A New Work for Electric Guitar, Horn and Piano

A few months back I mentioned in this post that an upcoming recital would include the premiere of a new work for Electric Guitar, Horn and Piano by Dr. Mel Mobley, Associate Professor of Theory and Composition at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Unfortunately, because of some scheduling difficulties we ended up not performing the piece on the March recital, but we were able to premiere it later in the semester on a new music concert.  The piece is titled Covering, and was lots of fun to put together and perform.  Though challenging (especially rhythmically), Covering works very well as a small chamber piece.  The composer was kind enough to grant me permission to share the recording of the premiere on this site, and he also provided the following brief description of the piece.

I can say the idea was to explore the diversity of the instruments – their history as well as timbre qualities. I arrived at the main idea of an awkward “popish” groove that incorporated 7/8 measures as a way for all the instruments to meet in the middle, so to speak. The other sections are meant to violently oppose this A section in a lot of ways and give each instrument a chance to at least touch on some of its traditional qualities and techniques. The sections are fashioned in an arch form ABCBA with the C section being the most disjunct but at the same time using elements from both of the other sections.

Speaking as a brass player I would also add that the horn writing in Covering is idiomatic and rewarding to play.  The piece is full of interesting rhythmic and melodic ideas, which are often shared and passed among the three players.  Although it is not an “easy” piece, the pop/rock elements and unusual combination of instruments make it both appealing and accessible for general audiences.  Performing new compositions is very exciting for me, and we are quite fortunate to have an active (and talented!) composer on our faculty.  While it is of course important to study and perform the standards in our repertoire, I think it is equally important to seek out and promote new works whenever possible. If performers of the past had been content to only play the works of their predecessors, imagine how little music would be available to us today.  At any rate, I hope you enjoy the recording – the performers are: Richard Seiler, piano; Daniel Sumner, guitar; James Boldin, horn; Mel Mobley,conductor.

Recital Program: Music for Horn and Guitar

One of my favorite things about planning recital programs is getting to explore new repertoire.  There are always new pieces to perform, as well as fresh ways of interpreting the old standards.  On March 22nd, I’ll be joining fellow ULM faculty member Daniel Sumner in a recital of music for horn and guitar.  Although there isn’t much original repertoire for this unusual combination of instruments, between a few original works,  transcriptions, solo works, and a newly written piece, we will have enough music for a full program.  Two pieces on this recital were originally written for horn and guitar, Duo Concertante No. 1 and Duo Concertante No. 2 by one A. Corret, a horn player living in Paris during the first half of the nineteenth century.  I’ve found precious little information about the composer, except for the following brief statement (translated from German) from the publisher, Robert Ostermeyer Musikedition.

There is not much known about the horn player A. Corret. On his first duo, he names himself A.Corret jeune in order not to be taken for the musician L. Corret, who lived in Paris and had published something about musicology. A. Corret played the first horn in Rouen at the Grand Theatre 1815 – 1862. Perhaps, he studied horn in Paris, because he was known to Louis-François Dauprat. The 5th most virtuose horn concerto of Dauprat was dedicated to Corret (ROM 155).

We only know of chamber music by Corret. The first of these duos are dedicated to Mad. Adelle Lechevallier, the second to his friend Eustache Bérat (1792 – 1884, living in Rouen as painter, chansonniere and certainly also guitar player).

In 2004, the horn player Daniel Bourgue recorded these two duos on CD.

I was able to find the CD recording mentioned above, although it took a bit of searching online – it eventually turned up on WorldCat.  Both Duos are very well written, and quite idiomatic for both instruments.  The first Duo is laid out in a pretty straightforward three movement (fast/slow/fast) format, with plenty of chances for both instruments to shine.  The second movement in particular highlights the lyrical capabilities of the horn and the guitar.  The second Duo is more extended, consisting of four movements, the third being the typical minuet-trio usually found in Classic era symphonies.

In addition to the Corret works, we’ll be performing selections from a set of Seguidillas by the Spanish guitarist and composer Fernando Sor (1778-1839).  Originally for voice and guitar, these pieces have been transcribed by Daniel Bourgue and are also included on his 2004 recording.  Though not very difficult for either instrument, these Seguidillas are wonderful pieces, full of style and beautiful melodies.  Quoting from this article by Brian Jeffery, here’s a bit more background on the seguidilla.

A seguidilla is a type of poem, which may be set to music. If it is set in such a way as to suit the dance known as the bolero, it is called a seguidilla bolera or seguidillas boleras (or simply, in the musical sources, boleras or voleras). This is the terminology used in Spain before the French invasion of 1808. However, outside Spain after the invasion, the one word that everybody knew was ‘bolero’, and this is why Sor called his article ‘Le Bolero’, why elsewhere he called his own songs boleros rather than seguidillas, and why Peña y Goni in 1881 also called them boleros. It is principally a later usage rather than the original one.

And from a later passage in the same article.

The text of a seguidilla usually had seven lines, and sometimes only four. The first four were called the copla, and the last three the estribillo. A strict metrical form was observed in which the lines always had alternately seven and five syllables. The rhyme-scheme, however, was looser than the metre: the second and fourth lines had to rhyme together, and the fifth and seventh, but either rhyme or assonance would do, and the other lines might or might not rhyme together. Here is an example:

Las mujeres y cuerdas
De la guitarra,
Es menester talento
Para templarlas.
Flojas no suenan
Y suelen saltar muchas
Si las aprietan.
(‘Women and guitar strings: you need talent to tune them. If they’re slack they don’t sound, and lots of them, if you tighten them too much, break.’)

Although our version will be purely instrumental, we will include the texts and translations for these pieces in the program as I think they will help the audience get into the music a bit more.  As in the above example from Brian Jeffery, seguidillas often contain evocative texts and titles.  In addition to  “Women and Guitar Strings,”  some of the other songs we’ll be playing are “Cesa Atormentare” (Cease Tormenting Me), “De Amor en las Prisiones” (Happy I Live in Love’s Prisons), and “Mis Descuidados Ojos” (My Careless Eyes).

To fill out the program Dan and I will also play some solo pieces – I’ve got two unaccompanied works in mind, but I haven’t completely settled on which one I’ll be doing yet.  I’m preparing both of them though.  Dan is also working on a transcription of the Nocturno, Op. 7 by Franz Strauss.  I’ve heard the work done with horn and harp, and it works beautifully, so I thought why not horn and guitar?  And finally we will be premiering a new piece for horn, guitar, and piano by Mel Mobley, Associate Professor of Theory and Composition here at ULM.  I like Mel’s writing quite a bit, and I’m excited to perform this new work.

Practice and rehearsals for the pieces are going well, although it took a couple of rehearsals for me to get used to some balance and intonation issues between the horn and guitar.  As you can imagine, it would be quite easy for the horn to overbalance the classical guitar, and we are still experimenting with some different techniques to address the balance.  For one, I am basically going for a light, woodwind-quintet type sound in most tutti passages, and dropping down even more when the guitar has the melody.  We are also planning to use a small platform for the guitar, similar to what solo cellists use, and possibly some minor amplification.  Horn and guitar is a unique sound, and if you’re looking for some unusual recital pieces give these a try.

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