41. First Thoughts on My Suite for Solo Guitar, Op. 21
Encouraged by my friendship with classical guitarist John De Chiaro, I have wanted to write a piece for guitar for the past several months. It was not, however, until after hearing him play at Abendmusik Alexandria last Thursday that my inspiration finally came to me. Hurriedly, almost obsessively, I sat down Saturday and composed a total of nine minutes of new music – something I’ve never done in just one sitting. Sunday, I threw out the original first movement, and I have been working to revise it and other materials over the past few evenings. Yesterday, I presented John with my new piece at lunch: he was thrilled, remarking that I am the first composer to ever write a piece designed for him in his entire career, and it is likely he will play the new work at Abendmusik Alexandria sometime next season. In this post, let me share with you some thoughts on this piece while they are still so fresh in my mind.
My new Suite for Solo Guitar, Op. 21 is set in four movements which together total approximately ten minutes of music. Each movement possesses the name of the musical form which it portrays. To say that any of these movements actually “adhere” to these forms, nevertheless, would be false – that was not even the intention; “portray,” “paints,” “illustrates,” “evokes” are all more appropriate terms.
The first movement is called Leyenda after the much more famous piece by Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909). Musically, there is nothing except the three-part ABA’ structure borrowed from the Albéniz. Calling the movement “Leyenda,” Spanish for “legend,” also alludes to the Spanish sound of this movement. This was to be one of those short, Spanish character pieces that Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) had made so commonplace on guitar recitals. Its opening melody evokes a Spanish-Moorish desert with its almost directionless sweep. The first phrase also employs the Phrygian Dominant scale which so often is used to evoke Spanish music. At the beginning this reference is fleeting – it is only a few notes – but that scale becomes the tonality when the faster main section of the movement begins. There is a brief chromatic interlude which structurally references the recitative middle section of the Albéniz before again following its structural model and repeating the A section with an added coda.
The second movement called Blues is a take on the twelve-bar blues form. There are three runs through these twelve bars, and each repetition becomes progressively sparse and thereby more referential than its predecessor. Much like the coda of the first movement, there is a final breakdown, although here it can in fact be called a “breakdown” as it is in a negative context rather than an emotionally neutral, strictly formal “coda.”
The third movement called Scherzo is in no way a formal scherzo. It was, however, given that name for several important reasons. Firstly, the A section does use a 3/4 dance meter like the formal scherzo is in a dance meter. Secondly, it harks back to the original definition of a “scherzo” as a “joke.” The joke is that the theme never really goes anywhere despite the propulsive rhythms; particularly in the B section there is much “wandering.” Within the context of a tonal-modal composition, a dissonant chromatic middle movement is also humorous for it is out-of-place. There is a passing reference to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Royal Theme from The Musical Offering. And, the conclusion is an unprepared jaunt down the pleasant D major scale. The Scherzo was actually the first movement written so this D major scale, in the chromatic movement no less, actually gave the tonality for the other movements (i.e. D minor/modal in Movement I, D minor-major in Movement IV, etc.).
The fourth movement is called Fugue. Here, the reference is much more rooted than in the other movements for I do actually set the two melody lines in counterpoint and at the interval of a fourth, a common interval for fugues. The theme is derived from the original, abandoned version of the first movement, although this model does still underlie the completed first movement. Only twelve pitches long though, I chose to expand upon this short theme by creating one of my pitch charts and setting each of the pitches of the original D minor a fourth apart until I had created a theme centered on each of D minor’s seven diatonic pitches. A final eighth theme is in D major, and one can hear a quick jump to this new tonality – the parallel major – towards the end of the movement. Nonetheless, the meditative non-negative quality of the later D minor-derived themes had already prepared us for an actual D major section. This D major section makes for a positive ending reached naturally after the contrasting tonalities, modes, and chromatics of the other movements.
Stay tuned! I plan to share more on my Suite for Solo Guitar as we figure out performance dates!
About Jackson. Jackson Harmeyer is a music scholar and composer. He is a graduate of the Louisiana Scholars’ College – Louisiana’s designated honors college – where he completed an undergraduate thesis entitled “Learning from the Past: The Influence of Johann Sebastian Bach upon the Soviet Composers.” He has followed classical music around the world, attending the BachFest Leipzig in Germany, Colorado’s Aspen Music Festival, and many concerts across Louisiana and Texas. Resident in Alexandria, Jackson works with the Arts Council of Central Louisiana as Series Director of the Abendmusik Alexandria chamber music series. He also writes the program notes for the Rapides Symphony Orchestra. As his day job, Jackson serves as Operations Manager of TicketCentral.