Ralph Maier | Variations

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by Ralph Maier

A sweeping tour through six centuries of music performed on vihuela, baroque guitar, romantic guitar, classical guitar, and electric guitars.
Genre: Classical: Early Music
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Baxa de Contrapunto
1:40 $0.99
2. Mille Regres: La Cancion del Emperador
2:28 $0.99
3. Fantasia Remedada Al Chirie Postrero de la Misa de Iosquin, de Beata Virgine
2:40 $0.99
4. Fantasia Sobre un Pleni de Contrapunto
2:23 $0.99
5. Los Impossibles
5:25 $0.99
6. Folias
5:36 $0.99
7. Espanoleta
4:58 $0.99
8. Morceau de Concert, Op. 54
16:49 $0.99
9. Variations On a Finnish Folksong
8:39 $0.99
10. Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks: 1. Opening
3:55 $0.99
11. Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks: 2. Waves
3:40 $0.99
12. Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks: 3. Lassus
4:44 $0.99
13. Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks: 4. Metal
2:27 $0.99
14. Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks: 5. Harmonic Field
2:56 $0.99
15. Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks: 6. An Alphabet of Guitarists
1:40 $0.99
16. Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks: 7. Big Chords
4:12 $0.99
17. Twenty Quarter Inch Jacks: 8. Closing
2:07 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
This recording represents the consummation of an idea that began during rehearsals for a concert performance of variations and related works played on the classical guitar and its ancestral variants. Such works have been central to the repertory of the guitar from the earliest appearance of variation sets in the printed publications of Sixteenth-Century vihuelists to the YouTube performances of today’s post-postmodernists on electric guitar. Contemporary guitarists find themselves heirs to a rich musical tradition, and if there is a common thread running through the works chosen for this recording, it is the notion that artists of any era balance the innovations of their age with the authority of the past. No musician works in a temporal vacuum.

Published in 1538, Los seys libros del Delphín, de música de cifras para tañer vihuela of Luys de Narváez (1505-1549) contains the earliest printed examples of variation sets for six-course vihuela, together with songs, intabulations of vocal works, and purely instrumental fantasias. Innovative in style, Narváez’s music reveals a debt to the newest currents in Italian lute playing spearheaded by Francesco da Milano alongside an assimilation of the vocal counterpoint of the most revered musician of the previous generation, Josquin des Prez. It is no accident that Narvaez’s gracefully ornamented setting of Josquin’s Mille regretz remains one of his most enduring works, or that such musical hallmarks as paired imitation and Josquin’s “drive to the cadence” are so clearly prominent in the instrumental fantasias of Narváez and his contemporaries. Elsewhere, Narváez’s variation sets and romance accompaniments offer evidence of what must have been a vibrant and ever-changing improvisatory musical-poetic tradition.

Among Narváez’s contemporaries, the vihuela music of Enríquez de Valderrábano (fl.1547) is as engaging as it is unique. 19 of the 33 fantasias contained in his Libro de musica de vihuela intitulado Silva de sirenas (1547) are parodies of preexisting works, in which material from the original source is fully integrated into the fabric of Valderrábano’s uninterrupted stream of counterpoint so completely that, were it not for the composer’s disclosure, identification of the source would be difficult at best.

By the first quarter of the seventeenth century, the popularity of the vihuela was so completely eclipsed by the guitar that the Spanish lexicographer Sebastian de Covarrubias lamented, ‘there isn’t a stable boy who isn’t a guitarist,’ reacting not only to the emergent five-course instrument, but to a fundamental shift in musical tastes away from the dense counterpoint of late Sixteenth-Century vihuelists to the lighter homophony of a budding popular style. At its height in the Baroque, the guitar was equally at home in the hovel of the poorest peasant to the palaces of Europe’s highest monarchs, and its music often reflects this duality. Completed around 1732, the Saldívar Codex No.4 of Santiago de Murcia (c.1682-c.1740) forms a compendium of variations on popular dance accompaniments, and reconciles the rustic exuberance of the early guitar with the requirements of music for the court (born into a family of several generations of court-musicians, Murcia’s patrons held close ties to the Spanish court, and his pupils included Maria Luisa Gabriela de Savoy, wife of Philip V). The charm and lyricism of his Los Impossibles reveals the work of one of Spain’s most esteemed guitarists and remains a musical highpoint of the collection.

The Spanish guitarist, composer and priest Francisco Guerau (1649-1722) served as a chamber musician and maestro di capella of the Colegio de Niños Cantores in Madrid, and evidence suggests that he may have taught Santiago de Murcia. Printed in 1694, the 27 variation sets that form the contents of Guerau’s Poema harmónico compuesto de varias cifras por el temple de le guitarra española number among the most elaborate and difficult of such works published for the five-course guitar.

The nineteenth century is often described as a golden age of the guitar, with players flocking to major centers in Europe to ply their trade and assimilate the music of contemporaneous masters. Deftly balancing virtuosity with elegance, the Morceau de Concert Op.54 of Fernando Sor (1778-1839) confirms the efforts of a mature composer well versed in the musical traditions of his predecessor Mozart – one need look no further than his famous Introduction and Variations on a Theme of Mozart Op.9- and this late work exemplifies variation form as it exists among early Romantic guitarists. Sor’s unique approach to guitar composition is clearly evident here, marked by frequent appropriations of pianistic figuration, orchestral textures, and passages of operatic bel canto. It is perhaps such a work that elicited Fétis’ firsthand account of Sor’s playing that, ‘the guitar is a miniature orchestra in itself.’

Written in 1993, the Variations on a Finnish Folksong of American-born composer Bryan Johanson (b.1951) celebrates the author's personal heritage and underscores the ubiquitous position of the guitar in western culture. Despite an overwhelmingly consonant harmonic vocabulary and a liberal deployment of traditional instrumental idioms that include tremolo, pizzicato, campanella and percussion effects, Johanson’s work seems to build on the model of previous guitarists in a relationship that is deliberately tenuous. While the general outlay of the Sor generation remains – a slow introduction followed by a theme, several variations and a closing finale- Johanson’s material is recast in a continuously organic stream before closing with a return to its original form and completing its natural cycle.

Scored for twenty electric guitars, 20 ¼” Jacks by Canadian guitarist-composer Tim Brady (b.1956) represents the culmination of the present collection of works, both temporally and sonically. While not a variation set in the strictest sense, Brady draws upon a wide range of musical influences not only from the electric guitar’s immediate past, but also from sources as near as Steve Reich and as distant as Orlando di Lasso. Indeed, this expansive, multi-movement work evokes images that run the full gamut of human existence, from our emergence out of the primal sea (in Waves) to our headlong race toward a final, crashing technologically driven conclusion. I had the honor of participating in a performance of this work in Calgary in October 2012, with Tim Brady conducting.

Ralph Maier
July 2015



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