Monday, October 26, 2009

Chamber Music for Guitar and Ensemble by Haydn, Boccherini

Originally posted on December 3, 2007

Nothing lasts forever, except maybe 33 rpm records. I have a few of the first run of LPs made (from around 1948 I think) and, though they reflect how many times they were played and under what conditions, they still play.

One LP that is not nearly that ancient (from the ‘70s) devotes itself to the guitar in small classical ensembles. Surprisingly, the guitar as an instrument was not around forever. It is not all that old. The lute came first, from at least the early Middle Ages on, and has different tuning, different strings, a shorter neck and a different sound. The first guitars appeared in the 15th century, but guitars as we know them today—the six string classic and flat-top acoustics with the body shape and size we are accustomed to—weren’t made until the 1850’s.

The record I mentioned above was recorded by Karl Scheit on classical guitar with a small chamber ensemble and released on Vanguard records. It has two works on it, one for each side. The oldest was originally written by Haydn for lute and strings, but the solo part is here adapted to the guitar. The circa 1760 composition has plenty of solo passages and sings in typical Haydn fashion. The second side brings to life a composition by the Italian Boccherini, one of the first composers to write for guitar. This “Quintet in D” in part emulates the sort of guitar playing that was already the case in Spain. The strumming, almost Flamenco style is right there and quite attractive. The record is just cool. It used to form an important part of my listening background when I was up all night writing papers in later college and graduate school years. It reminds me of a dead tiredness countered by cup after cup of tea or coffee, white-out, and determination. But it’s just very nice music, especially for guitarists or their friends. Get it if you can. It may be out on CD.

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