This album is shaped by the incredible coincidence that occurred in 1685 when three of the most prominent composers that Europe has ever seen were born within eight months of each other. Though Bach, Scarlatti, and Handel never wrote for the guitar, their works have been transcribed and arranged for it, giving generations of guitarist access to their timeless music.
Many guitar composers have been impacted by these great masters and written pieces in honor of them. I have some compiled transcriptions by the Baroque composers and paired them with newer compositions that were influenced by their legacies.
The music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) has found a welcoming home in the world of the classical guitar. Arrangements of his works have dominated the programs of guitarists for over a century with the Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro being one of his most popular.
Likely first written for the lautenwerck (or lute harpsichord) around 1735, the Prelude, Fugue, and Allegro was originally in E-flat major, however, I have changed it to D major to take advantage of the guitars’ natural resonance.
Rather than three movements of a suite, I think of this work as three parts to a whole: a sort of musical representation of the Christian Holy Trinity. The Prelude represents God the Father, with its booming opening in the bass, followed by single lines that I interpret as the genesis story of creation; starting from nothing and building into a complex structure. The Fugue is one of only a few that Bach wrote in ternary form, with a restatement of the main theme area at the end. This represents God the Son, with the recapitulation serving as the resurrection of Christ. Finally, the Allegro represents the Holy Spirit. The quick-moving notes, 6/8 meter, and the melodic bassline provides a notable and beautifully-crafted conclusion to the piece.
The South American guitarist and composer Agustin Barrios Mangore (1885-1944) was one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. Despite this, his music was not known or available to most guitarist until the 1970s, when it was popularized by the great John Williams. Today, thankfully, Barrios’ music is popular around the world and La Catedral is one of the most in-demand works for guitar.
La Catedral (or The Cathedral) was first composed in 1921 when Barrios was living in Uruguay and originally consisted of just two movements: Andante Religioso and Allegro Solemne. Andante Religioso was inspired by organ music, supposedly by Bach, that Barrios heard when entering the Cathedral and is similar to a Bach chorale with its contrapuntal writing and tranquil feel. Allegro Solemn represents the sounds and feelings of leaving the Cathedral and returning to the busyness of everyday life. The first movement, Preludio, was added in 1939 while Barrios was in Cuba and serves as a stunning introduction to the piece. In it you can hear the sparse melodic line as the sounds of the cathedral bells heard from a distance as Barrios walks through the streets.
Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) was born in Naples, Italy but moved to Portugal and then Spain, where he spent most of his life. During his time in the Iberian Peninsula, Scarlatti wrote 555 Sonatas for the Harpsichord, many of which fit nicely on the guitar. Furthermore, Scarlatti himself was likely influenced by the guitar, thus making their transition to classical guitar literature both seamless and obvious.
The two middle Sonatas (K.11 and K.32) in this set are both transcribed by the great Carlos Barbosa Lima, and the outer two (K.481 and K.175) are of my own adaptation. K.481 is a delicate opening to the set, with beautifully melodically expressive lines through the entire piece. K.11 was one of Scarlatti’s earliest Sonatas and was first arranged for the guitar by Andres Segovia in 1954, since becoming an audience favorite. K .32 is a slow, almost mournful piece that is popular among guitarist. K. 175 is the only Sonata of the set that keeps its original key, and it is also perhaps the one most influenced by Spanish culture and the guitar. This Spanish influence is exhibited throughout the piece with long runs and chords that one almost feels should be strummed rather than plucked.
Spanish composer Vicente Asencio (1908-1979) worked closely with guitar masters Andres Segovia and Narcisco Yepes. Despite these collaborations, his guitar works remain less well-known than those of his many contemporaries, such as Joaquin Rodrigo. His musical development was fostered during the rise of new-wave romantic and avant-garde Spanish composers, but despite these influences, he became an artistic outlier, not fitting into either category. This Homage to Scarlatti is a part of Asencio’s “Suite de Homanajes” which also includes tributes to Federico Garcia Lorca and Manuel de Falla. The Sonatina uses the same binary form as Scarlatti’s Sonatas and even includes some musical language that resembles Scarlatti’s.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was, in his time, the most well-known and celebrated of the three Baroque composers on this disc mostly due to the success of his operas and oratorios. This Sarabande comes from his 4th suite for Harpsichord, HWV 437, first published in 1733, and includes the main theme as well as two variations. It was first transcribed for the guitar by Andres Segovia – however, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, and others have made their own arrangements. For this recording, I used a combination of those three versions, synthesizing bits from each to create a new rendition.
Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829) helped lead the first wave of guitar virtuosi as one of the finest players and composers of the century. Born in southern Italy, Giuliani moved to Vienna in the early 1800s to begin his musical career. He quickly became a well-known name in the community, being close with the likes of Schubert, Rossini and Beethoven, and even playing cello in the premiere of the latter’s 7th symphony.
Giuliani wrote dozens of theme and variations, with Variations on a Theme by Handel following a similar pattern to many of Giuliani’s other works. Beginning with the theme, in this case, the melody from the “Air” movement of Handel’s 5th Suite for Harpsichord (HWV 430) that has been nicknamed “The Harmonious Blacksmith.” The piece’s first variation is similar to Handel’s own and it continues in Giuliani’s traditional method of embellishment. The one variation that is not typical of Giuliani’s writing is the penultimate one: a melancholy and lyrical melody in the minor key that serves as a great contrast to the finale, which finishes with a joyful series of arpeggios.