Duo Melis (Spain and Greece), guitars - Saturday, June 9 at 8:00 p.m.

DUO MELIS (Spain and Greece), guitars
Saturday, June 9, at 8:00 p.m.
Cleveland Institute of Music, Mixon Hall


Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

    Allegro vivace

Antoine de Lhoyer (1768-1840)

Duo N° 3. Op. 31

Nikolai Kapustin (b.1937)

Toccatina *


Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757)  

Sonata K 204 a *
Sonata K 9, L 413 *
Sonata K 18 *

Enrique Granados (1867-1916)

Valses Poéticos *

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992)  

Tango Suite
    Andante rubato melancolico

* Transcriptions made by Alexis Muzurakis and Susana Prieto

D’Addario classical artists Duo Melis perform exclusively on 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.


Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999) was stricken with diphtheria at age three, leaving him partially blind. (Though it seems cruel to say, Rodrigo was fortunate to survive—in the early 1900s diphtheria was often fatal.) Over the following years he could dimly see light and color. But his eyesight gradually waned to total blindness by his late 40s.

That Rodrigo composed much for the guitar is well known. But he was also something of a music historian, though by professional standards he remained a dilettante. He sometimes collaborated with guitarist and musical scholar Emilio Pujol in lectures and papers on Spanish vihuelists. An obvious fruit of his historical interests is his 1954 Fantasía para un gentilhombre, for guitar and orchestra, based on melodies by Spanish baroque composer Gaspar Sanz. Less obvious is his 1959 Tonadilla, his only piece for guitar duet. This three movement work harks back to a type of popular song that began in 18th century Madrid theater. In 1787, an essay appeared in a Madrid monthly arts magazine. Entitled “Origen y progresos de las Tonadillas que se cantan en los Coliseos de esta Corte,” it described the tonadilla’s genesis: “The Tonadillas at the beginning of this century were merely a part-song sung before the commencement of the Play by all the women of the company, to which end they presented themselves dressed in their best, and was called a tono and was like a prelude to the show; later in the century another was sung at the end of the second intermission, made up of various verses of four lines, without theme or connection, but gay, or else sharp and funny.” Although peppered with Rodrigo’s characteristic pungent dissonances, Tonadilla hews closely to this “sharp and funny” blueprint. Indeed, one is reminded of what Rodrigo wrote about 16th century vihuelists: “They would create music, speaking their own secret language. Able instrumentalists, genial improvisers, with their agile fingers, they expanded the harmonic and melodic ambitus prodigiously.”

The years between the late 18th and early 19th centuries were a golden age for the guitar. So it’s not unusual to find composers writing for what was still an eclectic instrument. But among his more popular contemporaries, Antoine de LHoyer (1768-1852) was a shadowy presence. He wrote little for solo guitar, going against the grain of virtuosos churning out pyrotechnical showpieces to display their skill. Instead, almost all his works are for ensembles of two, three, or even four guitars, and chamber works with other instruments. Unique for a skilled player of his day, he seemed content to collaborate with other musicians. Hence, we know little about him. What we do know is that he served in the French army and during the tumultuous era of Napoleon found himself cast about to Versailles, Koblenz, Austria, Hamburg, St Petersburg, Paris, the island of Oléron, Niort, Corsica, Aix-en-Provence, and Algeria. The years between 1813 and 1826 were good to him, and all his works were published during this time. After 1826, however, nothing more of his was published. LHoyer ended life in Paris, in dire poverty.

For someone steeped in the jazz sound, Nikolai Kapustin (b. 1937) seems curiously ambivalent. “I’m not interested in improvisation–and what is a jazz musician without improvisation? But I’m not interested, because it’s not perfect.” As a student at the Moscow Conservatory, Kapustin never told his piano teacher that he secretly played jazz tunes. Mused Kapustin: “In fact, I’m not sure he knew what jazz was.” And it was just as well—in the 1950s Soviet regime a musician who liked jazz might mysteriously disappear. For Kapustin, jazz became a creative starting point, not an improvisational mandate. It’s a way to invigorate classical composing. “Once I had started I understood that it was real. When I took it to my friends they were very excited, and so I understood that I was on the right way. I never tried to be a real jazz pianist, but I had to do it because of the composing.” Written in 1984, Toccatina is the third of Kapustin’s 8 Concert Etudes for Piano, Op. 40. It works surprisingly well for guitar duet—indeed the guitar transcription retains the same key as the piano original.

Were Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) born three centuries later, he may have become a formidable jazz pianist. He was in his own time one of the greatest harpsichord players. In Rome, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni organized a musical duel between Scarlatti and Handel, both of them 23 years old at the time. (Among the eighteenth century nobility, musical contests were something of a blood sport.) Handel, soon to be famous throughout Europe, won on the organ—Scarlatti admitted he had no idea what to do with it—but they played to a draw on the harpsichord. Pianists of today delight in Scarlatti’s playfully dexterous sonatas. Rapid scales, hand crossing, and rich dissonances are all subsumed into profound compositional artistry. Scarlatti makes excellence look easy. Which makes apt the final words of his written dedication to the one and only publication during his lifetime: “Vivi  felice.”

On a 1913 Welte-Mignon piano roll, we can hear the unnervingly clear sound of Enrique Granados (1867-1916) performing his Valses Poéticos. Composed painstakingly over two years from 1886-1887, it comprises a vigorous introduction and seven waltzes. Perhaps reflecting the care Granados lavished on this seminal work, players today must sift through three original manuscripts and one other sound recording made by Granados himself. Compounding the problem, all of this sources have significant differences. Perhaps the disconnect between the limpid clarity of his music and its disordered sources stem from Granados’ own ambivalence to rigor. Fellow classmate Ricardo Viñes (who himself became a virtuoso pianist) described the duality of Granados in his youth: “Every day I had to awaken Granados because he was always a little tardy in getting up. He would pass much of the morning yawning and trying to wake up before getting out of bed. However, once he was up and working, he labored very hard and with tremendous enthusiasm.” One contemporary critic opined that Granados “wrote with spontaneity, without worrying about the rigors of proportion.” But composer Felipe Pedrell dissented: “All that was necessary was to place any kind of music before him, and he would absorb it with his extraordinary faculty. His assimilations became autobiographical utterances from the heart.”

Born in Argentina, Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) grew up in New York City. His right leg was disfigured at birth by polio, corrected only after many painful operations. Yet his father insisted this childhood suffering should not deter his son: “He proposed that I should do everything forbidden to me, so that I would get ahead, not be a solitary person, a person with complexes.” On his eighth birthday, young Piazzolla was given a bandoneon. All over the map in his musical tastes, he soon began playing classical repertoire on this traditional Argentine instrument. He continued classical studies until one day he nervously played a tango for the famous French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. After hearing it, she said: “Astor, your classical pieces are well written, but the true Piazzolla is here—never leave it behind.” Piazzolla didn’t look back, and poured his iconoclastic personality and classical training into the rigid tradition of tango. Recalled Piazzolla: “Traditional tango listeners hated me. I introduced fugues, counterpoint and other irreverences: people thought I was going crazy. All the tango critics and the radio stations of Buenos Aires called me a clown, they said my music was ‘paranoiac.’ And they made me popular. The young people who had lost interest in tango started listening to me. It was a war of one against all, but in ten years, the war was won.”

Tom Poore