Treasured Tunes featuring Elliot Frank

Podcast Transcript


Welcome to Treasured Tunes, where professors from the East Carolina School of Music are offering commentary about selected musical pieces. Please sit back and enjoy the music.

Elliot Frank Speaking

My name is Elliot Frank and this is a recital of classical guitar music of South American composers. The first composer on this recording is an Argentinian guitarist named José Luis Merlin. The pieces that I am playing are part of a suite called the Suite Del Recuerdo or Suite of Memory, which is dedicated to a group of people in Argentina called Los Desperados. These are the disappeared ones who were victims of right wing dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s. Basically there were about 10,000 people who simply disappeared. This suite was a series of movements designed to pay tribute to their memories.

Most of the movements are based on Argentine popular music. The first movement, The Evocacion, is an estilo, which is a form of popular song in Argentina. It’s very lyrical and romantic in style.

The last movement is actually not Argentinian. It is a Venezuelan dance called Joropo. There is actually a quote in it that is a quote in it from a piece by another composer who you will hear, Antonio Lauro. It’s a lively, Venezuelan folk dance. There are a lot of effects in it of popular guitar music. You can hear some percussive effects and a lot of strumming.

Music playing composed by José Luis Merlin(Pieces from the Suite Del Recuerdo, Evocacion followed by Joropo, performed by Elliot Frank)

The next piece on the program was written by a Paraguayan guitarist and composer whose name was Agustín Barrios. Barrios was a phenomenal virtuoso. He was just a fantastic player. He gets around the guitar really, really well. He wrote over 300 works for the classical guitar. The one you are about to hear, the Vals Opus 8 Number. 4, is one of his most famous works. It’s a virtuoso, concert waltz in the style of the 19th century romantic composers like Frederic Chopin who popularized the dance as a movement. Barrios was essentially a romantic composer. He was an itinerant and he lived a very Bohemian lifestyle. He traveled all over South America, spending a lot of time in Costa Rica. He was known throughout South America as a phenomenal guitarist, and he had actually embarked on a European tour that might have given him the world renown he surely deserved at the time but didn’t come into until after he died. But, unfortunately, his tour was set up in the fall of 1939. This was not really the most opportune moment to be touring Europe because World War II broke out while he was there. So, he left before he could start the tour. This waltz is very much a virtuoso concert waltz designed to show off the technique of the player. It’s full of rapid scales and arpeggios. It is a fairly extensive piece; it is in several sections.

Music playing composed by Agustín Barrios (Vals Opus 8 Number 4, performed by Elliot Frank)

The Venezuelan composer Antonio Lauro was actually inspired to study the guitar by Agustin Barrios. Lauro was a popular guitarist and learned the popular style of Venezuelan music. Barrios came to Caracas, Venezuela and gave a concert. Lauro was struck dumb by Barrios’ skill and what Barrios could play on the guitar. Lauro decided that he wanted to devote himself to studying the guitar, as well. Unlike Barrios, Antonio Lauro was primarily a composer and it was only very late in life that he became any sort of a concert performer. He wrote a large number of Venezuelan waltzes for the guitar that are quite different than Barrios’ waltzes. They are smaller, but in many ways, more complex, especially in rhythm. Whereas, In the Barrios waltzes, there is a very standard waltz rhythm, which is like one, two, three…one, two, three…. This is one of the only rhythms that you won’t hear in Lauro’s waltzes. There are so many more different things that go on.

The second one of these waltzes, entitled Petronila, was named after a woman who was apparently known for her rather rapid and incessant manner of speaking. So, Lauro wrote this piece that consisted of just stay eighth notes in a very rapid fashion. Those who knew the two of them said that Lauro had characterized her perfectly in the piece.

Music playing composed by Antonio Lauro (El Negrito followed by Petronila, performed by Elliot Frank)

The third set of pieces, La Catedral, or The Cathedral, was written by Barrios and was composed after he had had an experience in a cathedral in Monte Vital Uruguay, where he heard an organist performing Bach. He had sought refuge in the peace and the quiet of the church from the hustle and the bustle outside. He heard this organist performing a Bach piece and he was moved by the tranquility of the setting and by Bach’s music. He wrote this Andante in response to that experience. After that, he went back outside inside the tumult of a rather big Latin American city, which there are very few cities in the U.S. who can even rival that. New York is the only one I can think of. Latin American cities are quite noisy and not quite as orderly. I think they look on traffic signals as suggestions, instead of actual commands. He wrote the second movement, another very busy movement, Allegro Solemne, with lots of fast notes, sixteenth notes. In the middle of that, there might have been even places, however, with all this hustling and bustling where you can hear the bells from the cathedral in some of the textures in the piece.

I also play a slightly different ending for this piece than those that are published. This is one that came down to me from a student of a Paraguayan guitarist whose name was Sila Godoy, who was himself student of Barrios. So, it is kind of third-hand. I am not sure if it is authentic or not, but I believe it is. It’s a wonderful piece. The two pieces on this recording are probably his most famous pieces.

Music playing by Augustin Barrios (Pieces from La Catedral, Andante Religioso followed by Allegro Solemne, performed by Elliot Frank)

This has been a production of East Carolina University. To hear more, please visit the Treasured Tunes index.