Antonis Hatzinikolaou (Greece), guitar - Sunday, June 10 at 2:30 p.m.

Sunday, June 10, at 2:30 p.m.
Cleveland Institute of Music, Mixon Hall


Sylvius Leopold Weiss ((1687–1750)

Suite in C minor SW34 *

Benjamin Britten (1913–1976)

Nocturnal op.70  


Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840)

Grand Sonata (arr. Hatzinikolaou)
    Allegro rissoluto
    Andantino Variato

Federico Moreno Torroba (1891–1982)

Castillos de Espana
    Manzanares el Real
    Montemayor (Romance de los Pinos)
    Alba de Tormes
    Alcázar de Segovia

Emilio Pujol (1886–1980) 

Tres piezas espanolas

* Arrangement made by Antonis Hatzinikolaou

Antonis Hatzinikolaou performs on a guitars by Nicholas Ioannou (USA) strung with D'Addario strings.

Please silence all electronic devices, including cellular phones, watches, and pagers. Photography, video or audio recording are not permitted during this concert.


Had Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) been a keyboard composer, today he’d likely be held in the same esteem as his better known contemporaries François Couperin, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and Domenico Scarlatti. But in his day the lute had passed its zenith and was being supplanted by the keyboard as the instrument of choice among composers. So his name currently holds little cachet beyond guitarists and enthusiasts of lute music. It wasn’t always thus. Weiss during his lifetime was highly respected and well compensated; in 1744 Dresden he was paid 1400 thalers, equivalent to a comfortable six figure salary in today’s currency. And he associated with many of the greatest composers of his era, including Bach and Handel.

Weiss composed over sixty multi-movement sonatas, roughly half of which are lost. The arcane tablature notation of the lute might have consigned his music to the dustbin of history. Fortunately, a handful of scholars during the early twentieth century managed to exhume and publish this music in standard notation. Their timing was serendipitous, as some of the original sources were destroyed during World War II. Indeed, the manuscript of Sonata No. 34, the piece on today’s program, was almost entirely obliterated by water from firehoses during the Dresden bombing of 1945. Nonetheless, one could still make out a handwritten note, likely penned by a fledgling lutenist: “this is the first I studied with Mr. Weiss.”

The twentieth century spurred an intense fascination with early music, and many composers used this rediscovered repertoire for their own inspiration. The results were as varied as the composers themselves. Ottorino Respighi chose an obvious tack, borrowing ancient melodies and redressing them in modern orchestration, as in his vibrant and popular Ancient Airs and Dances. Igor Stravinsky, a musical omnivore, was cooler and more subtle—he mined renaissance compositional techniques to produce an unmistakably modern sound steeped in ancient craft, as in his 1952 Cantata. English composer Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) was possibly even more subtle. Attuned to the piquant emotional flavor of renaissance music, he created an amalgam that seemed neither modern nor ancient.

In Britten’s 1963 Nocturnal, we have the rare case of a major composer writing perhaps his finest solo work for an instrument he didn’t play. Lasting about eighteen minutes, it’s a theme and variations in which, unconventionally, the theme appears at the end rather than the beginning. This theme is the melody of renaissance composer John Dowland’s dark and haunting Come Heavy Sleep, published in 1597. Julian Bream, for whom the Nocturnal was written, knew it was something special: “The Nocturnal was very nearly beyond me. I went to a friend’s house in Majorca and there, in the middle of an olive grove he had a shepherd’s hut where I retreated for ten days to practice the Nocturnal. It was such a responsibility—to Ben, to myself, and to the guitar.”

Regarding the first published edition, Bream explained why he deliberately withheld fingering indications in the closing Dowland quotation:

"It’s a visual thing. It was the original theme and the music changes suddenly. You get this contortion in the Passacaglia, and those tremendous runs, then the whole thing sort of winds down into E major. Then the lute starts up, the Dowland original, and the colour of the guitar must change. We leave 1963, and we’re back in 1591. The playing should be very simple, almost as though the player is eavesdropping on another player. It must be very, very remote. It’s difficult to put these feelings in directions. You can write “remote” on top, but visually the piece looks remote, and quite different because there’s no fingering on it."

One may aptly argue that Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) was a rock star before rock was a thing. Whispered to have sold his soul, he dressed and acted the part, provoking an enthusiasm bordering on hysteria at his performances. So when rock finally exploded over a century later, rockers found a soulmate. Electric guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen said “what I really wanted to do was just bash it wide open, and Paganini showed me the way.” The 1986 movie Crossroads depicted actor Ralph Macchio subduing a rival guitarist with a solo mostly cribbed from Paganini. Indeed, although better known as a violinist, Paganini himself was a guitarist of formidable skill. For all his showmanship, however, Paganini was more than an empty dazzler. His contemporary, guitarist Fernando Sor, told of hearing a breathless description of Paganini’s wizardry. Then someone asked how Paganini played less flashy, more dignified music. An astute listener replied, “perfectly.” Concluded Sor, “from that time I considered the artist as a real colossal talent, worthy of his great reputation.”

Early in his career Spanish guitar virtuoso Andrés Segovia set himself to convince mainstream composers to write for the guitar. Fellow Spaniard Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982) was one of the first to respond. They met at a 1918 performance of an orchestral tone poem by Torroba. Segovia described their budding collaboration thus, “It did not take us long to become friends, nor for him to accede to my suggestion: would he compose something for the guitar? In a few weeks he came up with a slight but truly beautiful Dance in E major. In spite of his scant knowledge of the guitar’s complex technique, he approached it accurately by sheer instinct.” Honed by his ongoing association with Segovia, Torroba’s instinctual competence flowered into a genuine flair for writing guitar music. Although well known in Spain as a composer of popular zarzuelas—a sort of Spanish opera—outside Spain, Torroba is better known for his contributions to the guitar repertoire. (Segovia had a knack for enhancing reputations of composers who didn’t play guitar.) Segovia himself treasured Torroba’s early loyalty. An observer recounted a meeting when Segovia was firmly ensconced as a world renowned artist: “One day, shortly after he had received the score of Torroba’s Castles of Spain, he showed me a deep pile of music he had earmarked for attention. He said that because Torroba had placed him first, all those years ago, he would always give top priority to anything he wrote. His loyalty to Torroba was not just a simple quid pro quo.It was warmed with a real affection.”

Virtually unknown outside the guitar world, Emilio Pujol Vilarrubí (1886-1980) is nonetheless a towering figure in guitar history. Players today can’t miss running across his name. A tireless researcher, he helped resuscitate Spanish renaissance composers Luis de Narváez, Alonso Mudarra, Enríquez de Valderrábano, and Miguel Fuenllana. The guitar repertoire is enriched with his imaginative and idiomatic transcriptions. He wrote a guitar method that professed to preserve the teaching of Spanish virtuoso and composer Francisco Tárrega. (Although opinions differ on its fidelity.) As a composer, Pujol didn’t venture far, preferring colorful and nationalistic miniatures. But his music is sensitively crafted and charming. His Tres piezas espanolas were published in 1955. (Nominally Spanish, two of the pieces more accurately hail from Latin America.) These modest little gems seem to embody a proverb coined by Pujol: “The heart beats, the heartbeat resides in the body of the guitar, and each note is a small piece of love.”

— Tom Poore