Someone at Deutsche Grammophon is to be commended for bringing that label to its senses in this respect. Something has budged. Some ten years ago, when encouraged to do so, some head honcho at DG still replied with nonchalant intractability that “There is enough of Yepes already” – while his finest interpretations were unknown to guitarists and complete box sets of Segovia – and the less salable Bream – were, of course, available. Needless to say, in the post-print, digital-download era of music, there was no “economic” excuse for this suppression. But, happily, the situation has finally been remedied.
And yet… Unfortunately someone else at DG – whoever is responsible for commissioning booklet notes – is once again to be censured for a lack of historical awareness and the insult that they bring to the work of Yepes by associating it with the writing of one of the chief architects of anti-Yepes bigotry. Is it not high time to recognize the outdated but lingeringly toxic influence of such so-called guitar experts as Graham Wade – who long denigrated the non-formalist approach of Yepes as “wayward” and “destructive”; who promoted such untenable and deleterious ideological positions as the belief that “true creativity…[is] a continual extinction of personality”, that there is only one permissible tempo or interpretation (which happens to be Segovia’s or Bream’s); and who encouraged the “cast[ing]…into outer darkness” of artists (Yepes, first and foremost) who did not parrot Segovia’s particular brand of formalism (a.k.a. “Apollonian restraint”)?
So, regrettably, one has to say, with mixed feelings: Congratulations, DG, and shame on you.
A highly recommended set of very important recordings, nonetheless.
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Tracks that used to be unavailable and/or are of particular interest are highlighted below, in bold:
CD 1: Spanish Guitar Music Of Five Centuries, Vol. 1
One of the earliest compositions for the ten-string guitar of Narciso Yepes is now available in an edition published by the Israel Music Institute.
Dating from 1968, Chilean-Israeli composer Leon Schidlowsky‘s Interludio was written for Yepes and his guitar in a graphic ‘space-time’ notation widely adopted during the 1960s when Western art music entered its ‘liquid’ (or ‘post-‘) modern phase.
Schidlowsky originally notated Interludio across two staves with (transposing) treble and bass clefs. However, one of the composer-approved changes to the score was the relocation of all notes played on strings 1-6 to the upper staff, and all notes played on strings 7-10 to the lower one. This allowed us to minimize string and fingering indications (and thus limit entropy) in an already cluttered score. (Strings 7-10 are only indicated when fretted.) Incidentally, in Interludio, strings 7-10 are used over 120 times in the space of about 2’12”, making for a challenging addition to the repertoire of the virtuoso ten-string guitarist. The piece also provides extensive opportunities for the use of Yepes techniques like prestissimo flourishes with three fingers of the right hand, and cross-string trills.
As Fritz Buss points out (in this interview), Yepes usually had about four or five programmes of this length committed to memory at any given time (excluding concertos). As an example, here are a few recital programmes from April-May 1984:
May 20, 1984, Civic Theatre, Johannesburg, in duo with Godelieve Monden:
Music by Johnson, Ford, Telemann, Carulli, Gurdjieff, Petit, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Rodrigo:
* * *
Moreover, as Yepes mentioned (in this interview), by 1981/’82 he had c. 23 concertos in his repertoire, to which could be added (at least) those by Françaix, Marco (Eco), Balada (Persistencias), Moreno-Buendía, and Hovahness (No. 2) that came later.
Miguel Angel Cherubito was born in Buenos Aires in 1941. He studied the guitar and composition. Between 1974 and 1989 he lived in Barcelona where he was active as concert guitarist, composer and conductor. He subsequently returned to Argentina where he became the director of a music school. He has written music for guitar as well as orchestral music. His herculean Suite Popular Argentina (1989) was written for Narciso Yepes, who gave the première in Tokyo.
Yepes said the following about this work and its composer: “Cherubito has the gift of…refinement and creative vein of a man who has much to say to us through music and especially the guitar. His Suite Popular Argentina is an example of this. I play this work in all my recitals, being one of the most applauded of my vast repertoire.” (1992)
Cherubito has written the following about the folkloric movements of his suite:
The Zamba is a pair dance with a slow tempo and courtly, galant character. It is danced in all Argentinean provinces. Its origins may be traced back to a Spanish dance known as the Zambacueca, from which two different dances developed: the Argentinean Zamba and the Chilean Cueca. The Zamba can also be sung.
The Milonga also comes originally from Spain and can be danced as well as sung. It resembles the Habanera but is faster-moving. There are two kinds of Milonga: the country version, which is sung and in which the interpreter improvises; and the town version, from Buenos Aires, which may be sung and danced. This is faster than the country version and may contain various themes: melancholy, romantic or amusing. The Milonga from my suite has a dramatic character and belongs to the country type.
The Chacarera is sung and danced in the northern provinces of Argentina. There are three forms: the simple, the double and the long Chacarera. The most important composers of the dance come from Santiago del Estero. The Chacarera in my suite belongs to the simple form. In keeping with tradition, the guitar plays two parts: in thirds or in sixths.
The Vidala comes from Bolivia and the north of Argentina, and has its roots in [First Nations] culture. It is not a dance, but a musical form – sung or purely instrumental – whose melodies are reminiscent of the plateaus and mountains of the Andes.
The Argentinean Tango may also be sung. It came into being at the end of the nineteenth century in Rio de la Plata, and combines elements of African dance and European music. As a town dance, the Tango is now associated mainly with the area of Buenos Aires.
The Malambo, though to be found throughout Argentina, is cultivated mainly in the Andes and Central Pampas. It has a very dynamic character and continuous rhythm from beginning to end. It is danced principally by men – alone or in groups -, and the movements are limited to the feet. The origins of this dance are not known exactly, but I believe that it comes from Spain, where this footstamping represents an important feature of dance.
María de la Concepción Lebrero Baena (*Toro, Zamora, 24-VII-1937) received First Prize in Piano at the Conservatory of Salamanca at the age of 10. At the age of 13 she graduated in Piano, in Madrid, with another first prize. She continued her musical studies in Madrid, studying piano virtuosity with José Cubiles, harmony with Jesus Arámbarri, counterpoint and fugue with Francisco Calés, accompaniment and piano transposition with Gerardo Gombau, organ with Jesus Guridi and composition with Cristóbal Halffter, obtaining at the end of all these matters the respective First Prizes and various other awards.
Her compositions include music for children, several song cycles for voice and piano, choral works, piano and organ works, cantatas and oratorios.
Narciso Yepes wrote the following about Lebrero and her only composition for guitar:
“Concepción Lebrero is an outstanding Spanish composer, pianist and teacher. She has taken over the musical education of my children during my absence. Many times, over many years, I asked her to compose something for me, but she never agreed, with the excuse of not knowing the resources of the guitar. She composed cantatas, oratorios, works for orchestra and piano, voice and piano, but never anything for guitar.
“A few days after the death of our son, Juan de la Cruz, whom she had taught music and cherished from an early age, Concepción gave me this work Remembranza de Juan de la Cruz and said tersely: ‘I’ve written it thinking of Juan, as if he had dictated it to me. Do what you want with it; I do not even know if it is playable on the guitar.’ From the first note I felt overwhelmed. Movements: Dreaming, Awakening, Singing, Playing guitar, Risking, Thinking and Ascending, are an interior glimpse of the eighteen years of our son on this earth, from his first steps in life and music through teenage risks to the fullness of true life. I put my guitar and my love in the service of this work, because it is not just art, it is also a message of timeless beauty.” (Narciso Yepes)
‘We can say that the lute is to the guitar as the harpsichord is to the piano. And if this is true, how can we take the music written for these eight, nine, or 10-course instruments – even [eleven,] thirteen and fourteen courses, in the case of the baroque lute – and transcribe it for a guitar, which has only six strings? [...] I want to be able to make “legitimate” transcriptions in which the music loses nothing, but rather improves in quality.’ (Narciso Yepes. 1978. “The Ten-String Guitar: Overcoming the Limitations of Six Strings”. Interviewed by L. Snitzler. Guitar Player 12, p. 26.)
Sonata no. 2 by Adam Falckenhagen (live in Buenos Aires):
Sonata no. 1 by Rudolf Straube:
Sonata no. 2 by Silvius Leopold Weiss:
“With the ten-string guitar I have many possibilities, and I do not need the baroque [lute] tuning exactly.” (Narciso Yepes. 1983. “Conversation with Narciso Yepes”. Interviewed by J. Schneider. Soundboard , Spring: p. 66.)
“When a great genius appears in the world the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” (Jonathan Swift. 1841. The Works of Jonathan Swift. Vol. 2. London: Henry Washbourne: 206.)
The London debut of Narciso Yepes took place on 17 February 1961, in Wigmore Hall. This is the programme that was presented:
MudarraFantasia que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico SanzSuite española ScarlattiSonata Albeniz, M.Sonata Sor Theme andVariations Bach Chaconne Villa-Lobos Prelude no. 1 PonceSonatina meridional Albeniz, I. Rumores de la caleta Falla Homenaje Rodrigo En los trigales Ruiz-PipóCanción y danza no. 1
I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the first work Yepes performed on that day was Mudarra’s Fantasia, and as they say, “first impressions last.” It elicited the following response from John W. Duarte, published in the April ’61 edition of B.M.G. (Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar Magazine):
“The recital began soberly with an interesting and, to us, new Fantasia by Mudarra, alternating between sparse counterpoint (and even monody) and arpeggiated passages of surprising dissonance for their period. A certain waywardness in the soloist’s rhythmic pulse was disturbing.”
Five details and historical facts should be pointed out:
1) The original criticism of Yepes’s alleged “waywardness” of tempo – or “rhythmic pulse” in its earliest formulation – applied specifically to Alonso Mudarra’s Fantasia que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico.
2) This piece was unknown (“new”) to Duarte at that time, yet he chose to denigrate the soloist, not the piece, for a “rhythmic pulse [that] was disturbing”. In fact, the “wayward” pulsation is a characteristic feature of Mudarra’s piece, rendered faithfully by the performer. As we can see in the example below, the piece features numerous syncopations and fluctuating phrase lengths.
Considering that we are dealing with a critic so ignorant  as to be “surpris[ed]” by dissonance in Renaissance music, it is unsurprising that he blamed the “disturbing” qualities of such rhythmic complexities on the performer instead of the piece, or, indeed, his own prejudice and ignorance.
 (What about the dissonance of Gesualdo’s Madrigal Books 5-6? Or Monteverdi’s seconda prattica? No wonder Duarte’s error-ridden transcriptions – laughably described as “impeccable editions” by Graham Wade (Soundboard) – omit the characteristic dissonances of baroque music, turning dissonant baroque trills into consonant and anachronistic “inverted mordents”. See an example below.)
3) The part-time critic and full-time chemist Duarte’s musical training was limited, in his own words, to “about eighteen months of sporadic jazz guitar lessons” during which he learned “the basic technique” and elementary musical notation. (It would be delusional to assume that this is remotely adequate training for a classical music professional, not that it inhibits those under the influence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.) The virtuoso guitarist Philip Hii, a former student of Duarte, has attested to the fact that the critic spent lessons dropping names without conveying any artistic insight, concluding that “He [Duarte] could hardly hold the guitar properly and what came out of his fingers were a few scratchy sounds.” (Hii, P. 2011. ‘A Lesson with John Duarte‘)
4) By the time that he initiated what would become a persistent assault on the “wayward” artistry of Narciso Yepes, John Duarte had already “tak[en] over the musical education of John Williams” (‘London’s Gain,’ B.M.G., Vol. L, No. 576, April, 1953, p. 171). Far from the so-called “dispassionate observer” (Soundboard), his vested interests did not end with promoting the career of his pupil, and by association his own – a business that necessarily involved denigrating rivals, most notably Narciso Yepes. In addition, Duarte’s “friendship” or association with Andrés Segovia dated back to c. 1948.
5) Yepes’s London debut also included Bach’s famous Chaconne as transcribed not by Segovia, but by Yepes, after considerable musicological research and work with his then teachers, the legendary Nadia Boulanger and the violinist/composer George Enescu. As Yepes recounted:
“The Chaconne is a piece I worked on a lot when I studied with Enesco in Paris [in the early '50s]. He was a great specialist in Bach. [...] I studied all of the transcriptions of the Chaconne, the one by Brahms, by Mendelssohn, by Busoni. Busoni’s was of course too romantic, but I was interested in every version. [...] Enesco said, after I worked on the piece, that he preferred the Chaconne on the guitar. [...] I studied all of the transcriptions that Bach made of his own music. I wanted to see what Bach would have written if he had made a version for lute or for guitar. If I have a phrase that I cut because the violin cannot play it, I am sure that Bach would not cut it if the phrase could be played on the organ or the harpsichord; he would continue the phrase until the end. In the violin, he is obliged to cut the phrase because the violin cannot play the polyphonic voices together. But on the guitar, I don’t cut the phrase; I continue the phrase. There were many situations where I put something that I imagine that Bach would have written, and this is the transcription that I play, the one I worked on with Enesco.” (‘Conversation with Narciso Yepes’ by John Schneider, Soundboard, Spring, 1983)
Not only did Yepes’s approach represent a new scholarly standard, it introduced a revolutionary and conscious approach to right hand fingering that necessarily posed a challenge to Duarte and co’s vested interests. Was Segovia the ventriloquist behind Duarte’s attacks on Yepes? We may never know, but we have eye-witnesses to “the contempt of Segovia towards Yepes [...] at Santiago de Compostela. Yepes attended as a student a master class by Segovia and performed his own transcription of one of Bach’s chaconnes. Segovia showed openly his disapproval of Yepes’ transcription. Yepes very humbly excused himself saying that all he wanted by attending Segovia’s master class, was to learn something and not [to be] embarrassed.” (Leonardo Balada, personal correspondence)
Segovia’s Procrustean  contempt for authentic artistry (from the Greek autos “self” + hentes “doing”, in other words, “acting on one’s own authority”) and expectations of unquestioning conformity were also recorded in the now infamous Segovia-Chapdelaine Incident:
* * *
Let us move ahead to a later example of John Duarte’s questionable denigration of Narciso Yepes. I quote below from two reviews that appeared in the British magazine Gramophone, in 1978 and 1989. It should be noted that both reviews are concerned with the same recording by Yepes of the music of Villa-Lobos (for its vinyl and CD releases respectively). Both reviews are in the odious and, by now, expected formula of an adversarial comparison between Yepes on the one hand and Bream/Williams on the other (a critical means of avoiding genuine intellectual engagement with either the work or the different insights offered by different musical personalities).
Duarte’s 1st review: “He [Yepes] gives an accurate account of the surface of the music [of Villa-Lobos ... ]. There is in Yepes’s playing none of the [...] rubatothat Bream deploys and even his well known waywardness of tempo is absent.” (John W. Duarte, Gramophone, December, 1978, p. 1136)
Duarte’s 2nd review: “[In Yepes's playing of Villa-Lobos] there is [...] a kind of sentimentality, marked by slow tempos [...] and note-values that are too distorted to pass as rubato“. (John W. Duarte, Gramophone, April, 1989, p. 1587)
Note the following contradictions between Duarte’s first and second reviews of the same recording:
an “accurate account” of the text vs. “distorted” note-values
no rubato vs. excessive rubato
absence of wayward tempos vs. markedly slow tempos
Considering these antithetical claims, one has to ask whether Duarte’s reviews were intentionally dishonest and intended simply to traduce the artistry of Narciso Yepes – indeed, Duarte displays dehumanizing violence when at one point he reduces Yepes to an “[in]sentient” object – or whether (as per the Dunning-Kruger Effect) the critic was too incompetent, and too unaware of his incompetence, to judge reliably any genuinely skilled and artistically educated performer. The 2006 edition of Soundboard that absurdly and dedicated 24 pages to Duarte’s obituary makes a point of emphasizing the critic’s “honesty” – perhaps protesting too much? – since at least three contributors to that edition insist on said “honesty”. In that case, I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. Then we need to look to the Dunning-Kruger Effect to explain Duarte’s contradictory reviews. This conclusion is supported by the chemist-cum-critic’s lack of an adequate artistic education (amounting to 18 months of sporadic jazz guitar lessons).
As for the comparative tempos between Yepes and Bream’s recordings of the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos, an empirical evaluation is revealing. Bream is found to have for the most part two generic tempos: a pulse of c. 132-146 and a pulse of c. 84-90 ticks of the metronome per minute. Yepes’s tempos, on the other hand, span a gamut of different expressions (a genuine expressive range): 44, 56-58, 61-68, 74-76, 96, 110, 127-130, 135, 144, 165, and 198. (See the table and graphics below.)
No. 1Allegro non troppo [animé]
crotchet = 146
crotchet = 165
crotchet = 135
crotchet = 127
No. 3Allegro moderato [un peu animé]
crotchet = 132
crotchet = 96
No. 4Un peu modéré
crotchet = 90
crotchet = 56
crotchet = 135
crotchet = 61
No. 6Poco allegro [un peu animé]
crotchet = 89
crotchet = 65
No. 7a Très animé
crotchet = ? (immeasurably distorted)
crotchet = c. 76 ? (distorted)
” “b Moins
crotchet = 84
crotchet = 74
” “c Più mosso
crotchet = 132
crotchet = 110
No. 8a Modéré (80=crotchet)
crotchet = 50
crotchet = 44
” “b [b. 15-]
crotchet = 57
crotchet = 65
No. 9a Très peu animé [un peu animé]
crotchet = 115
crotchet = 58
” “b [b. 30-]
crotchet = 68
No. 10a Très animé [Très animé]
quaver = c. 86 ? (distorted)
quaver = 198
” “b Un peu animé
crotchet = 145
crotchet = 135
No. 11a Lent
quaver = 132
quaver = 126
” “b Più mosso
crotchet = 132
crotchet = 126
” “c Animé
minim = 89
minim = 76
” “d Poco meno
crotchet = 133
crotchet = 127
No. 12a Animé
dot. crot. = 134
dot. crot. = 130
” “b Più mosso
dot. crot. = 134
dot. crot. = 144
” “c Un peu plus animé
dot. crot. = 134
dot. crot. = 149
To mention just a few additional points of interest that can be drawn from this data:
No. 10’s Très animé , which Yepes genuinely plays “very lively” at a quaver = 198, Bream takes at a truly wayward, snail’s pace of a quaver = c. 86. (In fact, the note values here are too distorted to determine an accurate tempo for Bream, precisely the ‘flaw’ that Duarte ironically attributed to Yepes).
No. 12’s increasing intensity of tempo, from Animé to Più mosso to Un peu plus animé is absent from Bream’s performance, which remains essentially around a dotted crotchet = 134, within one of Bream’s two generic tempo ranges. Yepes, on the other hand, increases the intensity of the tempo as Villa-Lobos indicates, from 130 to 144 to 149 beats per minute. This too ironizes Duarte’s claim that “nowhere is there genuine tension” (1989). (What then of Bream who flouts the instructions and keeps to one tempo?)
Yepes evidently deemed No. 8’s Modéré (80=crotchet) to be an error that should have read 80=quaver (in other words, 40=crotchet) and he takes the tempo almost imperceptibly faster at 44 crotchets per minute. Here Bream’s choice of 50-51 crotchets per minute seems not to be based on a similarly discernible intellectual engagement with the text. The same goes for many of his tempo choices: His Allegro (No. 2), Allegro moderato (No. 3), Andantino (No. 5), and Animé, Più mosso and Un peu plus animé (No. 12) are all essentially one and the same tempo. Evidently technical difficulty was the major determinant of Bream’s tempos: With the exception of No. 8, Bream seems to play each Etude as fast as he can manage (simply to “impress” or to outdo Yepes?) regardless of authorial instructions.
Many similar criticisms can be raised regarding Bream’s limited dynamic range and thus limited range of genuine musical expression (as opposed to facial histrionics). Indeed, he can be counted on to flout many of Villa-Lobos’s meticulous dynamic indications, e.g. dynamic accents rendered by Bream as tempo-distorting ‘agogics’ in No. 3 and elsewhere. Then there is the bass melody in No. 10 that flounders beneath the over-played accompaniment on the trebles, the performer evidently being incapable of foregrounding a melody in the bass as Villa-Lobos instructs. (The text shows both accents on the bass notes and the verbal instruction “en dehors”, meaning “to stand out”.) In fact, many of Villa-Lobos’s expressive indications (ritenuto, ritardando, allargando, dynamics, articulations, etc.) suffer a similar fate. There is even video footage of a masterclass in which Bream derides a learner for dynamically separating melody and accompaniment in Villa-Lobos’s Prelude no. 1, and condescendingly ‘instructs’ him to “take [more] care”. (Click here for the video.)
Contrary to Bream’s ‘instruction’ we now know that Villa-Lobos originally notated his works with different sized note-heads indicating different dynamic levels (as shown in the example below). Villa-Lobos unequivocally did not write the accompaniment of Prelude no. 1 as a prominent feature (as Bream would have it), nor did he write uneven quavers, as distorted by Segovia and mindlessly imitated by others from Bream to Karadaglic.
As if that is not proof enough, Villa-Lobos’s own performance of his Prelude no. 1 conclusively shows that the accompaniment should be less prominent than the melody and the quavers should be even. (Actually, it is common sense to any real musician except a guitarist.)
Here it should be noted that Yepes had the instinctive musicality to intuit Villa-Lobos’s dynamic intentions (playing the accompaniment of Prelude no. 1 softer and not “pulsing” as Bream would have it) and that at a time when only the old Eschig text was available, without the small note-heads. That speaks volumes about Yepes’s innate musical sensibility.
While Yepes also flouts a few authorial indications (e.g. the Poco meno in No. 5), most of Villa-Lobos’s expressive nuances are present in Yepes’s recording, but demonstrably absent from Bream’s (12 Etudes) and Williams’s (5 Preludes). (What happened, for example, to the rit. in b. 4 of Prelude no. 1, the poco allargando in b. 27, the rit. in b. 32, the allargando in b. 38, the rall. in b. 40, the rit. in b. 51, the rall. in b. 69, the poco meno in b. 70, the allargando poco a poco in bb. 73-4, the rall. in b. 79…?)
That Duarte chose to censor his associates’ shortcomings while censuring Yepes’s strengths is a scandal. We have to ask what so affronted him? Or was he simply too incompetent to discern these important, expressive nuances, and too ignorant of his own ignorance?
Such condign meta-criticism comes in response to decades of tendentious and suspect ‘reviews’ like those of Duarte, filled with indemonstrable, meretricious panegyrics to the Anglo-Iberian ‘gods’ of the guitar (Bream, Williams, Segovia) while underhandedly belittling non-conforming and thus not hierarchically stratifiable artists, like Yepes but also others.
Having looked at some contradictory details, let us consider other aspects of the above mentioned Gramophone reviews by Duarte:
1978: “If Williams has provided the definitive recording of the five Preludes … Bream has now done so with the Etudes. Yepes offers equal proficiency, coupled with a good recording  and friendly acoustic, but his approach is academic rather than sentient, which shows at both ends of the expressive spectrum. He gives an accurate account of the surface of the music whereas Bream carries us into its heart, and there we find the heart of Villa-Lobos, who loved both the guitar and music deeply. There is in Yepes’s playing none of the subtlety of nuance and rubato that Bream deploys and even his well known waywardness of tempo is absent. / Bream will record nothing he does not believe in or in which he cannot find something worth expressing. … He has the special kind of magic (I think it is called affection) that persuades one to consider trifles and to do so in their favour. By now you must have gathered that, unless you hate the guitar or Villa-Lobos, you must waste no time in buying this marvelous record [i.e. Bream's Villa-Lobos record].” (Duarte, Gramophone, December 1978)
 Note: If there is something deserving criticism here, it is the uneven recording quality – editing different takes together that were clearly recorded with different microphone placements or on different days – but Duarte evidently could not perceive these obvious inconsistencies of nuance, describing the recording quality as “good”. Ultimately, however, this lukewarm ‘compliment’ of the recording, not the artist, is nothing but a ruse to mislead readers, to appear to be “objective”.
1989: “Yepes has never lacked facility and none of these recordings was made on a technical off-day; indeed, most guitarists would be happy to be able to match some of his quick-fire passages on their best on-days. What he does here lack, especially in comparison with Bream, is charisma and warmth, let alone temperamental fire; in their place there is too often eccentricity of phrasing (the central section of Prelude No. 5 is reduced to rubble) and a kind of sentimentality, marked by slow tempos, overcooked vibrato and note-values that are too distorted to pass as rubato—Prelude No. 1 is a compendium of all these things. Elsewhere there is too much that is wooden and stilted, e.g. Etudes Nos. 5 and 9, and nowhere is there genuine tension. I regret that I can raise little enthusiasm for this new compilation [i.e. Yepes's Villa-Lobos recordings].” (Duarte, Gramophone, April 1989)
There are motives (egoic motives? financial motives?) and historical undercurrents to be considered here. For example, the ideological shift that took place around 1980. Before that, under the influence of the “Romantic” or, rather, the proto-modernist Segovia, other rival artists like Yepes, whether justifiably or not, could be denigrated on the grounds that they were “academic” (a derogatory euphemism for intelligent, knowledgeable, profound, philosophical) and thus supposedly not “sentient” (as if depth and sensitivity are necessarily mutually exclusive). By 1980 a stronger (not merely guitaristic, but a larger musical) shift had taken place toward a Modernist (anti-expressive, or’academic’) ideology represented in performance by the so-called “historically informed” or “authenticity” movement – an ideological shift that forced tendentious figures like Duarte to reinvent their criticism of Yepes who now became suddenly not “academic” (a pro) but overly sentimental (an anti-Romantic con).
There is also much more to be oppugned in such reviews as mere truisms, gabble that can either be believed or not, but that cannot be proven. There is the rhetoric: the conditional being used to present underhandedly a propagandistic truism as if it were the truth (“If Williams has provided the definitive recording” – “if” indeed; there is anyway no such thing as “the definitive” in music, except for those who would choke it as a living art and turn it into a religion or archaeology with their “definitives” and “perfectives”). Or, to take another example of underhandedness, there is Duarte’s tacit implications of ‘mere’ proficiency or ‘mere’ facility (why not call it virtuosity?) as if to imply that virtuosity necessarily precludes expression, another truism, and a snobbery smacking of Baldassare Castiglioni’s Book of the Courtier. Moreover, what does it mean for Bream supposedly to penetrate the “heart” of Villa-Lobos when, unlike Yepes, he does not scratch the surface of the composer’s text, does not get the surface details right but flouts them, distorts them? Does getting to the “heart” of Villa-Lobos mean ignoring his painstaking notation of dynamic differences, different articulations and fluctuations of tempo? Or does getting to the heart of the music mean observing most, if not all, of these indications, and then adding to the indeterminate spaces they delimit, other, additional, ineffable expressive nuances?
There is much more to be said here, but a deeper analysis is for another day and another, more weighty medium.
* * *
Let us turn now to a few additional examples of critical bêtise concerning Yepes’s alleged “waywardness” of tempo.
This write-up appeared in The New York Times: “The suite [sic] by Falckenhagen [...] seemed burdened to the point of stumbling by Mr. Yepes’s rhapsodic pauses and surges.” (Bernard Holland, ‘Narciso Yepes Plays a Guitar Recital at Met’, New York Times, November 10, 1986)
TheSonata op. 1 no. II by Falckenhagen, in fact, contains these “rhapsodic pauses and surges” as a feature of the composition, two examples being marked in red below. Again, as with Duarte’s first impression of Yepes in 1961, the criticism is unjustified and stems from ignorance of the work in question.
The other side of the coin has seen a tendency to denigrate Yepes for not submitting obediently (in an authoritarian climate) to the slow tempo at which Segovia, Bream, Williams and their imitators have taken Tárrega’s famous Recuerdos de la Alhambra. That it is their tempo that lacks an awareness of phrasing (rather than Yepes’s that is too fast) can easily be shown by means of a little experiment: Sing the melodic line (implied by the tremolo and shown below) with a single, natural breath per phrase – in other words, without disrupting the cohesion of the phrase. Can it be done at the slower tempo? Does it feel natural? What about singing the melody at Yepes’s faster tempo? Alternatively, ask a pianist, flautist, violinist cellist, oboist or any other trained (non-guitarist and therefore not already prejudiced) musician to play the melody as they deem best and most expressive. The results should be illuminating.
As C. P. E. Bach once couched an antidote to the waffling ‘arguments’ of some of his father’s critics:
“One should miss no opportunity of hearing capable singers; from this one learns to think in terms of song. And it is a good idea to sing musical themes to oneself in order to find out how they should be played; this will in any case be more useful than relying on long-winded books and tracts, in which all the talk is of Nature, Taste, Song, Melody, notwithstanding the fact that their authors are often incapable of composing two notes naturally, tastefully, songfully or melodiously, since they attribute all those gifts and qualities to this and that according to their whims, but most injudiciously.” (Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen,Trans. Piero Weiss)
That a video of Yepes performing Recuerdos de la Alhambra has been viewed c. 3 million times speaks to the irrelevance and antipopulist prejudice of some guitar critics’ opinions.
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Lastly, let’s look at the famous Fantasie by Weiss. The Urtext is shown below:
Note, first, that the introductory section is written in quavers (marked B in red and restated at the top left of each new system) and not in semi-quavers as mis-transcribed in many guitar editions, presumably to conform to the faster tempo in Segovia’s recording rather than for legitimate musicological reasons. Second, this section is written without bar-lines, implying a rhythmically flexible, improvisatory (“fantasy”) style characteristic of 17th and early 18th century unmeasured preludes. Considering just these two points already, it is Segovia and Bream’s perfunctory tempo that is wayward in relation to Weiss’s actual instructions, and not Yepes’ slower, more flexible tempo.
Third, note that the initial tempo is indicated by a C (marked A in red in the above example), which was not just a time signature in early music. This is followed by a fugue-like alla breve whose proportional tempo is indicated – as per the conventions of that historical epoch – by the C with a stroke drawn through it (marked C in red in the above example).
In music of this period there are two categories of tempo for duple meters. Common time, indicated with C and alla breve indicated with a C with a stroke drawn through it. According to the conventions of the time, alla breve is more or less twice as fast as common time, but the note values used in alla breve are twice as long. In other words, if common time Allegro consists mainly of semi-quavers, an alla breve Allegro consists mainly of quavers. But since alla breve is twice as fast, the quavers in that tempo are to be played as fast as the semiquavers in common time. In other words alla breve indicated tempus imperfectum diminutum,a 1:2 proportion, or double the previous tempo. Here is some of the period evidence for this convention:
Alexander Malcolm (1721): alla breve “is brisk”.
William Turner (1724): C with the stroke “denotes the Movement to be somewhat faster than the former.”
Joachim Quantz (1752): “In four-crotchet time it must be carefully observed that when a stroke goes through the C . . . such a stroke signifies, that all the notes, so to speak, become a different value, and must be played [twice] as fast again, than is the case when the C has no stroke through it. This measure is called : allabreve, or alla capella. But since with regard to the aforesaid measure many have fallen into error through ignorance: it is most desirable that everyone should become acquainted with this difference. The measure is more frequent in the galant style, than it used to be in former times.”
Georg Muffat (1695): C without the stroke should be “almost always more moderate than” C with the stroke. In other words, C with the stroke indicates a faster tempo.
Christopher Simpson (1665): alla breve “is a Degree faster” than Common time without a stroke.
Henry Purcell (1696): “ye first [C] is a very slow movement, ye next [C with a stroke] a little faster”.
John Playford (1654): “The second sort of Common Time is a little faster, which is known by the Mood, having a stroak drawn through it”.
In conclusion, an awareness of this tempo convention can be observed in the recording of Narciso Yepes, who advised his students to study cutting edge musicological publications. The same stylistically informed treatment of tempo can be observed in the recording of the lutenist Hopkinson Smith. (See the videos below.) Segovia and Bream’s recordings, however, display no such historical knowledge. Instead of the slow, unmeasured common time section, they move perfunctorily through its arpeggios. Instead of intensifying the tempo at the alla breve, they drag it out through ignorance of a relevant historical performance convention. I posit therefore that it is their tempo that is wayward, not Yepes’s, and that classical guitarists have been taken for a ride by some opportunistic but incompetent guitar ‘critics’ and ‘historiographers’. Not everyone is willing to pretend anymore that the Emperor or his “Princes” wear incomparably magnificent robes that must be held in awe. Art should be a meritocracy, not a monarchy in which careers are inherited by conforming to London’s ways. As the Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee said, the responsibility of the true artist is “toward something that has not yet emerged” (Doubling the Point: 246), something outside the enclosure of history, something as yet unknown, and not a responsibility toward imitation and conformity.
The indeterminate spaces of all musical works allow for an infinite number of differently nuanced interpretations, most (if not all) of which are valid, not only those that conform mindlessly to the way imposed by a Procrustean oligopoly or kleptocracy.