The classical guitar we know today is a relatively recent development: the instrument took its modern form only at the end of the 19th century, after a centuries-long evolution, the penultimate manifestation of which was the smaller, six-string guitar popular in the 19th-century salon and much favored by aristocratic ladies. With the new instrument came a new repertoire, one that established the guitar as a serious recital instrument. This album Milos Karadaglics first concerto recording traces the modern guitars emergence in the strong light of Spain, the country where, more than any other, the guitar holds sway. Indeed, it is Spains national instrument.
The program is bookended by perhaps the two most popular works ever written for guitar and orchestra: Joaquín Rodrigos Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) and his Fantasía para un gentilhombre (1954). But the story of the guitar in the 20th century starts earlier than either of those much-loved works. The first major milestone is Manuel de Fallas Homenaje, a guitar solo composed in 1920 to the memory of the French composer Claude Debussy, whom Falla revered and who had died two years earlier. This was the first work for guitar by a major composer, and as such the first signal of the instruments renaissance. Debussy had offered Falla much encouragement during his seven years in Paris, where he had gone to study in one of the most creative atmospheres of the early 20th century. A great master of musical atmosphere, Falla wrote: I am interested in the relations between colors and sounds, and often melodic ideas and harmonic combinations have been suggested by a painting or an old stained-glass window. The simple gravity of the Homenaje belies its richness: many years later Benjamin Britten, after a performance by Julian Bream, expressed amazement at how much music was in so short a space.
Like many other composers at that time notably Bartok and Kodaly in Hungary, Vaughan Williams and Grainger in Britain, Canteloube in France Falla was given to incorporating folk music as part of the essentially classical language in which he wrote. His 1919 ballet El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-cornered Hat) abounds with glorious melodies and exudes a genuine sense of Spanishness, not least because it draws on traditional Andalusian melodies. From it comes the Danza del molinero (Millers dance), which takes the form of a farruca, a Flamenco form traditionally danced only by men. Not surprisingly, it makes the transition from orchestra to solo guitar with ease.