Fernando Sor, Breathing New Life into Old Works

As you can tell, from previous article titles, I often have to cope with putting musical works on hold. One strategy I’ve come up with is to take on a playful adaptation of a prior work (my own or that of a favourite composer). In this way I can modify sounds, textures, and moods whilst using an existing piece. It’s a way to keep the brain agile, especially concerning arranging and orchestration. A bit like adding oil to an engine, it keeps ideas lubricated. I know I’ll be able to rev the creative engine later, concerning my own works, when time pressures ease.

I have chosen to put the development of my own pieces down ‘briefly.’ In the mean time, to keep my mind engaged, I am working out a pianoguitar duet based on a short piece for solo guitar by Fernando Sor. I have little time these days for practice, let alone performance. But, I have many fond memories of past performances. Among the common cannon are the 60 Short Works for classical guitar. Good music has a timeless quality. The character and depth of expression make these studies an ideal focus for a bit of compositional effort. Here are my reflections on the process:

I look to preserve the characteristic phrases that make the piece a strong performance work for classical guitar. But, I also trade-off the solo line to the piano to extend the register above or below the relative guitar range. In places I have applied minimal piano – meaning no chordal or particular harmonic depth – to act as a surrogate guitar. The piano is a remarkably versatile instrument. And, in the case of this project, I am asking it to ‘become a guitar.’ (Yes, I was tempted to create a duet for two guitars…but thought that the piano could provide greater range in the lower and upper register [octaves]).

Both the guitar and the piano are string instruments, struck or plucked, with the ability to be percussive or lyrical within their physical parameters. I envisage performance in a hall which provides some resonant reverb as I compose. That way the interplay crafted between the instruments is neither too sonorous for one, nor too percussive for the other. My efforts should provide a blend of both percussive and lyrical qualities at the appropriate time. Even so, I want to favour the guitar in the overall expression. Young pianists enjoy a much larger performance development repertoire than young guitarists.

I take some creative license in shaping the piece. However, I don’t want to re-write a perfectly good composition. I’ve had to consider the transition(s) between major key passages and its minor form. As a solo work the shift is instantaneous. But to softly integrate the piano lead-in to the guitar I have ‘stretched’ the entry into the key change to minor and its return modulation to the major key. I have restructured the form. As a guitar solo, the piece stands with several repeated sections. I have removed two such repeats, and only covered the minor modulation once (because I elongated the entry into minor and crafted a very expressive minor-mode form with a short cadenza). As a guitar solo, the work relies upon the guitarist to re-interpret each section. But, I have discovered that the piano and guitar pull each other forward so effectively that I didn’t need the original repeats other than to restate the lovely theme to a finale.

Keeping the young player in mind, I plan to keep it simple – within the easy to moderate level of difficulty for both pianist and guitarist. The plan is to do a few such treatments to favourite works by Sor and publish the scores for young performers. I believe such a project might benefit young players who are looking to expand their range or repertoire and possible development within an ensemble. I know which piece is to be the next…if only I can locate it amongst the other volumes on the shelf!

As a coping strategy for dealing with external interruptions to my original compositions this kind of project is helpful. I am more at peace with permitting current delays to the development of current works. And, in coming up with this as an idea I now have a project to publish that I wouldn’t have otherwise thought of before! The exercise is breathing new life into old and familiar works. Great fun, indeed.

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