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Gerald Carpenter: Camerata Plays Duets With a Spanish Guitar

Composer Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi (1583-1643)
Composer Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi (1583-1643)

Camerata Pacifica's (unprecedented) second September program will be performed in Santa Barbara at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, in Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West, 1070 Fairway Road.

Guitarist Eliot Fisk, violist Richard O'Neill and flautist Adrian Spence (Camerata founder and artistic director) will perform, singly or in combination:
Girolamo Frescobaldi's “Partite sopra l’aria detta ‘La Frescobalda’ ” (1627) (arranged by Fisk); Johann Sebastian Bach's “Suite No. 4 in Eb-Major for Unaccompanied Cello, BWV-1010” (1717-23) (arranged by Fisk); George Rochberg's "Muse of Fire" for flute and guitar (1989–90); Franz Schubert's “Sonata in a-minor for ‘arpeggione' and piano” (1824), D. 821 (arranged by Fisk); Jean-Delphin Alard's “Estudio Brillante for two violins, Opus 16” (1845) (arranged by Francisco Tárrega); Manuel Ponce's “Estrellita” (1912) (arranged by Fisk); Isaac Albéniz's "Torre Bermeja," Opus 92, No. 12 (1888) (arranged by Fisk); Ernesto Halffter's “Habanera” (1945) (arranged by Fisk); and Albéniz's “Sevilla” (1885) (arranged by Fisk).
This is an amazingly rich and varied slate of compositions, one to treasure.
Girolamo Alessandro Frescobaldi (1583-1643) was a composer of great achievement and even greater influence on virtually all the composers who came after him, especially those who wrote for the keyboard.

Frescobald’s Partite sopra l’aria detta “La Frescobalda” is the earliest known set of variations upon an original theme.
Rochberg's "Muse of Fire" is the only composition on this program which will be played on the instruments for which it was written. It is a masterpiece, and all praise to Fisk and Spence for reviving it to our attention.

Rochberg (1918-2005) was a great American composer, who was devoted to Austrian serialism until 1964. After World War II, American classical music had become firmly lodged in the academy, in a handful of conservatories and elite universities, where the 12-tone system was all the rage.

Serialism was the prevailing dogma and was strictly enforced. This set American music back by about 30 years. (Just because I admire Schoenberg's music doesn't mean I buy into his cockamamie theories; I think he and Berg wrote great music inspite of their serialism, not because of it.)

Rochberg was one of only two American composers (the other being Ross Lee Finney) who succeeded in turning serial methods to good account, producing, the two of them, quite a bit of good music.

Then, in 1964, Rochberg's teen-aged son, Paul, died of a brain tumor, and the composer suddenly found himself without a musical language in which to express his grief — or any strong emotion. He abandoned serialism, took up tonality again.

The music he wrote thereafter — still unmistably "modern" — was much more accessible and melodic. Critics and academics denounced him as an apostate, rather the way Arthur Koestler's former fellow travelers began to call him a "renegade skunk" when he left the Party.

"Muse of Fire" — the title is taken from Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth where the Prologue exclaims: "O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend/ The brightest heaven of invention,/ A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,/ And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!" — is a late work, well after Rochberg's return to a version of tonality. It is a spell-binder.

The arpeggione was a large six-stringed instrument, tuned like a guitar, that was played with a bow. It was invented in 1823, and by 1824, Schubert's friend, Vincenz Schuster, had become a virtuoso player.

It was doubtless Schuster who caused the “a-minor sonata" to be written, by request if not formal commission. Almost 200 years after its composition, the sonata is still going strong in our concert halls, even though the arpeggione has vanished.

It is usually played in transcriptions for cello and piano or viola and piano, although versions that substitute a double bass, flute, euphonium or clarinet for the arpeggione; guitar or harp for the piano part; are also popular.

Jean-Delphin Alard (1815-88) was a French violinist and teacher, who ran a famous violin school in Paris. His compositions were quite popular in France while he lived, but his school had great influence throughout Europe. Among his pupils was Pablo de Sarasate.

Manuel María Ponce Cuéllar (1882-1948) was a Mexican composer, music educator, and scholar of the music of his homeland. He was instrumental in bringing the mostly forgotten traditions of popular song and Mexican folklore back into the concert hall. “Estrellita" ("Little Star") is his best-known work.

Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) was a Spanish composer and one of the most celebrated pianists of his time (the exact contemporary of the other great Spanish composer-pianist, Enrique Granados (1860-1916).

Although Albéniz never wrote any music for the guitar, many of his piano pieces have been arranged for that instrument and have become indispensable to the modern classical guitarist.

Ernesto Halffter (1905-89) was a Spanish composer who was the younger brother of composer Rodolfo Halffter and the uncle of composer Cristóbal Halffter. His father was a Prussian who had relocated his jewelry business to Madrid — hence the Teutonic surname.

Like his compatriot Albeniz, he was best known as a pianist outside his native land.

This program will also be performed in Zipper Hall of The Colburn School in Los Angeles at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 27; at the Museum of Ventura County in Ventura, 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30); and in Rothenberg Hall of The Huntington Museum in San Marino, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2.

Admission to all venues is $58. For tickets and other information, show up at the box office, call the Camerata Pacifica, 805-884-8410, or email [email protected]

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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