- Jens Franke and Stuart Willis. Baroque Guitar Anthology, Volumes 1 – 4.
Published by Schott, Volume 1, ED 13357; Volume 2, ED 13437; Volume 3, ED 13446; Volume 4 ED 13489.
This is a significant contribution to Baroque literature, not least by virtue of its size.
Jens Franke and Stuart Willis are credited on the cover; every single transcription is by Stuart and Jens is the guitarist on the enclosed CD. Stuart must be in touch with Lute literature in a way that guitarists tend not to be, because much of this material is unfamiliar. There’s Gaspar Sanz, but also pieces by Ms. Vaudry de Saizenay and Francois Le Cocq, David Kellner and Nicolas Derosier. It makes available a very refreshing collection of new and worthy music. The editorial assertion that Grade 1 – 2 guitarists can cope with this music is tested early on. The 3rd piece, an Espanoleta by Sanz, features some awkward 3rd position material and rapid position shifting – as well as 2 missing B naturals. It’s a case of “can’t see the wood for the trees” I think, where the editors simply don’t see what is before them.
One feature of these books which is helpful is a short paragraph with exploratory ideas on how to play the music. The editorial suggests that a Folie d’Espagne needs good damping skills – but that goes for a majority of the pieces in this volume. In an anonymous Entree we are encouraged to play with a campanella over-ringing style, and it might have been helpful to notate in the 2nd bar what is meant. There are missing rests and a stem pointing in wrong direction – unusual for Schott who have a wonderful track record of proof reading.
There’s an intriguing Prelude by Charles Mouton (no tempo indicated) where there’s interplay between higher and lower registers but it is not notated in separate voices so exactly what is expected of the player isn’t entirely clear. The accompanying audio track on the CD has bass notes ringing on beyond their stated duration in the score, (the cavernous acoustic of the recorded guitar is generally unhelpful on this CD.) To be fair, the editorial does explain that originally there were no bar lines and a free interpretation is permissible.
The moving Prelude by Ms. Vaudry de Saizenay is troubled with missing rests, odd rhythmical notations and stem confusions. This is contrapuntal writing. If the object is to introduce students to linear music, then the lines should be more clearly delineated.
It is my understanding that Lutenists had no means of writing a semibreve in tablature (because they needed stems for all their notes) and thus a 4 beat note would be represented by a tied minim. This antiquated way of writing is continued here. I think it’s an anachronism and it overly complicates the look of the music. Jens is on record elsewhere as saying he was trying to adhere to musicological accuracy as far as possible and he believes it conveys a sense of style to the student. At the very least, there should be some mention made of it.
This book has to be welcomed, allowing some unfamiliar music to make it into the light of day for the guitarist. I would be astonished if a grade 1 guitarist could get near most of them though.
Stuart Willis takes all the credit again for the 25 transcriptions and arrangements of repertoire including Philipp Franz Le Sage de Richie and Bernard Hagen, as well as the more familiar Robert de Visée.
All of this music was new to me: underlying the preface’s point that the amount of repertoire from the Baroque is vast. There are hand stretches across as well as along the neck, the counterpoint and harmony is more sophisticated and the phrases are more irregular. The tied minim turns up again in La Montfermeil, Rondeau and on this occasion I disagree with its inclusion, because it masks the anacrusis entry of a new phrase. My favourite was the David Kellner Patorel – but this book is full of lovely, well fingered and edited pieces.
Stuart must have invested enormous amounts of energy into researching this music. He has assembled an anthology of some of the most interesting Baroque repertoire I have ever come across. Most of the time we are ticking Baroque boxes for exam students – but if you have a young grade 5-ish student really interested in this period, then Volume 2 is highly recommended.
Bernard Hagen, de Visée, Kellner and Weiss feature in this edition. The CD enables us to enjoy Jen’s playing of these fine pieces and the inégale technique he describes in the introduction, for example in the Entrée d’Apollon by Lully. He doesn’t always follow notated rests in these recordings, but there is such a lot of reverb flying around that it might be a studio issue, rather than a playing one. There’s a lot of fun in this book. From the opening campanella Prelude of de Visée, through the delightful two voice interplay of Kellner’s Giga to the darker Siciliana by Hagen – there’s just an awful lot of wonderful music to chew on. The complete L’Infidele suite by Weiss has a plethora of beguiling sequence, harmonic twists, and unexpected turns of phrase which make this a great inclusion. The difficulty of Volume 3 is significantly enhanced from Volume 2, but the quality of the music contained therein and the care with which it has been arranged and edited mean this book should be on the Baroque guitar lover’s shelf.
J.S. Bach is finally represented in this volume with his Siciliana BMV 1001 and and Sarabande BMV 997. In its familiarity, this is perhaps the least challenging of the works in this volume. It sits alongside some Francesco Corbetta with challenging harmonic language and strummed chords. There’s a beautiful Ciaccone by Weiss and a Fantasia by him which is hard to distinguish from the vernacular of Bach. A pair of Phantasias by David Kellner complete the volume and these are as strange as they are beautiful. This volume’s music is less easily acquired by the ear and this might suggest why volume four was the best place to plant such less accessible but wonderful music. There is so much individual expressivity, even eccentricity in the writing, that a younger student may have needed to progress through certainly Volume 3 before he has points of reference to help him understand. The concluding notes are of especial help in steering the student towards a meaningful performance. In terms of the glory of the Baroque, Volume 4 is representative of its zenith and in beautiful typesetting – I rather expect the teacher will spend more time enjoying these pieces in Volume 4 than any from other volumes.
This was a daunting undertaking by Jens Franke and Stuart Willis. There will be critics who argue for the inclusion of this or the exclusion of that, and it would never be possible to keep everyone silent. Even if it was a labour of love, it was a lot of work; teacher and student are the lucky beneficiaries of this great collection. Jens, Stuart and Schott are all to be congratulated.