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 Is it not high time to recognize the outdated but lingeringly toxic influence of such so-called guitar experts as Graham Wade – who long denigrated the non-formalist approach of Yepes as “wayward” and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
Note: Numbers inside triangles indicate strings whose vibrations need to be checked by the given finger of the left or right hand. When this symbol is accompanied by the abbreviations w, th, or dp, the meaning is to stop the vibration of the string by means of the RH wrist, heel (thumb-side), and distal phalanx of the thumb respectively. The difference between stopping the sound with “p” (thumb) and “dp” is that the first makes use of the thumb pad (as if playing the string) while the latter checks the string’s vibration by means of the side of the thumb’s distal phalanx (i.e., placing the thumb ‘under’, not on, the string). The latter technique is useful when ascending to an adjacent string, not wishing both to sound together. Not all such techniques are explicitly indicated. The most common damping technique is a (light) rest stroke, when descending across adjacent strings that form a major/minor 2nd, e.g., a rest stroke on string 10 after sounding string 9, leaving 10 to sound while checking 9 by coming to rest on it. Occasionally it is a good idea to fret the A2 bass on string 9/10 instead of playing it open when it is followed by an open 9th string (i.e., G#2 or G2). This avoids the melodic (M/m) 2nd becoming a dissonance as well as unnecessarily tricky damping. There is an example of this fingering in the Kellner Giga: the anacrusis or pickup from bars 3 to 4, page 2, system 2.
Note: Narciso Yepes used a half capo tasto at III when he performed this prelude. While avoiding the extended barre of mm. 1-4, this solution (like most six-string guitar editions) makes it impossible to play the correct bass note on page 2, system 4, m. 2 (p. 1, system 6, m. 2 of the Urtext). I prefer to do away with the capo altogether, a solution which opens again other possibilities. One of these is occasionally to fret the bass line on strings 8-10, avoiding disruptive mid-phrase changes of position. Interpretive merits aside, for the advanced ten-string guitarist the result is also a good technical study in extended use of the fingerboard, and for the agility of the right hand thumb (strings 7-10 are used 46 times in this brief composition).
(Clearly I disagree with the assumed “fidelity” of formalist “executions” of the text that “read” literal “intentions” into rests. There are examples in Bach’s music where such textualism results in obvious nonsense, e.g., four one-bar phrases of a single melodic line, with big leaps, instead of one four-bar phrase in steps and two-part counterpoint at the beginning of the Sarabande of BWV 995. Nevertheless I believe in the value of a plurality of different interpretations, so I may well formalize or “rhythmicize” some future performance, just as I may take the tempo slower or quicker, bring out other implied voices, or apply other articulations and dynamics. Why not? For an excellent demonstration of such possibilities in Bach – but not necessarily just in Bach – see this lesson by pianist-composer Emile Naoumoff.)
Master luthier Hans van den Berg recently completed two more ten-string guitars for students of Fritz Buss. (Photos below.)
Said one of the proud new owners: “I never expected such a result. What a fine, sensitive humble, respectful human being. I am completely honoured to own and play a guitar he has constructed.”
All we have to add is that these are world-class instruments that are inspiring to play. Hans van den Berg’s consummate professionalism, his desire always to keep refining his craft, the fact that he cares about his customers and the meaningful position that a musical instrument could occupy in a person’s life: all these are quite extraordinary qualities, as are those of his beautiful guitars.
We have no reservations about recommending Hans van den Berg’s masterful ten-string guitars. (Viktor van Niekerk, Fritz Buss)
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The people at Guitar Salon International have also described Berg’s six-string guitars as having “a very silky, textured and rich quality of sound, while at the same time [being] clear in every register. … Overall a very impressive and unique instrument by all standards.” (http://www.guitarsalon.com/store/p4780-hans-van-den-berg.html)
The instrument that I tested could not be faulted on the usual issues of poorly-made ten-string guitars. The neck is constructed from Spanish cedar (its darker appearance is due to Neumann’s custom finish) and thus it is properly balanced in relation to the mass of the body. The compact, minimalist headstock further reduces the mass on the neck-side; it’s a feature I highly recommend other luthiers to adopt. Another pleasant surprise is that the fingerboard on this particular instrument has an adequately ‘high’ action (upon the request of the owner) and thus facilitates not only a genuine dynamic range but also nuances of timbre produced not just by shifting the right hand along the strings but ‘in place’, by varying the type of touch, e.g., being able to play various types of soft, medium, and strong rest strokes without a ‘buzz’. As we come out of the formalist era and the inevitable swing of the historical pendulum begins to move in the opposite direction, I believe that more classical guitarists will again recognize the primacy of such musical desiderata and not predominantly the ease of the left hand.
Of course, the most important consideration is tone quality – because the timbre is present first and throughout any performance. If the tone quality is low (percussive, ‘bright’, ‘tinny’, ‘thin’, lacking ‘voice’), the performance is a mistake from beginning to end, no matter how ‘perfectly’ executed in the formalist sense. While tone quality varies from one guitar to another, it does also vary from player to player, from touch to touch – a fact that has sometimes been overlooked in these difference-reducing times. With some guitars a performer attentive to tone quality will work harder to make them ‘sound’, by which I don’t mean simply to play louder! I mean to give it ‘voice’, to make it ‘sing’ – in acoustics jargon, to produce a sound recipe that is richer in fundamental and lower partials and poorer in upper partials, or, to put it differently, a tone colour that approaches that of the voice, piano, or woodwinds rather than the ‘tinniness’ of the harpsichord or steel-string guitar. Such careful mastery of timbre is what makes the difference between a classical guitarist’s projection or non-projection in the concert hall, not mere decibels.
Thus I was pleased to find that Neumann’s ten-string guitar is not only resonant and very powerful but, more importantly, that there is for the most part nothing inherently ‘tinny’ about it. In fact, it was a rare and unusual pleasure to play. I would, however, prefer a slightly ‘darker’ (more ‘singing’) timbre on the first string. But this might be remedied by using a (non-carbon) first string with a greater gauge. (I would, for the same reason, also be interested to hear Neumann’s work in a cedar- as opposed to spruce-top model.)
The only other small caveat is that I hope luthiers in general will solve (for serious post-formalist artists) the problem of raising the action, not (as seen on another luthier’s work) by bulking up the bridge, or even by gradually sanding down the fingerboard, but by setting the neck at a slightly different angle to begin with, plus, of course, recalculating the fret spacing to compensate for the greater displacement of the strings by the left hand. (Who is up to the challenge?) With respect to action (for dynamic range), as with the 664mm scale length (for projection), I’m convinced that Ramirez III and Bernabe Sr were onto the right track by the early 1960s, that is, before a technocratic (‘plugged-in’) and miniaturizing formalism rose to dominance. With waning interest in the formalist ‘classical’ guitar, it’s time to pick up where the old masters left off.
Neumann clearly made a thorough study of a Bernabe ten-string guitar before building his own instrument. On the whole he has made a great ten-string guitar.
Cromwell Everson (1925-1991): Sonata (1984) for ten-string guitar (dedicated to David Hewitt)
1. Allegro Energico
Oliver Cromwell Everson (1925-1991) was a pioneer of modernist and electro-acoustic music in South Africa, and composer of the first opera in Afrikaans. His oeuvre includes, among other works, five sonatas, a trio, the opera Klutaimnestra (1967), a set of inventions, four song-cycles, a piano suite, miscellaneous pieces for the piano and the guitar (Cantūs Tristitiae for ten-string guitar), as well as an incomplete symphony and string quartet. He received his Doctorate in Music from the University of Cape Town in 1974.
Here is a sample of Everson’s music, from Vier Liefdesliedjies (1949):
David Hönigsberg (1959-2005): African Sonata (1990, rev. 2004) for ten-string guitar (dedicated to Viktor van Niekerk)
1. Amiably, with a sense of walking (A Basutu Tune)
2. A quiet summer evening…
3. Fast and play very rhythmically
David Hönigsberg(1959-2005) was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to German-Jewish and Afrikaner parents. He studied with the most prominent South African piano teachers (Peggy Haddon, Annette Kearney, and Pauline Nossel). After graduating with a B. Mus. in Composition from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, he attended the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Vienna, as a composition student of Roman Haubenstock-Ramati. He emigrated to Switzerland in 1993, working as a freelance composer, conductor, and pianist. Hönigsberg’s oeuvre includes, among other works, 4 Symphonies, an Orchestral Suite, 2 Violin Concertos, a Piano Concerto, a Viola Concerto, a Guitar Concerto, a Piccolo Concerto, Soliloquy for Violoncello and String Orchestra, 5 String Quartets, Missa Brevis, two cantatas, numerous songs and chamber music, notably, a number of African Dances for piano, African Sketches (1988, for flute or oboe, ten-string guitar and optional African shaker or tambourine), and Antique Suite (1988 rev. 2004, for ten-string guitar and harpsichord).
Lastly, it should be mentioned that these sonatas exist thanks to the late David Hewitt (1947-2001), an accomplished ten-string guitarist and composer in his own right.
Hewitt started his career as a rock guitarist and only turned to the classical guitar after finishing his schooling and meeting Fritz Buss, who became Hewitt’s mentor of many years. Through Buss, Hewitt later also attended master classes with Narciso Yepes.
Hewitt never lost his ear for African music. He inspired numerous South African composers to write new works for the guitar and eventually contributed many of his own compositions to his two African guitar albums (An African Tapestry from 1989 and The Storyteller from 1990). He also recorded duets with fellow Buss/Yepes alumni Tessa Ziegler and Simon Wynberg, including the guitar duets of J. K. Mertz and Napoleon Coste.
With the terrifying early onslaught of Alzheimer’s, David refused to capitulate. He knew his memory was failing him with ever increasing frequency, yet he bravely battled the debilitating symptoms. At last he was unable to play, or articulate his appreciation of excellence, but still continued to enjoy other guitarists’ concerts.
Here is David Hewitt performing both parts of his composition Street Beat (c. 1989) for guitar duo:
And here is David Hewitt performing the Five African Sketches (1990) by Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph:
A new virtuoso movement, Pièce bulgare (2013), has been written for 10-string guitar solo by the German organist/composer Siegmund Schmidt (*1939).
Schmidt has also written chamber music with 10-string guitar, including:
HOMMAGE für Trio (Querflöte, Viola und zehnsaitige Gitarre) (mit dem Titel HOMMAGE ist Johann Sebastian Bach gemeint) 2008
„WOLLE DIE WANDLUNG. O SEI FÜR DIE FLAMME BEGEISTERT.” (Rilke) -METAMORPHOSEN III für Kammerensemble (Flöte, Viola, 10-saitige Gitarre) und Orchester (Oboe, Englischhorn, Fagott, Horn in F, Trompete, 3 Pauken, Tamtam, Violine I, Violine II, Viola, Violoncello I, Violoncello II, Kontrabass) Satzfolge: Prolog – Passacaglia – Epilog 2009
HUMORESKE für Flöte, Fagott und Marimbaphon und in erweiterter Fassung für Flöte, Viola und 10-saitige Gitarre. (Vorgesehen als dritter Satz vor dem Rondo – Finale der SERENADE für Flöte, Viola und 10-saitige Gitarre) 2010
“ABEND WIRD ES WIEDER” Variationen (in der Fassung) für Flöte, Alphorn und zehnsaitige Gitarre 2013
INTERMEZZO GIOCOSO Fassung für Flöte, Viola und 10-saitige Gitarre 2014
for 10-string guitar by Pascal Jugy, performed by Andreas Hiller
“Sometimes very freely, if you wish these birds to be free…”
“This invitation to freedom is a paradoxical one, in the sense that it is immediately tempered by the rigour of the notation, the precision of the tempi and the complexity of the metric. But is it really a paradox? What if all these elements were merely a cage where the Musical Bird safely dwells? Then, it is up to the interpreter to open the cage and let the Bird spread his wings and soar. However, freedom does not go without danger, and the interpreter may want to hold the Bird captive to preserve its life. Modern in its writing, this piece keeps a tonal foundation, more or less obvious according to the different parts. This ten-string guitar version was written at the guitarist Andreas Hiller’s request.”
Adios Latinos for 10-string guitar by Pascal Jugy, performed by Andreas Hiller
(Header art: Detail from ‘A boy with a birdcage’ by Abraham Bloemaert, 1566)
Berg’s ten-string guitar combines elements of the Friederich, Ramirez and Bernabe schools of luthiery and features a composite, cedar soundboard as well as Berg’s own masterly sense of aural and visual aesthetics and impeccable craftsmanship.
The sonority of the instrument, in its own right, is every bit the equal of the Spanish ten-string guitars associated with Yepes, and may (developed by the touch – and the ears – of a sensitive artist) mature to surpass its illustrious predecessors.
I have no reservations about recommending Hans van den Berg as my first choice to anyone wanting to take the leap to the ten-string guitar, or to upgrade to a new, masterful instrument. (For orders, please contact Hans at email@example.com.)
-Viktor van Niekerk, Johannesburg (2014/10/25)
Specifications for BERG 10 string Classical Guitar
MODEL: 10 STRING CONCERT CLASSICAL SUPREME DOUBLE TOP
UPPER BOUT: 280 mm
LOWER BOUT: 370 mm
BODY DEPTH: at TAIL BLOCK 105 mm
BODY DEPTH: at HEEL 100 mm
SCALE: 664 mm
NUT WIDTH: 86 mm
ACTION SETTINGS: TO SUIT INDIVIDUAL
TOP: ——————-DOUBLE TOP WESTERN RED CEDAR GRD AAA OUTSIDE and
WESTERN RED CEDAR GRD AA inside with NOMEX CORE
BACK & SIDES : —EAST INDIAN ROSEWOOD 1ST GRADE
DOUBLE SIDES – KIAAT INNER SIDES
NECK : —————-SPANISH CEDAR
FINGERBOARD : —WEST AFRICAN EBONY 1ST GRADE WITH AFRICAN BLACKWOOD BINDING
BRIDGE : ————-EAST INDIAN ROSEWOOD WITH INLAY TO MATCH ROSETTE
WOOD BINDING : —- AFRICAN BLACKWOOD with FIGURED KIAAT TOP PURFLING
FACE OF HEAD : —- AFRICAN BLACKWOOD WITH KIAAT and EBONY INLAYS
ROSETTE :———— FIGURED KIAAT WITH EBONY AND MAPLE AND ABALONE INLAYS
SADDLE & NUT : —- BONE
FINISH : ————— FRENCH POLISH
FRETS :—————– SILVER NICKLE– MEDIUM
MACHINE HEADS : — SCHERTLER SWISS
Lastly, here is a video of Berg’s newest six-string guitar, played by the wonderful American guitarist Jon Mendle (for GSI):