Petra Polácková (Czech Republic), guitar - CICGF concert: June 4 at 8:15 p.m., Eastern Time

PETRA POLACKOVA (Czech Republic), guitars by Jan Tulácek (2014) and Domingo Esteso (1923) John Dowland (1563–1626): Preludium A Fancy, P. 5 Fantasy Mr. Dowlande A Fantasy, P. 71 Three Catalan Folk Songs arranged by Miguel Llobet (1878–1938): Cançó del lladre El testament d'Amèlia El Noi de la Mare Joseph Kaspar Mertz Mertz (1806–1856): Liebeslied (from Bardenklänge, op. 13) Liebesbothschaft (from 6 Schubert'sche Lieder - Franz Schubert,
arr. J. K. Mertz) Scherzo (from Bardenklänge, op. 13) Sehnsucht (from Bardenklänge, op. 13)
John Dowland (1563-1626) was perhaps the greatest lutenist of his day. He lived at a time when a fine lutenist could earn a lucrative living. Early on, he applied for a position in Queen Elizabeth’s court. Dowland himself later wrote: “thincking my selfe most worthiest, wherin I found many goode and honorable frends that spake for me, but I saw that I was like to goe without it, and that any mygt have preferment but I. Wherby I began to sounde the cause, and gest that my relygion was my hinderance.” At face value, this seems plausible. Dowland was Catholic at a time when Catholicism in England was suppressed. But for Queen Elizabeth, expediency often trumped religious restrictions. If she found people useful, she discreetly overlooked their beliefs. Indeed, composer William Byrd, a devout Catholic, parleyed his talent into a lifelong court position. More likely, Dowland’s prickly personality was his undoing.

Dowland’s lute music reflects the growing confidence with which late Renaissance composers exploited the maturing language of tonality. In this time, we hear music that sounds natural and familiar to our own modern ears. We also hear music that steps away from vocal models, and delights with idiomatic instrumental virtuosity.

Had history unfolded differently, Miguel Llobet (1878-1938) might have rivaled Andrés Segovia as the seminal guitarist of the early 20th century. But he lacked a taste for the limelight, preferring smaller salon-like venues for his performances. (And truth be told, the guitar is better suited for a more intimate space.) At a young age, Llobet fell under the spell of Francisco Tárrega, and studied with him at the Municipal Conservatory of Music in Barcelona. Although perhaps “studied” is too strong a word. Llobet would watch Tárrega play, and then puzzled out for himself what to do. He later wrote: “In this way, more than by learning it, I experimented with my guitar technique.”

An influential teacher, Llobet’s student roster reads like a “Who’s Who” of early 20th century guitarists. Among his students were Domingo Prat, Luise Walker, Graciano Tarragó, Eduardo Sáinz de la Maza, José Rey de la Torre, María Luisa Anido, and Andrés Segovia. Although Llobet was one of the first guitarists to record, those who heard him live insisted his recordings did him no justice. (Segovia himself said the recordings should have been destroyed.) By the end of his life, the Spanish Civil War left him bereft of spirit. An acquaintance in 1937 noted: “He was wandering through the streets of Barcelona and seemed absolutely crushed, overwhelmed by circumstances and completely apathetic.” Llobet died a year later.

Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856) was almost an exact contemporary of Robert Schumann. And like Schumann, his wife was a concert pianist. So it’s likely he absorbed firsthand the early 19th century fascination with exotic musical imagery. Amateur musicians couldn’t get enough of music based on poetry and ancient tales. Bardenklänge, published between 1847 and 1850, comprises fifteen volumes of evocative character pieces. Mertz also transcribed six Schubert lieder, relying heavily on examples by Franz Liszt. In all these pieces, Mertz ingeniously adapted piano technique to the guitar. This often makes his music harder to play than it sounds. (The guitar’s lack of a sustain pedal is a serious liability.) But he also anticipated the 20th century, when guitarists turned transcriptions of piano repertoire into a cottage industry.

Notes by Tom Poore

----------------------------------- Explore how to support the Cleveland International Classical Guitar Festival® HERE.