is a question that all Classical Guitar players and lovers can't help but ponder. When most players encounter this mysterious question, they either claim it to be too abstract and subjective or often consider the question to be overtly rhetorical. The Classical Guitar is a poly-phonically versatile and unpredictably sublime instrument. Till date very few have been able to acknowledge it's true power along with its wing full of feathers of color. Among all instruments, this unique instrument has the potential to produce music full of intricately sweet and humble sonority, yet when driven with a tight blow of the right hand, it can convey its rage and passion for desire. But how can one simply and safely go about concluding a list of some of the greatest music written or transcribed for the Classical Guitar repertoire. The answer's simple enough. All one needs to do is to study classical guitar history, keep in touch with the Guitar Festivals, Workshops, Music Conservatories and discuss the importance and impact of some of the greatest pieces played on the Classical Guitar. I personally have tried to make this list as consensus based as possible, so that most senior musicians I knew had a common ground to agree with. However, I personally feel that a musical piece can have personal attachment and can simply mean a lot to someone who will subjectively reciprocate opinions about that piece that will obviously beg to differ. So absolute objectivity is perhaps not possible unless we're dealing with a Global Guitar Consensus. I've made this list mostly as a starting point, if you have a different opinion, kindly leave your comments. For people who are new to the Classical Guitar repertoire, the following list can be used extensively for reference and infinite inspiration. But it's mostly meant for people who can't seem to fill their bucket of curiosity.

It is to be acknowledged that the Classical Guitar has a fantastic and over expanding repertoire, from Classical, to Blues, Jazz , Tango, Bossanova anything can be arranged and played interestingly on this uniquely wonderful instrument. Any piece can shine if it's performed by the right master along with its proper interpretation. Perhaps it is a bit unfair, to make a top 10 list, but after a lot of thought and for the love and sake of promoting guitar music, I must do this!

10. Opus 15 Sonata by Mauro Giuliani

A dashing, bright, charming sonata of three movements, this is indeed a perfect fit and design for the miniature orchestra, which is the guitar. Although I would like to emphasize on the first movement of the piece, I think it's fair if you listen to the rest of the movements which are in the video given below. The sparky piece that i am referring here is obviously the first movement but the entire sonata is simply dexterous & cleverly fashioned. It starts off surprisingly almost seeming as if it's a duet, when it's just a power driven solo guitar movement, one of  19th century's wittiest & most remarkable piece from the classical period, that was and still is popular in the concert halls of Vienna.

Here's one of Scotland's & the World's finest & youngest Concert Guitar Player Ian Watt playing Opus 15 by the famous Italian Guitar Composer Mauro Giuliani. 

9. Prelude No. 4 in E minor by Heitor Villa-Lobos

A mellow, sweet, fragile melody which is suddenly accompanied by a bright voice that evolves from serenity but stops when the point has been made, is what best describes Prelude No.4 composed by the great composer Villa Lobos.

Heitor Villa-Lobos (March 5, 1887 – November 17, 1959) was a Brazilian composer, described as "the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music". Villa-Lobos has become the best-known and most significant Latin American composer to date. He wrote numerous orchestral, chamber, instrumental and vocal works. His music was influenced by both Brazilian folk music and by stylistic elements from the European classical tradition, as exemplified by his Bachianas Brasileiras ("Brazilian Bachian-pieces").

Here's Villa Lobos' Prelude No.4 in E minor performed by Maestro Denis Azabagić

8. Bagatelle No. 2 by William Walton

Mysterious, unpredictable, haunting, nostalgic, almost like a lucid dream are some of the words expressed to describe this piece. Guitar Legend Julian Bream felt that the guitar was lacking some new music in terms of repertoire, so he wanted to interpret some music that had no Spanish base or influence. Since he met and knew the composer William Walton personally, he edited the music himself and arranged it for the Classical Guitar. By the time he gave the final performance Sir Walton mentioned that he had composed the piece but it was Bream who got it better.

Julian Bream performs Bagatelle No.2 by William Walton

7. Invocacion y Danza By Joaquin Rodrigo

 'Invocacion' is Spanish for Invocation which is 'the act of invoking or calling upon some agent for help or assistance' , where the external agent is often a personal God or a spirit. You might not be religious but you are human enough to acknowledge why people ask for 'such help' in the most uncertain & difficult times. The beauty of this masterpiece can be easily understood if you understand the subjectivity and the sincerity of the composer. The very urge of a wish or a request that can neither be expressed in words nor in silence, is expressed in this music. 'Invocacion Y Danza' means Invocation and Dance, where the second part of the piece is obviously the Danza or the Dance. This masterpiece is one of the most difficult pieces for the Classical Guitar repertoire. Written by Maestro Joaquin Rodrigo in the year 1960 dedicated to the Venezuelan Guitar Virtuoso Alirio Diaz, this piece has gained outstanding recognition all over the world. The first phase of the piece which is 'Invocacion' opens with an introduction from Falla's "Le tombeau de  Debussy". Falla's "Le tombeau de Debussy" one and only score originally for guitar, which itself inherits a section from Debussy's La soirée dans Grenade. (Imagine how mysteriously related things can be!) The music begins with a lot of softness and subtlety with bell-like harmonics along with a mysterious dark and strangely subtle melody. The music becomes more spontaneous and gradually sounds anxious and rebellious, and becomes associated with some of the most complex technique in concert guitar literature. Embedded in this at one point is the smallest hint of a rhythm from Falla's El sombrero de tres picos, although this is not developed. The second phase of the piece which is 'Danza' i.e. 'Dance' section dissolves the tension of the first section.. Marked Allegro moderato poco, it's a graceful, skipping dance with a hint of nostalgia. A second section revives the intensity of the "Invocation," returning to tremolo writing and arpeggios that elevate the needs of rhythm above those of melody. Soft, subtle, anxious, rebellious, emotional, nostalgic this masterpiece is carefully constructed to portray a monument of emotions, a picture of thousand words. Virtuoso Alirio Díaz (born November 12, 1923) gives Life to this Masterpiece below. 

6. Recuerdos de la Alhambra By Francisco Tarrega

Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) is a classical guitar piece composed in 1896 by Spanish composer and guitarist Francisco Tárrega. He wrote it in Granada. A virtuoso on his instrument, Tárrega was known as the "Sarasate of the guitar." His repertoire included many original compositions for the guitar ("Capricho Árabe", "Danza Mora", et al.) as well as guitar arrangements of works written for other instruments by composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin and Felix Mendelssohn. As with his friend Isaac Albéniz and many of their Spanish contemporaries, Tárrega had an interest in combining the prevailing Romantic trend in classical music with Spanish folk elements, which he did with "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" and his transcriptions for guitar of several of Albeniz's piano pieces (notably the fiery "Asturias (Leyenda)")

The piece starts with sorrow feeling and later evolves into an uplifting feeling. This piece is well known for one of its dominant technicalities which has been used throughout the pieces, which is the 'tremelo' technique performed by the right hand. This piece delivers the illusion of one long sustained tone. The thumb plays a counter-melody on the bass between melodic attacks. Many who hear this piece initially in a non-live setting can mistake it for a duet rather than a challenging solo effort.

Sorrowful, sweet, enigmatic and charming, this is indeed a timeless masterpiece. Here's Spanish Guitar Virtuoso Pepe Romero playing Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

5. Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart composed by Fernando Sor

Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9, is one of Fernando Sor's most virtuosic and greatest works for guitar. It was first published in London in 1821 and dedicated to Sor's brother Carlos.
Being an inherent masterpiece it easily thrilled concert hall audiences and rushed to top of the ladder of popularity.

This exquisite masterpiece puts Fernando Sor on the Spotlight and manifests some of his best characteristics as a composer, exploiting virtuosic technique. It is one of the popular pieces that serves as a test for assessing serious skill and merit required to fully master the classical guitar. This piece and Op.7, the Folies d’Espagne, by Brian Jeffrey, author of the largest Sor biography to date, “no space is wasted and the music devotes itself not to “guitaristic” effects but only to itself.” The work is based on a melody from Mozart's opera The Magic Flute. The opera was first performed in Vienna, 1791, and in Germany, while the first performances in Italy took place in 1794, so Sor could have feasibly written the piece any time since then. However, it is more likely that he was inspired to write the piece when the first major production was premiered in England in May 1819, and at that point, Sor was said to have been there.

Elegant, flamboyant, slow yet speedy, this beautiful masterpiece is surrounded by various colors of emotions while circling around a central theme. Here's the God-father of the Classical Guitar, Maestro Andres Segovia playing Variations on a Theme by Mozart composed by Fernando Sor

4. Capricho Arabe by Francisco Tarrega

Written in the year 1892 this is one of Tarrega's most innovative & brilliant works. Capricho is Spanish for caprice and Arabe refers to the Arabs because of its Arabic feel.

A capriccio or caprice (sometimes plural: caprices, capri or, in Italian, capricci), is a piece of music, usually fairly free in form and of a lively character. The typical capriccio is one that is fast, intense, and often virtuosic in nature. The term has been applied in disparate ways, covering works using many different procedures and forms, as well as a wide variety of vocal and instrumental forces.
Nostalgic, Fragile, Mysterious, Revealing this is also an outstanding Classic that is considered a Concert Guitar Standard.

Here's Maestro Julian Bream playing Capricho Arabe

3. La Cathedral- ( Movement Allegro Solemne) by Agustín Barrios Mangoré

Agustín Pío Barrios (also known as Agustín Barrios Mangoré, May 5, 1885 – August 7, 1944), a profound Paraguayan guitarist and composer, was born in the department of Misiones, Paraguay and died in San Salvador, El Salvador.

He was awe struck by the majestic Montevideo's Cathedral in downtown Montevideo which had inspired him to write this magnificent piece.

This Masterpiece manifests the true love of beauty and harmony, and projects a logical hierarchy of Music.Because of its inherent 'architectural' nature this masterpiece is said to have its roots in Baroque Music.

Rich, Quick, Clever, Spontaneous, and Outstanding are some of the words that at its best helps to describe the masterpiece.
Here's the legendary Manuel Barrueco, playing La cathedral - Allegro Solemne composed by Augustine Barrios Mangore.

2. Asturias (also known as Leyenda) composed By Issac Albeniz

Composed by the great Pianist and Composer Issac Albeniz, this famous Spanish piece is popularly played on the Guitar and is closely associated with Spanish Culture and is said to be the Music of the Spanish Pride.
This powerful Masterpiece is somewhat flamenco-ish in nature. It expresses, anger, greed, sorrow, lust and passion for beauty and freedom.

Miloš Karadaglic who is said to be the "New Hero of the Classical Guitar" plays Asturias which is the very piece that inspired him to pursue the Classical Guitar. (This video below does not cover the entire piece. Sorry I wasn't satisfied with the quality and interpretation of other videos on youtube, and if u don't like Milos's Asturias playing, then please do not request me to put the John Williams )

And now the moment you've been waiting for :

1. Joaquin Rodrigo - Concierto de Aranjuez - (Adagio 2nd Movement )

Joaquín Rodrigo Vidre, 1st Marquis of the Gardens of Aranjuez (November 22, 1901 – July 6, 1999), commonly known as Joaquín Rodrigo, was a composer of classical music and a virtuoso pianist. Despite being nearly blind from an early age, he achieved great success. Rodrigo's music counts among some of the most popular of the 20th century, particularly his Concierto de Aranjuez, considered one of the pinnacles of the Spanish music and guitar concerto repertoire.

For nearly two centuries, the Guitar was somewhat obscured and undermined in the world of  European Concert music, for not having enough pieces that were composed with Orchestra in the form of a concerto or simply in the form of an Orchestral Instrument, apart from Maura Giuliani's concertos which had gained some recognition. It was Rodrigo, who had the dream and vision to raise the profile of guitar music in the period of Romanticism.
The Concierto de Aranjuez was inspired by the gardens at Palacio Real de Aranjuez, the spring resort palace and gardens built by Philip II in the last half of the 16th century and rebuilt in the middle of the 18th century by Ferdinand VI. The work attempts to transport the listener to another place and time through the evocation of the sounds of nature. According to the composer, the first movement is "animated by a rhythmic spirit and vigour without either of the two themes... interrupting its relentless pace"; the second movement "represents a dialogue between guitar and solo instruments (cor anglais, bassoon, oboe, horn etc.)"; and the last movement "recalls a courtly dance in which the combination of double and triple time maintains a taut tempo right to the closing bar." He described the concerto itself as capturing "the fragrance of magnolias, the singing of birds, and the gushing of fountains" in the gardens of Aranjuez.

This piece gets the number one spot not only for raising the profile for Guitar Music, but because of the fact that it has inspired countless musicians from all around the world, coming from different Musical backgrounds.

Also the theme of the music is based on a very sentimental setting, this piece was was conceived by Rodrigo at the time of his terrible misfortune. He and his wife had a lovely time in their honeymoon at Aranjuez but later on when they were about to have their first child, his wife was terribly ill and when she gave birth, the child was dead. This piece is supposed to parallel Rodrigo's beautiful time spent in Aranjuez and his saddest moment of his Life when he would cry for his ill wife and his wish of his child to be born. Later the piece resolves itself, into a more peaceful set of emotions that reflects Rodrigo's acceptance of the death of his child.

Powerful, Subtle, uplifting, and captivating , this Masterpiece is mostly a lament and sits at the top of all Guitar Laments.

The First video encompasses Pepe Romero's Playing and his take on the Masterpiece Unfortunately the Uploader has disabled embedding for the first video, please go and watch it on you tube first.
Here Pepe Romero explains the interpretation for the piece, and documents the movement,

Click Here For the Video

The Second Video :

Virtuoso Pepe Romero Plays Concierto De Aranjuez - Second Movement - Adagio
An Outstanding Masterpiece.
Classical Guitar with an Orchestra at its Best.

Part 1

Another Version ( Part 2 )

If only Music could be expressed in words.

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