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Ensconced


Many old castles have become invisible, although they were never destroyed. It is because they became a part of new buildings, until they took some final shape that we know, in which the initial castle lost its distinctness. I have visited several old buildings, wondering where the oldest layer had gone, just to find out that it is still there, incorporated in the new whole.


One can ignore our time’s ease of consuming and destroying, but it seems that the whole process leaves more waste than we can currently handle. In the world of arts, it does not tend to result in consequences that bring mankind in serious peril; nonetheless, the parallels are apparent. It seems that today’s creators often introduce new ideas (which are sometimes new only in the PR release) to get the attention of the consumers of their art, only to soon abandon the idea and come up with something else the next time around – again something apparently unheard of. Dealing with ideas and techniques used in the past has become a “kiss of death” in such circles.

I was always skeptical to this attitude; after all, only the future can show whether something was truly new and original. Although, admittedly, one can pardon artists for their PR presentations. After all, they must dine in the present.

The two works introduced on this album take found objects from the past and try to give them new meaning, breathing into them new life. One can say that there is a lot of looking into the past through these works.

The ten etudes have their source in the etudes guitarists learn while striving to hone the skills of the craft. Overall, more of the inspiration might be found in the works of Sor and Tarrega than Villa-Lobos. For instance, the very first etude begins as a simple study, one of the classical arpeggio type that many aspiring guitarists would study, only to quickly metamorphose into one of more complexity, where such studies do not usually go.

There is a lot of integration of the flamenco techniques I adapted recently with classical techniques. Sometimes it results in an overall harsher sound, but that is what the relaxed Etude 4 is for: to enable the player to display refined tonal shaping and melodic playing.

Some of the etudes with extensive use of flamenco technique connect with forgotten skills. There is an elaborate use of medieval-styled isorhythms in Etudes 8 and 9, and the plucking of two strings with one finger throughout Etude 2 is reminiscent of playing string pairs (courses) on the lute or baroque guitar.

Although guitar is capable of producing six tones simultaneously, there is only one piece I am aware of that is written to use all six voices simultaneously throughout — Etude 1 by Villa-Lobos. The problem with using all six strings in greater length is that one needs to utilize barre fingerings (in which several or all strings are held at once with one finger), which are very taxing on the player. Villa-Lobos solved the problem by a prolonged use of a diminished seventh chord held on the inner strings and sliding down chromatically, while the outer strings remained open all through the section. My Etude 10 is an exercise in strumming, utilizing all strings throughout the piece. There is a lot of barre held in that etude, and my approach was to give the player several brief occasions to lift it before reapplying. I have always felt that such a simple, brutal, and exciting piece needed to be written, before I finally took time to write and learn to perform it.

Undoubtedly, the most varied theme in history is “La Folia”. There are celebrated sets of variations by Corelli, Vivaldi, Rachmaninoff, and many others, but also incorporations of the theme in works of the greats, including Beethoven, Handel, and J. S. Bach.

Many guitar composers were not indifferent to the wide popularity of the theme, and its Spanish origin and character may have played a role. The list of composers who didn’t write variations for guitar on “La Folia” might actually be shorter, but these who did are very deserving, so let them be mentioned: Sanz, Corbetta, Sor, Giuliani, Llobet, Ponce, and… I probably forgot someone.

My set of variations on the celebrated theme joins the tradition in the spirit of the album. To be heard are many styles and techniques we know from the music we call “classical”— contextualized, and often uncontextualized, in a similar manner in which most of the techniques we call classical today are either older or younger than the classical period.

To completely lose perspective, the epilogue to the work is not a usual Fugue (like in the work of Ponce). I wrote many fugues for guitar (to be found on the album Fugue Revisited) and felt that there was a need for something not quite as fresh. I opted for an organum based on “La Folia”, a form that preceded the theme itself by centuries. It is one of the earliest forms of the music we are accustomed to calling “classical”, originating from the Notre Dame cathedral of Paris in a unique historic situation in which the source of an essential style couldn’t be pinned down just to a region, but also to a particular magnificent building. I do not recall that the techniques of organa were ever used in guitar works, although I would be reluctant to insist.


I believe that ending so large a work in a style over eight hundred years old gives a different perspective to all the other styles studied in the album, which are old to us, but something like grandchildren from the distant future to the masters of the Notre Dame School.

Or -as it is always advisable to end with Shakespeare:

No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.

(Sonnet CXXIII)



This album is dedicated to the memory of my father.

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