Jason Vieaux, guitar (USA) - Friday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m.

Cleveland Institute of Music
Friday, June 9, 2017, at 7:30 p.m.

Fernando Sor (1778-1839)
        Mes Ennuis, Op 43, No 3

J.S. Bach (1685–1750)

    BWV 998

Manuel Maria Ponce (1882–1948)

    Sonata Mexicana
        Allegro moderato
        Andantino affettuoso
        Allegretto in tempo di serenata
        Allegretto un poco vivace


Manuel Maria Ponce

    Sonatina Meridional 

Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983)

    Sonata for Guitar, Op. 47 

Jorge Morel (1931)

        Danza in E Minor

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


Based on his family history in the Spanish army, Fernando Sor (1778-1839) was destined to be a soldier. But through his musically inclined father, the young Fernando fell in love with both music and the guitar, preoccupations that would come to dominate his adult life. Although his mother at first saw to it that music took a backseat to his military career path, the enterprising boy managed to learn the rudiments of music, even inventing his own musical notation, as no one had yet taught him to read music. His happiest years were during his enrollment at the Santa Maria de Montserrat, a lovely Benedictine abbey nestled in the mountains of Catalonia. (It still exists today, as beautiful now as it was in the late 18th century.) Sor’s bucolic youth ended with a transfer to military school. The military of Sor’s day, however, was more a social caste than anything a soldier of today would recognize. So in the army Sor had plenty of time for music.

That changed when Napoleon Bonaparte’s better trained army subdued Spain in 1813. Upon Spain’s defeat, Sor, like many educated Spaniards, cooperated with the French occupation. He had good reason to believe the French would end Spanish corruption. Indeed, Bonaparte’s brother Joseph, briefly installed as king of Spain, ended the both the inquisition and feudalism. But when a Spanish uprising expelled the French, Sor became a man without a country. He fled to Paris, never to return to his homeland. It was there that he composed much of his exquisitely crafted guitar music. English guitarist Julian Bream has said of it: “There’s a classicism—not unlike Mozart—in his style, which to my mind is a style of beautiful understatement. But if you give understatement space and time, it has a positive element that transcends the simplicity or the innocence of the material. Sor needs immense care and affection, and if one invests his music with that, I can’t see how anybody can object to it.”

It’s easy to pigeon-hole early music as a forerunner to something better. And so it is that in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), there are harbingers to musical forms that dominated the musical landscape after his death. But the notion that Bach’s music gave way to “something better” pales in the face of its intellectual rigor and breath-taking beauty. The fugue from BWV 998 is one such work. It’s one of only three Bach fugues in da capo form. (By the way, he wrote approximately 180 fugues—perhaps many more, since about half of his music is known to be lost.) In da capo form, the end repeats the beginning. To music historians, this bears an uncanny resemblance to the sonata-allegro form so beloved by Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. The serenity of this fugue belies its complexity. It begins with a motive so disarmingly simple that one 20th century musicologist doubted the fugue was written by Bach. (Oddly, he overlooked that the first three notes of the fugue echo the recurring theme of the prelude.) When the fugue reaches its central part, this simple motive seems to vanish, replaced by a flowing spray of notes that becomes a new motive. Keen ears, however, will find that the original simple motive never left. Instead, Bach ingeniously weaves it into the background texture. The compositional complexity of this fugue is mirrored by its physical challenge to the player. As if to pile onto the already considerable demands, Bach then follows the fugue with an allegro notorious for its fiendish difficulty. It’s no exaggeration to say that BWV 998 has inspired generations of guitarists to raise their game.

Manuel Ponce (1882-1948) was born during the 34 year reign of iron-fisted and shrewd Mexican President Porfirio Díaz. During this time, Mexico emerged from the shadow of its powerful neighbor to the north. The arts flourished, though in a manner derivative of European models. Even Mexico’s affectionate nickname during this time, “Little Paris,” had the whiff of borrowed glory. Further, political repression was rife—this was a time when the slogan “pan o palo” (bread or the bludgeon) took hold. But for this hitherto impoverished nation, the “Porfiriato” era was a heady time.

Much of Ponce’s early music imaginatively reworked European models. But in tandem with the Mexican revolution that followed Porfirio’s reign, nationalism swept across Mexico. In a 1914 lecture Ponce described it thus: “Amid the smoke and blood of battle were born the stirring revolutionary songs soon to be carried throughout the length and breadth of the land. Nationalism captured music at last. Old songs, almost forgotten, but truly reflecting the national spirit, were revived, and new melodies for new corridos were composed.”

Premiered in 1923 by Andrés Segovia, Sonata Mexicana is Ponce’s first work for guitar. Paradoxically, he composed the last movement first. It’s the most obviously Mexican of his guitar sonatas, and quotes directly from popular Mexican songs, among them Jarabe Tapatío, a tune familiar to almost everyone as “The Mexican Hat Dance.” This first effort kicked off a series of guitar works, all written for Segovia. In 1930, while dunning Ponce for what eventually became his Concierto del sur, Segovia proposed something else: “But while the concerto progresses, until it comes of age, why don’t you write a Sonatina—not a Sonata—of a purely Spanish character?” Ponce gamely complied with his Sonatina Meridional. It arguably has become Ponce’s most oft played guitar work, immediately likable to both audience and player. Though many composers wrote for Segovia throughout his long performance career, it was Ponce who remained closest to his heart. In a 1929 letter to Ponce, Segovia wrote: “To sum up, it’s your work that has the most value for me and for all the musicians who hear it.”

Of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), one might say the guitar was in his blood. Indeed, two of his early piano works, Danzas Argentinas, Op. 2 and Malambo for Piano, Op. 7, explicitly quote the six open strings of the guitar, as if tuning up for what was to follow. Yet despite his affinity for the guitar, he never actually wrote anything for it until late in life. Doubtless he was wary of the guitar’s notorious difficulty for non-players. “Although I had been encouraged to compose for the guitar from the time I was a student, the complexity of the task delayed my creative impulse, even though the guitar is the national instrument of my homeland.”

In 1976, however, Ginastera decided he had delayed long enough. A joint commission arrived from guitarist Carlos Barbosa-Lima and Robert Bialek, owner of Discount Record and Book Shop, who wanted to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his store. Noting that much of the guitar repertoire consisted of little pieces, Ginastera set himself to write a four movement tour de force. It was premiered on November 27 in Washington, D.C., by Barbosa-Lima. Although Ginastera later revised the piece in 1981, it was to remain his only work for guitar.

The composer wrote of his guitar sonata: “The first movement is a solemn Prelude, followed by a song which was inspired by Kecua music (Ginastera’s own curious term for ‘Quechua,’ an indigenous tribe of northwestern Argentina) and which finds its conclusion in an abbreviated repetition of these two elements. Scherzo, which has to be played ‘il piú presto possible,’ is an interplay of shadow and light, nocturnal and magical ambiance, of dynamic contrasts, distant dances, of surrealistic impressions. Canto is lyrical and rhapsodic, expressive and breathless like a love poem. Finale is a quick spirited rondeau which recalls the strong bold rhythms of the music of the pampas.”

Inspired by his thespian father, Argentine Jorge Morel (b. 1931) early on dabbled in acting. But his father knew his son’s destiny lay elsewhere: “C’mon Jorge, I don’t think you’ll ever be a first rate actor, but you’ll be a second rate musician if you don’t get off this stage.” Later he surprised his son with the gift of an expensive handmade guitar: “To me it was the most beautiful instrument in the whole world! I simply couldn’t thank my father enough. It was the highlight of my life, and the happiest. It was two in the afternoon, and I must have played that guitar until midnight! I just couldn’t put it down.” Throughout his long career he has shared the stage with many luminaries, including Erroll Garner, Stan Kenton, Herbie Mann, and Chet Atkins, who was also a close friend. Of Morel, Atkins wrote: “Jorge Morel is the complete guitarist. That is, he possesses a flawless technique, a sound musical ear, an unsurpassed sense of rhythm, and a thorough education in the classical tradition. At one time, when he was a child, Jorge must have decided that he was going to be one of the best guitar players in the world. To my way of thinking he has attained that goal.”

—Tom Poore, 2017