The ancient art of découpage involves the process of decorating an object using different layers of colorful adornments combined with special artistic effects. With Asian origins dating as far back as the 12th century, this unique art attained great popularity in 17th- and 18th- century Europe, and it remains popular today. Is there a musical equivalent? In this program, guitarist Stephen Robinson provides a kaleidoscopic journey through the classical guitar repertoire. This collection adheres to the recital concept where individual works of varied origins are highlighted, and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In works spanning nearly three centuries, Robinson showcases the talents of new composers and giants of the old guard. He exposes the multi-faceted and cosmopolitan layers of the expanding guitar repertoire, combining recent jewels with timeless standards. Many colorful threads unify the works: Moorish sounds evoking images of legendary Andalusian fortifications are complemented by the tango-inspired music of Buenas Aires; the existential union of man with nature is heard side-by-side with celebratory images of springtime; a lively Spanish dance is contrasted with the rigorous expressivity of traditional Baroque forms. The final layer is a personal testimonial of a profound and universal spirituality. The result is an experience of considerable aesthetic impact -- truly the aural equivalent of découpage.
Máximo Diego Pujol (1957-) has emerged as one of Argentina's most important guitarists and composers. As a representative of the new generation of Argentine composers, he is widely respected for his ability to incorporate current musical trends with the traditional music of his country, particularly the tango. He studied the guitar with Horacio Ceballos and Alfred Vincente Gascon at the Juan José Castro Provincial Conservatory, and took part in courses with Abel Carlevaro, Miguel Angel Girollet and Eduardo Castanera. The great Argentine composer Astor Piazzola strongly influenced his compositional style, inspiring him to write melodically rich works that fully exploit the expressive powers of the guitar. His three movement "Sonatine" is constructed in the classical form, and – like the "Tres Piezas Rioplatenses" -- reflects the music of the Rio de la Plata region. The first and third movements are based on the lively African-derived rhythms of the candombe, filled with abundant syncopations and ostinatos. The second movement is based on the rural milonga, known primarily for its contemplative character.
The mid-1700s was a period when the guitar remained outside of the mainstream, but many interesting chamber works including guitar were written by Italian composer Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805). Born in Lucca, Italy, Boccherini quickly established a reputation as a virtuoso cellist. During a concert tour, the Spanish ambassador convinced him to travel to Madrid to seek patronage at court, and he subsequently spent 24 years of his life in Spain as a cellist/composer in court circles. He enjoyed the patronage of Don Luis from 1769 to 1785, but after the Infante died he returned to Madrid where he became music director of the salon for the Duke and Duchess of Osuna. Boccherini had by this time attained considerable fame in Germany and Austria, and Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia appointed him "composer of the chamber." Most of his finest late chamber works (including the work in this collection) were written for the Prussian King. Along with his countryman Domenico Scarlatti, Boccherini combined Spanish and gypsy folk elements with the more rigid formal structures of the Baroque period. Throughout his compositional career, he composed hundreds of string quartets, string quintets, and other chamber works – and his sojourn in Spain brought him into productive contact with the guitar. While under patronage, Boccherini heard the spellbinding fandango improvisations of the court guitarist Padre Basilio. This popular courtship dance is in three-quarter time and moderately fast tempo. In the fourth movement of his Quintet for Guitar and Strings in D Major (G 448), Boccherini explored the lively and rhythmic fandango idiom. This popular quintet was derived from musical material found in earlier String Quintets G 270 and G 341.
The singer/songwriter eden ahbez (1908-1995) was one of the authentic fringe personalities in American popular culture, a proto-hippie who captured public attention with his bucolic lifestyle and his enigmatic appearance. Born George Alexander Aberle in Brooklyn, New York, Ahbez was a recording artist from the 1940s to 1960s. Ahbez arrived in Los Angeles in the mid 1940s, after reportedly crossing the United States eight times on foot by the age of 35. He eventually discovered various forms of Eastern philosophy and adopted a Christ-like appearance, wearing long hair, beads and flowing white robes. After settling in L.A., he married a woman named Anna Jacobson and slept with her in a sleeping bag in Griffith Park. Urban legends relate that he survived on three dollars a week and lectured about various forms of Oriental mysticism on street corners. He adopted the name "eden ahbez," insisting that it be spelled with no capital letters as only God was worthy of capitalization. Ahbez skyrocketed to public attention in 1948 when Nat King Cole recorded his song "Nature Boy." The song was a favorite in Cole's performances, and when he and his manager Mort Ruby decided he should record it, they searched for Ahbez to secure the rights. Ruby reportedly found Ahbez and his wife camped out under the first "L" in the Hollywood sign. "Nature Boy" quickly became Capitol Record's number one hit, topping the charts for eight consecutive weeks. Numerous other artists have recorded the song, including such luminaries as Dick Haymes, Frank Sinatra, Cher, Grover Washington Jr., Celine Dion, and David Bowie. In his poignant arrangement for guitar, Robinson retains the simplistic beauty of the melody. Although Ahbez faded into obscurity, his universal message has not. The concluding lines of "Nature Boy" remind us that "The greatest thing that you will ever learn / is just to love and be loved in return."
Canadian guitarist and composer Pierre Tremblay (1958-) states that "'Esquisse Torrobienne' was written after a morning walk in the mountains around Mont St-Gregoire near where I live. This was during the fall of 2003, at a time when the colors on the trees looked like a majestic painting. As I neared the top of the mountain the first bars of the piece came to me with the melody dancing like the sound of victory. All those colors mixed together were a pure joy to see. The rest of the piece was completed a couple of weeks later when I recalled that scene. When I played the piece for some of my friends, it was obvious to them (as it was to me) that it was similar in style to the Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba. I have always found Torroba's music to be full of colors, like that fall scene, so the title ‘Esquisse Torrobienne' came to mind."
About the second work in this collection, Tremblay continues: "'Matin de Printemps' was written in September-October 2005. This is not exactly the time of year called ‘spring' here in Quebec, but the piece is a reflection of joy for me, like a spring morning, where nature is waking and birds are beginning to sing again. It is a most magnificent and joyful time! That kind of joy can be heard in the E major section of the piece. It also reminds me of some old musical comedy from the 40's. In fact, that was the first image that came to mind while writing that section. ‘Matin de Printemps' is my reflection on the joy of the little things happening not only in spring, but in everyday life. John Duarte was certainly an inspiration for the minor section of this piece, another composer for which I have great admiration."
Along with countrymen Enrique Granados and Manuel Da Falla, composer/pianist Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was an important figure in the birth of Spanish nationalism in music. Although he did not write any music for the guitar, the piano works of Albéniz are so steeped in guitar-like figurations that many of them transcribe quite naturally for the guitar (in some cases he reportedly preferred the guitar transcriptions made by Franscisco Tárrega to the original). This is not surprising -- as a Spaniard the characteristic sounds and textures of the guitar must have deeply penetrated his compositional approach. In his piano suites (published beginning in 1886), most movements are heavily indebted to the guitar idiom without quoting actual folk music. Many works are named for some Iberian landmark, city, or province and include a subtitle to indicate the character or dance origin of the piece. "Torre Bermeja," the last of the "Twelve Characteristic Pieces" Op. 92, is a multi-sectional work presenting a hauntingly beautiful melody and variety of moods in contrasting keys. The evocative title "Crimson Tower" refers to the famous Andalusian fortifications. Visitors in Granada can view such structures after walking through the Pomegranates Gate on their way up to the Alhambra. The towers are the earliest Moorish fortifications on Alhambra Hill, dating from the end of the 8th Century. They received their coloristic designation from the ochre-tinged walls. In a more poetic version, Muslim writers speak of the construction of the fortress "by the light of torches."
Yuquijiro Yocoh (1925-) was born in Hita, Japan. The self-taught guitarist and composer left the Keijoh Dental School to pursue the study of the guitar and its music. His eclectic musical interests have produced a wide range of original compositions and arrangements including solos, ensemble works, and songs with guitar accompaniment. Yocoh's most famous work is the contemplative theme and variations based on the traditional Japanese folksong "Sakura" (Cherry Blossom). The familiar song depicts the arrival of spring, the season of the cherry blossom. The cherry blossom is the unofficial national flower, and has been celebrated for centuries in the poetry, paintings and music of Japan. Numerous festivals are held each year from January through June, as the flower continues to hold a prominent place in Japanese culture. Yocoh's imaginative arrangement reveals the emphasis upon simplicity and the mood of repose inherent in the Eastern temperament. The timbre of guitar delicately underscores the sweet sense of melancholy and a forlorn sense of innocence. As the cherry blossoms are in bloom only for a week, "Sakura" inscribes in music the fleeting nature of beauty and transitory nature of life.
Johann Sebastian Bach's interest in the lute was perhaps fostered by his friendship with Silvius Leopold Weiss, the most celebrated German lutenist of his day. Bach composed the cycle "Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro," BWV 998 in Leipzig during the early 1740s. The autograph manuscript designates that the work is "pour la Luth. o Cembal" (for lute or harpsichord), which was not unusual in early 18th–century German music. The general style nevertheless conforms to the lute music of the period, as the Baroque lute was capable of accommodating the overall tessitura and register. Indeed, the triptych may be viewed as a veritable catalogue of the predominant lute techniques of the day. This notation incorporates elements of the style brisé, common among 17th-century French lutenists. On the contrary, a number of texturally thick areas have caused some scholars to speculate that it was conceived with the keyboard in mind. Still others have proposed that Bach wrote this masterpiece for the rare Baroque instrument called the Lautenwerk, a three-octave harpsichord designed to imitate the unique timbre of the lute. Although the debate has not been definitively settled, all scholars seem to agree on one point: the work is truly a jewel of the repertoire. The opening prelude effectively deploys patterns of arpeggios with relatively limited bass support, while the ensuing four-voice fugue requires the performer to execute extraordinary contrapuntal maneuvers. The finale is a dance-like movement written in the character of the Italian corrente. This profound and balanced composition has become a staple of the guitar repertoire, and it provides compelling evidence that Bach composed away from the confines of any instrument.
The importance of Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) to the evolution and development of the classical guitar cannot be overstated. The legendary Spanish guitarist and composer is viewed by many scholars as the founder of modern classical guitar technique, and he is universally acknowledged for his prolific contributions to the guitar repertoire. His influence is so deep and wide-ranging that he is often credited with initiating the guitar renaissance that has continued into the 21th Century. Tárrega studied composition and harmony at the Madrid Conservatory from 1874 to 1877, and he developed a successful career as a concert guitarist and pedagogue throughout Europe. His revolutionary advances in the development of technique and refinements in the art of transcription ballasted his international stature as a guitarist. Tárrega's rich, melodious music is steeped in the spirit of late romanticism, revealing a composer who possesses an innate understanding of the expressive possibilities of his instrument. In addition to his own works, he extended the romantic tradition by transcribing works of such masters as Schumann and Chopin. "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" (Memories of the Alhambra) is his most famous work -- captivating the imagination of so many listeners that it has been labeled the "national anthem" of the guitar. The beautiful tremolo study invokes nostalgic impressions of the Alhambra Palace overlooking the city of Granada. The unique structure is one of the most impressive examples of Moorish architecture in the world – a sprawling palace comprised of royal residential quarters, court complexes flanked by official chambers, a bath, and a mosque. The romantic spirit of the edifice has been imparted to centuries of visitors, as the slender, columnar arcades, fountains, and light-reflecting water basins are inscribed in Islamic poetry as the physical manifestations of Paradise.
North American composer Chris DeBlasio (1959-1993) studied theater arts at New York University and composition at the Manhattan School of Music, where included among his instructors were John Corigliano and Giampoalo Bracale. He wrote many liturgical and theatrical works, but he is particularly known for his song cycles including "All the Way through Evening," "Villagers," and "Endless Assent." His song entitled "Walt Whitman in 1989" was part of the AIDS Quilt Songbook 1992," a program presented at Alice Tully Hall in June 1992. DeBlasio died in the summer of 1993 at the age of thirty-four -- a creative flame extinguished much too soon. "God is Our Righteousness" was written for Advent observance at the Union Theological Seminary. This adventurous work explores the unique – and seemingly disparate – instrumental timbres of the guitar and organ. DeBlasio's multi-faceted compositional skills are on full display in this effective collaboration. The luminous beauty of the work is an appropriate final layer to Robinson's découpage.
Notes by Christopher Cary
About Organist Boyd Jones
Boyd Jones performs extensively throughout the United States on both organ and harpsichord in addition to his duties as Organist and John E. and Aleise Price Professor of Organ at Stetson University, DeLand, Florida. Recent seasons have included performances for two regional conventions of the American Guild of Organists, the national convention of The Organ Historical Society, a conclave of the Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society and the national convention of the Music Teachers National Association. Many recitals have been performed for colleges and universities, AGO chapters and churches from California to Maine to Florida. Engagements abroad have included recitals in Japan, and in 2007 a series of recitals in Bulgaria. Additionally, he has performed frequently as both organ and harpsichord soloist, and as a continuo player with several prominent orchestras. Dr. Jones holds degrees from Stetson University (BM) where his organ teacher was Paul Jenkins, and from Yale University (MM, MMA, and DMA), where he studied organ with Charles Krigbaum and harpsichord with Richard Rephann. Boyd Jones has won both national and international organ performance competitions, and has recorded for Arkay Records.