Romantic Guitar Anthology, Volumes 1 – 4. Jens Franke.
Published by Schott, Volume 1, ED 13110; Volume 2, ED 13111; Volume 3,ED 13112; Volume 4 ED 13113.
This is a big undertaking by Jens Franke and Schott. It is ambitious in scale and brave: there’s perhaps an unfair expectation that this will be comprehensive. Of course, it cannot possibly be so, the 19th century being one of the most prolific ages of guitar writing we have known.
The 4 volumes progress in difficulty and by the end works that might be performed in a professional concert are offered. Jens includes biographical information on the composers and useful insights into every piece, which he has also recorded in the accompanying CDs.
Volume 1. Mertz, Carulli, Giuliani, and Coste are amongst those represented here. His guides to playing are useful; he points out the difference between Gs as accompaniment and Gs as an anacrusis in the Eccosaise of Franz Tucek, and how Aguado would have used his thumb on string 3 in the first Waltz. There’s a Fernando Sor study Op.60, No.4, with 3 flats and quite a lot of musical meat. Jens adopts the continuous curved line to denote a ligado, rather than a dotted line, and in so doing he is out of step with current thinking.
Inevitably there are points to disagree about, for example his suggestion that Giuliani’s Op.50, No.1 should be practised as a sequence of chords. This reviewer believes this piece is a good one to train a sequential left hand. He also gives us permission to dampen the bass in a Paganini Valse where I do not think it was the composer’s intention. He invites us to commence a pizzicato section in another piece, but doesn’t tell us where to finish the technique. Some phrasing might have been useful sometimes; the experienced player knows how to phrase, but the younger student may not. If we are going to leave these matters to a teacher, then there is arguably more which could be left unsaid.
Volume 2. The same composers turn up in this edition supplemented by several less well known including Victor Magnien’s Galop Ous 23, No.2 which I thought charming and quirky and a Tucek Rondo which is perhaps too technically ambitious for Volume 2. There’s a few of this ilk; although some of this repertoire is unusual, I am not sure it can all be called an incremental step from Volume 1. I agree with Jen’s that Giuliani’s Larghetto Op.50, No.17 is a beautiful piece and there’s a wonderful Vals by José Vinas too.
The common keys proliferate so expect to have string damping issues. Technically the right hand thumb gets asked to do more melodic work, so this would afford a chance to introduce thumb Apoyando to students. There’s quite a lot of position shifting in some of the pieces, but Jen’s sensible fingering helps the player negotiate these without too much trouble.
This is a strong collection of pieces, beautifully and thoughtfully typeset.
Volume 3. The level of difficulty is certainly rising now and it was lovely to see some none guitar pieces arranged by Walter Gotze, his arrangement of Robert Schumann’s March makes for a good damping exercise. I was unfamiliar with José Vinas until these editions, but enjoyed his accented Tango. The Jota aroagonesa facile by José Ferrer y Esteve has some rather odd use of tonic and dominant harmony in bars 13 – 24 and it just sounds wrong to me. This tells me either it IS a typo, or that Jens should have told us what to expect. His famous Allegretto is intelligently fingered and throughout it is clear that thought has been given to left hand possibilities –except for Johann Strauss II’s Man lebt nur einmal, which asks for a 6 fret stretch. An ossia bar might have been an idea.
There are a few unfortunate typos: dotted minims appear as dotted crotchets in Mertz’s Mazurka, some rests are missing in his Op.2. No.2, and some naturals and flats aren’t clear. This is unusual considering Schott’s very high typesetting standards.
Volume 4. Ernest Shand makes an appearance in these 12 works, some of which would go down well in concert. At once Shand’s language is arresting – just by virtue of being different to what we have encountered before. It does invite the question why there could not have been a little less of the 19th century grand masters (so amply represented in other collections) and a little bit more of the unusual. Arcas’ Bolero is pretty and there are fistfuls of left hand challenges in Coste’s Agitato Op.38, No.7. I enjoyed the Mertz’ melodic Erinnerung an Ischl and his arrangement of Schubert’s Lob der Tranen D711, is NOT the one you may know – there are textural changes and octave transpositions.
This final volume comes with the technical grit you expect from the higher end Romantic repertoire but musically it’s perhaps a bit disappointing. I suppose Jens assembled what he considered to be a balanced repertoire. The guitar had yet to reach its zenith and it’s not Jen’s fault that the 19th century is not the guitar’s finest era.
I had a few disagreements with his playing of some of this music and I am not convinced the anthologies needed any recording. Any responsible teacher these days will listen on the internet to half a dozen different interpretations of a piece he is teaching, and we would expect our students to do the same.
I would advise you look on a Schott website or music retailer site for the comprehensive list of the contents of these 4 volumes. If you see that you are missing much of this music, then Jen’s labours are worthy of deeper investigation.