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Doctoral Recital Program Notes

May 5, 2010 | By | No Comments

University of Texas, Butler School of Music
Joseph V. Williams II, Classical Guitar
April 9, 2010 | 7:30 PM | Recital Studio

The first half of this program presents two very different concepts of the sonata.

The Italian composer, Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), was born the same year as Bach and Handel. He spent most of his working life in the Iberian Peninsula in service to the Portuguese and Spanish royalty. He is best known for his 555 keyboard sonatas which, except for a few pieces for chamber ensemble or organ, were intended for harpsichord. In Italian, the word sonata means “to sound” as opposed to cantata which means “to sing.” Scarlatti’s sonata refers to a single movement piece for keyboard in binary form. Each sonata presents a steady stream of balanced musical gestures. Some of these gestures return in the second half, and along with the harmonic structure (tonic-dominant: dominant-tonic), create a cohesive, unified and frequently dramatic work. They are regularly presented in groups of two or three, where each sonata contrasts in terms of tempo or key. In these works, Scarlatti exhibits the subtle influence of flamenco in some of the unexpectedly dissonant chords and syncopated rhythms. These sonatas were arranged for guitar by Eliot Fisk.

Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) is one of the great Mexican composers of the 20th Century and has written for nearly all major genres and forms. His style continually developed during his life but his music, like his personality, is almost always marked by an introspective quality. His collaborations with the Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia are both numerous and well documented, including several sonatas, theme and variations, preludes, and a concerto. At the age of forty-three, Ponce returned to Europe to study contemporary French musical trends with Paul Dukas in 1926. There he was greatly influenced by Dukas’ thematic development and orchestral colors. In 1927, he composed Sonata III with a new personal language filled with the stylistic traits of French Impressionism.

For Ponce, the sonata is a large multi-movement structure. Sonata III is in three movements in a fast-slow-fast pattern. The first movement is the longest, most ambitious form with an abundance of subtle shifts in harmony and lyrical transitional material which blurs its formal design. The second movement is a slow lamenting song with a short, joyful fast section. The final movement is a rondo where the opening phrase returns repeatedly to alternate with new material. The final movement features an extended tremolo (fast repeated notes) and concludes with a slow ruminating wash of impressionistic harmony.

The second half of the program illustrates three ways in which a work for guitar is created: solely in the mind of the composer; through the mind and fingers of a guitar composer; and a composer’s creation reinterpreted through the imagination of a virtuoso.

The iconic 20th Century French composer and teacher, Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), was profoundly affected by his birth place in Aix-le Provence. Writer and dear friend of Milhaud, Paul Collaer, captures the spirit of Aix-le Provence in a preface to Milhaud’s auto biography:
“It is both wild and orderly, like the landscape of Tuscany but more glowing; for along with grapevines and almond trees, the red, charred soil is overlaid with the wind-shifted gray or silver haze of olive orchards… Around a bend in the road, all of a sudden, in a hollow, is a ‘yellow’ Aix, or rather, ‘russet’ Aix, basking in the sunlight. It seems as though its rays penetrate the very heart of the stones, baking them thoroughly…Above all, (the observer) will be aware of contrasts: though Aix may be a symphony composed to the glory of the sun, beneath its plane trees, the deepest possible shade…the splashing water from mossy fountains, located at every street-corner, murmurs unceasingly. As shadow complements the brilliance of sunlight, so water satisfies this thirsty earth: where can this special equilibrium, this balance of contrasting passions, be better observed?”
This vivid description is evocative of Milhaud’s Segoviana. Its stark contrasts in dynamics (volume), tone-color, extraordinary variety of rhythm, and a constantly shifting harmonic language create a texture similar to a stain glass window: small separate components which combine to create a mosaic whole. The work was composed in 1957 in Paris. It is Milhaud’s only work for guitar and is dedicated to the Spanish guitarist Andres Segovia.

Virtuoso, guitar composer, and poet Agustín Barrios Mangoré (1885-1944) was born in Southern Paraguay and received early formal instruction from guitarist Gustavo Sosa Escalada. He performed throughout South America and spent a short time in Europe. He was perhaps the greatest guitar virtuoso of the 20th Century, but sadly never received recognition outside of South America. Barrios’ music has been championed by various performers and has since become part of the standard repertoire. Both Julia Florida and Mazurka Appassionata are inspired by women who were most likely paramours of Barrios. Julia Florida was written in Costa Rica in 1938 and is dedicated to his student Julia Martinez de Rodriguez. It is a barcarole ( a song set to the slow rowing rhythm of the Venetian gondolas). The Mazurka Appassionata, also entitled The Soul of Maria Ester, was written around 1919 in Brazil. A mazurka is a polish dance which, like a waltz, has 3 beats, but different in that it has a marked accent on beat two. Both works are greatly influenced by the music of Chopin and, although written in the 20th Century, are firmly grounded in the Romantic style.


American, George Rochberg (1918-2005) spent a long part of his career writing the intensely expressive, angular, and tension filled music of serialism. However, after the death of his teenage son in 1964, Rochberg abondoned serial writing and was greatly criticized for creating works which included styles from throughout music history. In 1970, shortly after this change in style, Rochberg created the Caprice Variations for solo violin based on the theme from Paganini’s 24th Caprice. The work is a stylistic tour de force with homages to Bach, Schubert, Brahms, Webern, Mahler, Beethoven, Stravinsky and includes genres such as the burlesque, can-can, aria, and abstract forms. The total duration is around 70 minutes. However selections of the caprices can be performed as a set, such as the one presented on this program. In 1993, Eliot Fisk, in collaboration with Rochberg, freely arranged the entire set of variations and took full advantage of the entire expressive and technical capabilities of the guitar.

-Joseph Williams II

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