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Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Guitar Quintet Opus 143

I. Allegro, vivo e schietto
II. Andante mesto
III. Scherzo: allegro con spirito, alla marcia
IV. Finale: allegro con fuoco

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) never played the guitar, but became one of the most prolific 20th-century composers for the instrument. Andrés Segovia caused that.

The guitar virtuoso met Castelnuovo-Tedesco in 1932, at a contemporary music festival in Venice. Variazioni attraverso i secoli, the first of nearly 100 compositions involving guitar, resulted from that meeting, as did a life-long musical relationship with Segovia. In 1939, Castelnuovo-Tedesco composed for Segovia the first guitar concerto of the 20th century.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s traditional harmonies and lyrical melodic style appealed to Segovia, whose tastes ran in a narrow conservative range. Those qualities abound in the tuneful, lilting Quintet, from 1950. Its instantly memorable tunes and pleasant harmonies, which fall somewhere between jazz and Impressionism, make it hard for even a thorny Modernist to resist. Its spritely outer movements skip right along, the scherzo is a wry sort of march, and the understated lament of a slow movement makes you stop and think. The composer deftly scored this combination of instruments; he never buries the guitar in the texture, and you never feel that the bowed strings must hold back.

On a personal note, the 1956 Decca recording of this quintet, with Segovia and four members of the Quintetto Chigiano, is the first guitar record I ever bought. I mentioned this to Berto Boyd, tonight’s guitarist and my fellow board member at the Corvallis Guitar Society. He had it on CD, though, in a different edition, but with the quintet. He said, “That was my first guitar record! My mom bought it for me. I listened to it every night when I went to bed.”

Tom Strini. Source for bio and historical info: Wikipedia pages for Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Segovia Wikipedia pages

 Joaquín Nin: Seguida Española

I. Vieja Castilla
II. Murcian
III. Asturiana
IV. Andaluza

Joaquín Nin (1883-1949) composed the Spanish Suite, for cello and piano, in 1930. He adhered to the elevated Spanish folkloric style laid down by such earlier composers as Enrique Granados (1867-1916), and Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909). Like Albéniz in the case of Iberia, Nin composed a suite based on music from and impressions of cities representative of Spain’s cultural regions: Castille (“Vieja Castilla”), Murcia (“Murciana”), Asturias (“Asturiana”) and Andalusia (“Andaluza”). And like Albéniz, he studied in Paris and soaked up French musical influences.

Nin was born in Cuba and died there, but grew up mostly in Spain and lived there much of his adult life. This well-traveled man had wide talents and interests. He was an accomplished writer on musical subjects. He edited volumes of Spanish Baroque music and helped to save it for posterity. He taught in Paris and then in Berlin. In 1910, he returned to Cuba and started a concert series and continued to tour widely as a pianist.

Among his three children was the writer Anaïs Nin (1903-1977), who wrote some startling things about her father in her Unexpurgated Diaries. I won’t go into it here, but you could look it up.

Tom Strini. Sources for bio and historical info: Allmusic.com page for Joaquín Nin, the Anaïs Nin blog, Anaïs Nin Wikipedia page.

 Boccherini: Guitar Quintet in D, G. 448 (“Fandango”)I

I. Pastorale
II. Allegro maestoso
III. Grave assai
IV. Fandango

 Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) joined the family business – music – when he was just a boy. His father, the first double bassist to perform solo concerts, also played cello. He set out to make a cellist of his boy, who showed his talent at age 5. He packed his son off to Rome, to study with the music director of St. Peter’s Basilica. By 1757, father and son were playing together at the Vienna Burgtheater, as employees of the Hapsburg court. There, at 17, Luigi published his first composition.

The father and son’s next gig was in Milan, in 1765. The elder Boccherini’s death, a year later, cut that short, and the surviving son teamed up with violinist Filippo Manfredi. They tried their luck in Paris and became stars there. Boccherini found a ready market for his compositions and wrote prolifically.

In 1769, they moved on to more success in Spain. The next year, the Infante Luis Antonio, younger brother of King Charles III, put Boccherini on the payroll. A cushy job, until the King demanded that he change a passage in a trio. Boccherini refused and got fired. No matter; Luis Antonio took him into his personal employ and moved him to his mountain retreat, where Boccherini had time and peace to write many of his best works.

Boccherini wrote about 100 string quintets, most of them with two cellos. He was a prodigious cellist himself, and upped the ante for cello parts in quartets and quintets ever after. The guitar quintets came about because a guitar-playing Spanish nobleman commissioned Boccherini to rewrite for guitar some of the cello parts in older works. Boccherini mined two of his previous quartets to come up with G. 448.

While he was at it, Boccherini added to the local Spanish color – the finale is a fandango, a lively Spanish dance for two – by layering on parts for castanets and sistrum, a kind of shaker. Sistrums (sistri?) are a little hard to find, and tambourine makes a nice substitute.

The cello, not the guitar, is the star of this show until the fandango, when the percussion kicks in and the guitar has more to do. When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do. 

Tom Strini. Sources: Patsy Morita Allmusic.com post and Alan Beggerow’s Musical Musing post on the quintet; the Wikipedia page on Boccherini.

Paul Schoenfeld: Café Music

I. Allegro
II. Rubato – Andante Moderato
III. Presto

The composer, born in Detroit in 1947, is a concert pianist, now on the composition faculty of the University of Michigan. He wrote:

“The idea to compose Café Music first came to me in 1985 after sitting in one night for the pianist at Murray’s Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Murray’s employs a house trio that plays entertaining dinner music in a wide variety of styles. My intention was to write a kind of high-class dinner music – music which could be played at a restaurant, but might also (just … barely) find its way into a concert hall.

“The work draws on many of the types of music played by the trio at Murray’s … early 20th-century American, Viennese, light classical, gypsy, and Broadway styles are all represented. A paraphrase of a beautiful Chassidic melody is incorporated in the second movement.

“Café Music was commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and received its premiere during a SPCO chamber concert in January 1987.”

 Craig Leman’s notes for the 2010 Chamber Music Corvallis performance by Trio Solisti seem to be missing. Craig often sought the composer’s own comments. Source: Jessie Rothwell in Philpedia, on the LA Philharmonic website.