You can read about the Brasil Guitar Duo and their All-Latin-American program in this post. However, that post focused mostly on the first half of the program which featured such familiar names as Piazzolla and Leo Brouwer. So I will add a little information about the "missing pieces" from the second half in this post.
Egberto Gismonti was born in Rio de Janeiro where he began studying piano at the age of 6 and then, after 15 years of study, went to Paris where he studied with Nadia Boulanger (see below) who encouraged him to combine “the collective Brazilian experience” with his own musical style. (Notice, this was a slightly different response than the advice she gave Piazzolla.) He also studied with Jean Barraqué, a serialist who'd studied with Webern and Schoenberg.
|Gismonti in Buenos Aires, 2017|
Gismonti's sojourn in the Xingu region of the Amazon basin made a lasting impression. “Brazilian culture,” he says, “is the basic fountain or source that drives my music.”
“Gismonti is one of those musicians that is at one and the same time a shining light in the music of one particular country, and the music of a totally original human being who defies nationalistic categorisation,” guitarist Derek Gripper writes of his experience with the composer's music. “In many respects his music is quintessentially Brazilian, but at the same time it reaches so much further than the music of one nation or history possibly could. ...He just showed me what music could be.”
Jacob do Bandolim was born Jacob Pick Bittencourt in 1918. Like many Brazilians a mix of ethnic and religious heritages, he decided to adopt the stage-name “Jacob the Mandolin” after his preferred instrument. He considered music his full-time job but had various day-jobs to support himself and his band, as a pharmacist, an insurance salesman, finally a notary public.
As a composer, he is best known for his many choros – a chôro (pronounced SHO-ru) is an often lively dance despite the name meaning “cry” or “weeping.” North American audiences might be more familiar with the term from the dozen written in the 1920s by Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos for various combinations of instruments, from the first one for solo guitar to the ninth, for full orchestra.
Borrowing influences from various ethnic backgrounds in Brazil – African and European as well as indigenous – it became the first internationally known form of Brazilian “urban popular music” and was adopted by “serious” classically-trained composers – which I guess means that pop musicians are not serious about their music – much in the same way Brahms incorporated the gypsy music of Hungary in his Hungarian Dances or the finales of many of his works like the Violin Concerto or the Piano Quartet No. 1 – or, for that matter, Chopin wrote mazurkas, based on a lively Polish folk-dance, beloved of the elegant salons of Paris.
While Bandolim's career was more on the side of “popular” music – which, I guess, means what we consider concert or classical music is not popular – Marco Pereira, the second composer in this set of guitar duos, would fall clearly on the “classical,” “serious” side of the continuum with his Masters degree from the Paris Sorbonne and a day-job as a teacher of harmony, composition and arranging, as well as of improvisation at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. But, like Astor Piazzolla in Argentina, he chose not to focus on symphonies and string quartets and other abstract forms of “serious” music, writing a great deal of music as well as books reflecting the particular spirit that defines his native Brazil.
Born in São Paolo the same year as Pereira – 1950 – Paulo Bellinati is a world-traveled classical guitar performer and composer who, after graduating from the conservatory in his home-town, lived in Switzerland where he studied and taught in the late-'70s. As a scholar, he researched the life and music of Brazilian guitarist Aníbal Augusto Sardinha (known as “Garoto”), he also “developed a contemporary approach to Brazilian folklore, enhancing traditional forms with modern compositional techniques and harmonies.”
Together, all these create a varied sampling of the many “dialects” of the Latin American musical language – as varied as one might expect to find when comparing European composers from different countries and eras or even American composers from different backgrounds in our own country.
In an earlier post, I'd mentioned the old argument about “what constitutes an American composer?” – is it a composer who reflects “the American experience” (whatever that is) or someone who is, basically, born and trained in America?
When I started writing this post, I decided to check for some generic information about “Latin American Music” and found this, courtesy of Wikipedia:
“The music of Latin America refers to music originating from Latin America, namely the Romance-speaking countries and territories of the Americas and the Caribbean south of the United States."
And while that may seem self-evident, rather than building pigeon-holes, much less walls, perhaps it's really all we need to consider when trying to define something so richly complex as music?
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And now, some French music – appropriately from a Bastille Day recital given at the Susquehanna Art Museum on July 14th, 2019 (after the past month, that seems sooo long ago) by the harpist, Abigail Kent. From her program, you can hear works by four different composers: Germaine Tailleferre, Gabriel Fauré, Lili Boulanger, and Carlos Salzedo.
These composers all lived around the same time in Paris: Fauré, the oldest of these four, died in 1924, and had long been head of the Paris Conservatoire; Germaine Tailleferre “came-of-age” in Paris during World War I, and became a member of the group known as Les Six around 1920, even though her Harp Sonata dates from considerably later in her life; Lili Boulanger won the Conservatoire's Prix de Rome, the first woman to do so, in 1913 (when she was 19) and died in 1918 only ten days before Debussy; and Carlos Salzedo was a harp student at the Conservatoire where in 1901 he won 1st Prize in both harp and piano competitions on the same day (he was 16).
Like many members of the Younger Generation, past and present, there was a distinct backlash to the going style of the establishment's Older Generation – in this case, primarily Saint-Saëns, Fauré, and Debussy – and while Tailleferre was a student there at the same time as Maurice Ravel (who, in our tendency to pair great names of an era into one entity, is often lumped him together with Debussy as an “Impressionist”), she would later hang out with other friends like Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and other like-minded souls of what was then the Avant-Garde.
Surprisingly, this Sonata for Harp was composed in 1953 when she was in her early-60s – it's often dated 1957, the year it was published – and initially written for the Spanish harpist, Nicanor Zabaletta, the “other” great harpist of the day (see Carlos Salzedo, below). Despite the date, one catches a bit of American jazz, a pinch of the Spanish habañera, and a dash of Ravel's G Major Piano Concerto but very little if anything of what was trending in post-World-War-II Europe or America. Barely ten minutes long, it's in the standard three movements with an opening Allegretto and a concluding Perpetual Motion (beginning c.6:36) surrounding a beautiful Lento (c.2:58).
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Erik Satie was the Grand Old Man of French Iconoclasts at the time and in 1917, at the ripe old age of 51, he wanted to form a group of young musicians orbiting around him called Les nouveaux jeunes when the dark days of the War with all its anti-German fervor continued to drag on-and-on. But Satie soon lost interest in the idea and it was taken up by the unclassifiable free-spirit-du-jour, Jean Cocteau when critic Henri Collet quite arbitrarily lumped six young composers whose works frequently appeared on the same programs and called them, rather unimaginatively, Les six.
|Les Six: Poulenc, Tailleferre, Durey, Cocteau, Milhaud, Honegger (caricature of the absent Auric by Cocteau)|
Born Marcelle Germaine Taillefesse in 1892, when she decided she wanted to go to Paris to study music in 1904 and her father refused to support her, Germaine changed her name – just slightly – to Tailleferre to spite him. There, palling around with Milhaud and Honegger, she met Erik Satie and in 1918, her String Quartet appeared on a program given by the Nouveau Jeunes which became her entrance into Les six two years later. Though she never ventured very far from the sound-world of Fauré and her friend Ravel (someone else she used to hang out with as a student), she quickly branched out from The Group of Six and would, over the years, find influences from Couperin and Scarlatti to from Milhaud's forays into polytonality (the use of different keys simultaneously), and even a bit of Schoenbergian serialism in the late-1950s.
|Une compositrice avec son chien|
If you want to hear more, there are many works by Tailleferre I could recommend, but I'll just mention two: her 2nd Violin Sonata (written in 1951 but which one source says is an adaptation of a 1937 Violin Concerto) – here's the 3rd movement – and her Piano Trio (a 1978 rewriting of a work from her mid-20s) with two links, a live performance and a different recording, with score.
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Gabriel Fauré is the common denominator in this set of four French harp pieces: as a leading composer and teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, he was The Old Guard Tailleferre and her fellow students of Les six were reacting against, even if, like many young radicals, her musical approach may have mellowed over the years. Even Georges Auric had said, shortly before the old man's death, “He was the Master of us all.”
Fauré also directly taught Nadia Boulanger and, indirectly, her younger sister, Lili; and even though Carlos Salzedo never studied composition with him, Fauré did sign a waiver so the young harp and piano student could take a counterpoint class after he had written out a Bach fugue from memory.
Here is Abigail Kent, performing the best known of Fauré's works for harp, Une Châtelaine en sa Tour.
This short work, its title cumbersomely translatable as “a lady of the castle in her tower,” is an elegiac piece whose title came from a poem by Paul Verlaine which Fauré had set about 25 years earlier, opening the song cycle La bonne chanson.
The eight songs were written while Fauré was staying at the home of the soprano Emma Bardac and her banker husband. Each day she would sing what he had just written: inspired by his love for her, he admitted they were one of his most spontaneous creations and so he dedicated the cycle to her and she gave it its premiere at a private concert in 1894. Two members of the audience had different reactions: Camille Saint-Saëns thought Fauré, his former student, had gone mad; Marcel Proust, later the author of the memory-inspired À la recherche du temps perdu, one of the great novels of the 20th Century, adored it.
Verlaine's 21 poems, completed in the spring of 1870, were the result of his love for a young woman named Mathilde Mauté de Fleurville whose Germanic first name inspired the Carolingian reference concluding Une Sainte en son auréole (a saint in her halo), a reference to the 9th Century empire of Charlemagne and the distant age of feudalism. It was the second line which provided Fauré with the title of his piece for harp in 1918. And while the term Châtelaine may be mysterious to a modern American, its decidedly medieval reference to “the wife of the lord of a chateau” would bring up a whole other world of knights and chivalry than simply referring to someone as “a lady.”
(You can listen to a recording by Barbara Hendricks of Fauré's setting of Une Sainte en son auréole, here.)
Verlaine's Mathilde was, by the way, 16 years old at the time, and he would marry her not long after writing these poems. However long Fauré's love for Emma Bardac lasted beyond their affair which began in 1892 (around the time he was staying with Emma and her husband, and writing La bonne chanson) – their relationship also resulted in a suite of little birthday pieces for her daughter, Régina-Hélène (a.k.a. “Dolly”), which the composer gathered into a piano duet called, appropriately, “The Dolly Suite.” Bardac, who'd married her husband when she was 17, would later meet Claude Debussy in 1903 (her older son, Raoul, was studying with him at the time), then the following year they decided to divorce their current spouses – unfortunately, Debussy's wife became so distraught, her attempted suicide caused a scandal but that's another story for another digression. Suffice it to say that Debussy and Emma's daughter, Claude-Emma (born in 1905), known to music-lovers as “Chou-Chou,” also inspired some piano pieces: “The Children's Corner.”
So, not to focus on Fauré's love-life, I'll just mention after his affair with Emma Bardac ended he met the daughter of Alphonse Hasselmann, the Conservatoire's harp professor, in 1900, beginning an open relationship with her that lasted until Fauré's death in 1924.
|Fauré: Un compositeur à son bureau|
Then came World War I. The worst battles were fought in the river valleys and woods between Paris and the Rhine and during the course of the war, Fauré arranged concerts to benefit wounded soldiers in Paris. Micheline Kahn was a frequent performer (Fauré used to send her occasionally flirtatious postcards in verse alerting her to upcoming performances with suggestion for repertoire). Eventually, in the spring of 1918, the Germans began shelling the French capital, the first of some 300 bombs to terrify Parisians falling four days before Debussy died.
|Holiday Snap: Micheline Kahn & Gabriel Fauré, 1918|
Many believe the brief work is an elegy – “but for what?” Fauré never says, but he left two hints, didn't he? The quotation from Emma Bardac's songs may imply memories of a lost love; the timing – written after four years of mind-numbing war – may be more realistic for a country (or at least a city) whose lost innocence was now a thing of the past, as the world (certainly everyone's own immediate, personal world) would begin a necessary healing.
There's also another possibility: the medieval image of the Chatelaine, the lady isolated in her castle tower, watching for the return of her husband (or lover) from some distant war, perhaps the Crusades – waiting for news that traveled far more slowly than it did even in 1918, much less today.
Writing about Fauré as a teacher, the musicologist Henry Prunières said, "What Fauré developed among his pupils was taste, harmonic sensibility, the love of pure lines, of unexpected and colorful modulations; but he never gave them [recipes] for composing according to his style and that is why they all sought and found their own paths in many different, and often opposed, directions." [quoted in Copland's “Gabriel Fauré, a Neglected Master,” published in the October 1924 issue of the Musical Quarterly; Fauré died on November 4th, 1924]
In addition to Ravel, two more of his students were the Boulanger Sisters, Nadia (around 1903-1904; she would later teach Aaron Copland, starting in 1921) and Lili (before 1913). And so we segue to the next piece on the program.
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Abigail Kent performs her arrangement of Lili Boulanger's Prelude in D-flat Major, written originally for piano.
Marie-Juliette Olga Boulanger, known to the world as Lili, was two years old in 1895 when family friend Gabriel Fauré stopped by for a visit and realized the child had perfect pitch. Her father Ernest (who was 77 years old when she was born) had won the Prix de Rome – a free year in Rome to study and create – in 1835 (ten years before Fauré was born!). Her mother, Raissa Mychetskaya (in one source, she's a Russian countess; in others, a princess) was a soprano who gave both her daughters their first music lessons.
When she was 5, Lili tagged along when older sister Nadia went for her music lessons at the Conservatoire and not long afterward, Lili would be sitting in on theory classes and taking organ lessons (don't ask me how she reached the pedals). She later studied piano, violin, cello – and harp (with Alphonse Hasselmann). Apparently, though, she didn't begin composing until she was 16 and studied primarily with Paul Vidal (whose claims to fame were winning the Prix de Rome the year before Claude Debussy, where he and Debussy played a two-piano arrangement of Liszt's Faust Symphony for the composer in 1886 which, apparently, Liszt slept through).
|Lili Boulanger: une compositrice à son bureau|
Once again, illness became an issue, forcing her to return home before her scholarship had ended. She died of “intestinal tuberculosis” in March of 1918. She was 24.
Needless to say, the loss of such potential, knowing what compositions we do have, is considerable. When Lili won her Prix de Rome, Nadia, herself a composer, decided to give up composing, saying that Lili was the one who had the talent; instead, she decided to focus on teaching (again, another story for another time).
|Lili Boulanger's Prelude in D-flat|
What new music might she have heard at the time? Stravinsky's Firebird was premiered in Paris in June, 1910, but his next ballet, Petrushka wouldn't be premiered until June, 1911. Though he began composing The Rite of Spring that summer, it wouldn't be premiered in Paris until May, 1913.
More of a direct influence is evident from the first book of Preludes Debussy published in 1910 – particularly La Cathédrale engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) or Voiles (Sails) with their non-traditional use of coloristic harmonies. If anything inspired a young composer to go and do likewise, it would be these pieces that fired her own creative imagination.
Maurice Ravel would become more of an influence on her later music. His Piano Trio was premiered in Paris in January, 1915. Compare Ravel's scherzo, “Pantoum,” to Boulanger's D'un matin de printemps (Of a Spring Morning), a brief scherzo which was first composed for violin and piano in the spring of 1917 (you can listen to it, here).
She also made arrangements of it for piano trio as well as flute and piano before turning it into an orchestral tone poem. This would be the last work she was able to complete though she needed help from her sister to fill in the dynamic details and performance directions.
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And now, last but not least-well-known, the music of Carlos Salzedo as Abigail Kent closes this program with a virtuosic work by the most influential harpist of the 20th Century, his Ballade, the first of three pieces published in 1914 as his Op.28.
Despite the Spanish name, Salzedo was born in the popular seaside resort of Arcachon on the Bay of Biscay in southwestern France, though only because his parents – musicians who lived in Bayonne just north of the Spanish border – were on vacation and his mother fell down the stairs, going into labor two months prematurely! A musical family – his father was a singer who would later teach at the Paris Conservatoire; his mother, a pianist who was the “summer-court pianist” to the Queen of Spain when she visited Biarritz; his older brother, a violinist – young León-Charles began playing the piano and played for the Queen when he was 3. He also composed a little polka he entitled “Mosquito.” His mother died a few years later, the family moved to Bordeaux and by the time he was 7, Salzedo began studying at the music school there.
Two years later, they moved to Paris where he entered the Conservatoire at the age of 9 as a piano student. His father decided he should also have a second instrument, so he began taking harp lessons as well, studying with Alphonse Hasselmann (see above) and, now 13, entering the Conservatoire this time as a harp student, in addition to being a piano student. When he was 16, he won first prize in the harp competition and in the piano competition, both on the same day. Two years later, he gave his first public recital as both harpist and pianist and changed his first name from León-Charles to Carlos.
Though he hadn't taken the requisite courses to sign up for a course in counterpoint, Fauré signed the waiver to allow the exception for Salzedo after he'd written out a Bach fugue from memory.
|Un compositeur avec son piano et sa harpe|
Eventually, he returned to the United States where he became an American citizen, performed widely, taught even more widely, starting the Harp Department at Curtis in 1924 and establishing a “Harp Camp” in Maine which continued to evolve even after his death in 1961.
This Ballade was the first of three pieces called “Trois morceaux” (appropriately, Three Pieces) which he wrote in 1913 and published the following year as his Op. 28. Fauré thought his previous work, a Piece concertante, Op. 27, was “promising.” He would go on to write a great deal of music for solo harp or chamber music with harp, all exploring the potential of the technique for the instrument, mostly in coloristic effects but even in “suitable gestures” which he developed for the players in collaboration with no less than Nijinsky, the great dancer and choreographer, who was a neighbor of his in Maine!
While Salzedo's playing technique has become standard to most music lovers today, to understand the evolution of harp playing, perhaps this analogy with the piano might help. In Mozart's day, the harpsichord-like fortepiano's limited range and scope could not compare to the vast concert grands of the mid-19th Century which had more keys and more effects possible with its pedals. Then, too, there was the difference in “writing for the piano” that evolved from Mozart through Beethoven to Chopin and Liszt. Plus, you can throw in a few of those special effects championed by Henry Cowell (like “The Banshee” of 1925) or John Cage, exploring the insides of the piano with plucking the strings or placing objects on or between strings to affect the timbre which he began in the late-1930s (do not try this at home).
Not that Salzedo was imitating any of these styles – most of his music sounds more related to Ravel who was, as an excellent pianist, also a master of keyboard technique – but yes, essentially Salzedo covered the distance between Mozart and Cage, about 160 years' development, in a mere decade.
One of the technical aspects of the harp which continues to mystify many composers still is the use of the pedals. Unlike the piano, the harp's pedals have a different raison d'etre which does not involve letting the sound ring or affecting the strings' color: they change the harp-strings' pitch. The piano has a string or set of strings for each key, but the harp can only have so many strings if it's to remain practical within the limitations of the human arm. So basically the instrument is what we call a “diatonic” instrument – let's say, a piano that can only play a seven-note scale (where a piano has a key for each of the 12 pitches of the “chromatic” scale).
In order to play, let's say, an F-sharp, the harpist shifts a pedal that affects all the F strings on the instrument and changes them to F-sharp. But it can't play an F-natural in the left hand and an F-sharp in the right: all the F strings become F-sharps at once. So, in a practice that drives theory teachers wild, a harpist would play an F-natural in the left hand, but a G-flat in the right (a G-flat and an F-sharp being the same on a piano, a practice that drives string players wild).
Part of the problem for harpists with modern atonal music – whether “12-tone” or not – is the lack of “diatonic consistency” which means there's a lot of pedal-shifting. I remember a harp student at Eastman (her teacher was one of Salzedo's leading students, Alice Chalifoux) who was confronted by a harp-ignorant composer's chamber piece where the prominent harp part had her feet moving almost as much as her hands were, constantly changing the seven pedals that stretch across the base of the instrument. She eventually could play it as written, though she said it was unnecessarily difficult and would have been greatly improved if the composer had been a little more careful with his choice of pitches and the frequency with which pedals would've needed to be changed.
Her main concession, she admitted, was wearing black sneakers instead of her usual concert-dress shoes: otherwise the constant clattering of her feet on the stage's hardwood floor would sound like an entire percussion section playing a perpetual motion in the background, at times drowning out some of the piece's quieter passages. I remember another harpist holding a special “master class in writing for the harp” for us Eastman composition students: she admitted it was more in self-defense than anything else but I found it very helpful (not that I've ever written much for harp).
This is not a problem limited to students. Elliott Carter (who had studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in the early-1930s) wrote his “Mosaic” for Harp and seven instruments in 2004 at the age of 95. This, he explained, was a recollection of having known and worked with Carlos Salzedo “a long time ago.” But yet the harpist's feet are still dancing almost constantly to accommodate his all-12-note chromatic style. When interviewed by the director of an ensemble playing it, Carter said the biggest challenge in fact was this business of “trying not to have the lady changing pedals on every single note,” to which the conductor replied, “you did a very bad job, I have to tell you...”
As far as his own compositions are concerned, Salzedo's impact may be more in his having become a champion for his instrument with most of the great composers of his day, particularly regarding the “expanded techniques” available to the instrument either as a soloist or within the orchestra. This cross-fertilization between composers and performers continues today with the legion of Salzedo students and grand-students who have since populated many of the best orchestras and music schools around the world.