The most beautiful Guitar Concerts
In a small series I would like to present you the most beautiful guitar concerts. Some people might think that I carry owls to Athens, but unfortunately many people only know the “Concierto de Aranjuez”. But all the wonderful works that still exist have almost completely disappeared from our concert halls.
This has surely also to do with the fact that there are hardly any guitar concerts by well-known composers. Joaquin Clerch once said: “If Mozart or Beethoven had written a concert for the guitar, we would play with the Vienna Philharmonic every year”.
And I’m sure he was right about that. To fill a concert hall today, it takes either the name of a famous virtuoso or a well-known composer, and above all, the second is almost completely missing for the guitar.
But many concertos that may not be the size of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, but which are still full of beauty and inner richness, will be pushed further and further to the brink and eventually disappear completely from our consciousness.
Therefore I would like to give a small overview of what is still available apart from Rodrigo’s big litter. Imagine works that personally touch me, make me dream and, at least for moments, make me forget the pain of life.
But first I want to talk briefly about what is meant by a concert. It can be a little confusing for the layman: You go to a concert, but this term can actually mean anything, the enjoyment of a cultivated chamber music evening as well as that of a bizarre orchestral work.
But when musicians talk about a concert, we mean a very specific musical genre. We only speak of a solo concert when a single instrument performs a piece of music together and in conflict with an orchestra.
The best known are certainly piano and violin concertos, but there is hardly an instrument for which there is no contribution to this genre, such as concertos for harmonica or Jew’s harp.
The predecessors of this form can be found quite early in European music history, but it did not take on its current form and significance until the emergence of bourgeois concert culture in the second half of the 18th century.
Previously there were only a few virtuosos who performed in a”chamber” of aristocratic houses (the best known example is certainly little Mozart). But the great musical understanding of many aristocrats put a natural stop to pure virtuosity.
But when a middle-class audience began to stream into the concert halls, the taste in music changed dramatically. The majority of the listeners were now looking for distraction from the sad everyday life and wanted to be”well” entertained – a need that the solo concert met in the most perfect way.
Above all, as the soloist’s personality came to the fore more and more. In the course of time this finally took on such bizarre excesses as we know it from the stories around N. Paganini or F. Liszt.
In its most well-known form today, the solo concerto consists of three movements in the sequence fast – slow – fast.
In the first movement the orchestra introduces a theme and the solo instrument responds with a variation of it or its own material.
The second movement is at a slow pace and gives the soloist the opportunity to demonstrate his subtlety and lyrical qualities. Finally, in the final movement, there is usually a virtuosity that resembles a”finale”, i.e. the expulsion of a dance orchestra.
A special feature of the classical concert is the solo cadenza, in which the soloist can shine without accompaniment. Originally this part was improvised, but today the cadenzas are composed out and it is no longer about their invention, but about their personal interpretation and the skill of the musician to integrate them into the overall concept of the musical work.
The concert I would like to present to you today, the Concierto op. 67 by Malcolm Arnold, is also traditionally arranged in its three-part form, and even though it uses a modern musical language, it hardly transcends the boundaries of tonality, but always adheres to the principles of classical composition.
This is not surprising, as the Englishman Malcolm Arnold (the best-known English composer of the post-war period after Benjamin Britten) was a comparatively conservative composer.
While most of his colleagues indulged their desire to experiment and tried to break away from the fetters of tradition, he wrote music full of vocal melodies, unbiased and little concerned about the zeitgeist.
Because of these advantages and because of his work as a film composer, one is easily tempted to think of him as a”shallow” musician. But in his most important works, especially the nine symphonies, one sees a completely different artist at work. They are characterized by intellectual depth and dark passion and show a grandiose composer at the climax of his work.
Popular as he was, he was also repeatedly asked to write for various instruments. In the course of his life, he has performed more than twenty solo concerts, including the Concerto op. 67 for Julian Bream and for such renowned musicians as Yehudi Menuhin and Benny Goodman.
This concert, first performed in 1959, wonderfully reflects the attitude and musical taste of the two musicians.
Here a traditional composer, willing to contribute to modern guitar literature against the spirit of the times, there an interpreter, who besides the guitar also played the lute masterfully and above all made an effort with the classical repertoire.
The result is a work that is already full of graceful themes in the first movement and captivates with a dialogue between solo instrument and orchestra that alternates between technical brilliance and intimate chamber music.
The slow movement was inspired by the guitar playing of Django Reinhardt. A long, bluesy theme brings the emotional life of the listeners into deep waters and casts a dark lustre over the entire work.
An eccentric minuet follows, restoring the balance between the first two movements and the whole thing ends tragically, with short throws of the guitar.
The composer’s biographer, Piers Burton-Page, calls it: “One of Arnold’s most outstanding inventions. … Once heard, never forgotten again” (“Philharmonic Concerto”, Methuen, 1994).