Saturday, January 02, 2016

a lookback on 2015, a year where we finally got back to some formal musical analysis of guitar music

Maybe someone would say it wasn't particularly deep or detailed, but at least it was finally able to happen.

There have been those who have visited Wenatchee The Hatchet over the years and have had the comment "All this blog does is talk smack about Mars Hill and Pastor Mark."  Ahem, no.  Maybe for those who have overidentified their personal sense of identity and narrative with Mark Driscoll and/or Mars Hill as an extension of his narrative it could "seem" as though all Wenatchee The Hatchet has done is discuss that topic.  But in 2015 there was some musical analysis.

There was actually a series of posts on Matiegka's Grand Sonata I for solo guitar, for instance, even featuring an optional cadenza that could be used in a performance and a discussion of things we guitarists can consider in putting together a cadenza--we can consider the thematic catalog of a movement, the nature of its form and consider what developmental outworkings of that catalog were NOT present in the written score as a way to develop a cadenza. 

I proposed, perhaps speculatively, that if Matiegka assiduously avoided inversions of themes this could be a limitation in his conceptual approach or ... more charitably, that in a performance idiom where improvisation was still a factor that he'd keep certain developmental possibilities in reserve for the optional cadenza.  Given Matiegka's interest in the work of Haydn and given Haydn's penchant to continue thematic development even within his recapitulations this seems like a reasonable inference.

And if you want to read all of that in its details ...

If you want to watch a video performance of a fun take on Matiegka's Grand Sonata I, go over here for footage of Gideon Whitehead's recital.

He keeps the first movement very lively, observes the repeating exposition, and he takes the finale at a spritely tempo.  Now while many an older guitarist has complained that kids these days play too much music way too fast I think there's a case to be made that Matiegka's Grand Sonata needs to be taken at a brisk tempo so that it doesn't drag.  Sure, we could suggest that central slow movement could have been more laid back (to better contrast with the outer movements) but, hey, the recital was a few years ago and anyone willing to champion Matiegka's Grand Sonata I is worth noting. 

Another avenue of exploration in 2015 was the etudes from Op. 29 of Fernando Sor, exploring ways he hybridized sonata form in a C major etude and the way he wrote a sonata form in E flat for another of the etudes.  This eventually culminated, after a long interval, in some observations about themes in early 19th century guitar sonatas more generally, how with some slight modifications guitar sonata themes from the early 19th century masters could be transformed into the basis for ragtime strains.  There's even a light-hearted ragtime canon on a theme by Sor in one of the posts:

and ... a playful comparison of a shared melodic contour in an early Sor etude and a hit song performed by Johnny Cash

There were plans to write more about the music of Ferdinand Rebay but ... life happens.  Here's hoping that in 2016 Wenatchee The Hatchet can get back to blogging about Rebay's music because there are some fine recordings of his work that have become available in the last year or so.  And for those who are regulars, Koshkin's cycle of preludes and fugues for solo guitar has been moving toward a publication/release date.  Don't know when that date is but the plan is to get the score and any/all associated recordings. 

Contrapuntal cycles for solo guitar are, to put it mildly, rare.  It has been a mistake of the guitar community to imagine that neither the fugue nor the sonata form are "practical" for the guitar.  There's a wealth of evidence to demonstrate otherwise since, oh, 1802, whether we're talking sonatas by Molitor, Matiegka, Carulli, Diabelli, Giuliani, Sor, Adam Darr, Georg Luckner, Turina, Rodrigo, Jose, Ponce, Gilardino, and a few others we'll just not name by name here.  Sonatas are all over the place for those with a genuine interest in sonata forms.  Fugues, those ARE rare, but they exist. 

IF there's a case to be made for why non-guitarist music journalists and musicologists don't take the guitar to be "serious" and don't consider it primarily part of the "literate music" tradition, it's because guitarists, as Matanya Ophee has pointed out, tend to not be taken seriously within the classical world.  One idea, in light of trends since 1800, could be that the guitar has not been treated as "serious" is the lack of works that are well-known that feature the 18th century forms broadly known as sonata and fugue.  There's actually a significant body of sonatas for solo guitar and the number of fugues for guitar looks set to increase.  Now we could also point out that there's not necessarily any reason guitarists "have" to write sonatas and fugues to be taken seriously.  That's completely true.  That said, some of us have fun with sonata and fugue for the guitar.  There's no reason those of us into those forms can't write as many o fthem as we want. 

What guitarist composers may have an opportunity to do is exploit a weakness (not being considered a notable part of what Taruskin's called the literate music  tradition, i.e. of printed music scores) and leveraging that into a potential strength.  The potential strength can be this, if we're talking about an instrument that has already been marginalized within academic musicology then it means we're not obliged to think and write in terms of what has been considered "in" or "out". 

At precisely a stage in Western musical history where pianists don't want to be bothered writing sonatas and fugues because all that's been done guitarists have an opportunity to tackle these traditional forms but in light of a musical vocabulary we can share in common with popular idioms.  As Charles Rosen wrote long ago about Haydn and Mozart, they synthesized scholastic formal approaches with popular idioms.  We guitarists have an opportunity to give that a shot for our instrument. There's literally no reason you can't start a sonata allegro movement with a twelve-bar blues on a guitar.  There's no reason you can't compose a fugue on a subject that's a blues riff.  There's no inherent reason you can't compose sonatas that are tributes to Hank Williams Sr. or Johnny Cash. 

Perhaps one of the great advantages guitarist composers may have is a problem guitarist performers in the classical world find so frustrating, that we're not taken completely seriously, or maybe even taken seriously at all.  That could be an advantage.  But it will potentially only be an advantage to us if we embrace both popular and scholastic music traditions equally, which it seems a lot of guitarists you can meet actually kind of already do.  Maybe not "enough" of them, but we also live in an era where the potential contribution of a few guitarists committed to what a commenter at George Sandow's blog called an "anti-chauvinist" perspective, that is a perspective that does not look down on popular musical styles while still demonstrating a commitment to what's been known as "art music" or "classical music", can still be a net positive.  The internet can create dangerously insular echo chambers but it can also create social dynamics in which people can have an influence they could not have if the only measure of social influence was the meet-and-greet in-person approach.

Matanya Ophee's proposal, going back to his Repertoire Issues lecture (I read a transcript of that lecture back in 1999 and it changed my life) is that we guitarists should commit to chamber music.  He discussed playing chamber music and I try to do that when I can but I took it as a challenge to WRITE chamber music.  If we want other musicians to take us seriously we should take them seriously.  Don't look down on the tuba, for instance.  The Samuel Jones Tuba Concerto is a great recent piece of music.  Penderecki's Capriccio is fun, too.  Don't look down on ANY instrument.  As far as humanly possible don't look down on a style of music. That's not to say you can't decide you hate the music of this or that popular musician, but that you can consider that the problem is not necessarily that style as a whole in which that annoying pop musician works.  Just because I hope to never again hear a song by Toby Keith doesn't mean I can't love songs by Johnny Cash or Hank Williams Sr. or Merle Haggard.  It doesn't even mean I can't be open to country songs written by people born during the Nixon administration.  There are moments in Haydn string quartets that I can imagine being country songs.  I've taken animation seriously as a narrative art form since I was a kid so it's not just classical guitar music that I'm into that I've seen critical and academic establishments not take seriously as an art form. 

Well ... that ramble has been enough for one post.  For those who may still labor under the misapprehension that "all" this blog has done is discuss a narrow set of topics confined to a local megachurch those people are probably going to persist in their potentially willful misunderstanding.  For everyone else, it was nice in 2015 that WtH could get back to being a blog that discusses music.

No comments: