Thought Spots: Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Sonata Giocosa”

There is a passage in the third movement of Joaquín Rodrigo’s Sonata Giocosa that I have always found interesting:

Joaquín Rodrigo: Sonata Giocosa, mvt. III, mm. 137-144
Giocosa III, mm.137-144

The passage, like the rest of the work, is tonal. Each beamed group of eighths suggests a chord; the first and last note of each group belong to the chord, and the second note of each group is an appoggiatura to the last. These chords, in turn, form a clear, tonal harmonic progression. Clear as it is on paper, it is however difficult to understand these harmonies when listening to the work. The reason is that the appoggiaturas rarely sound as such. Displaced at a higher register, those notes acquire a prominent role and render the harmony ambiguous. Furthermore, their prominence is usually strengthened by interpretations that accent them and/or let them ring over their resolution notes, which blur their melodic function. Since the piece moves quickly, there is barely enough time to process the appoggiatura-resolution pairs, which are rather processed as some sort of false relations. And thus the work sounds suddenly “atonal” for a few seconds. I would imagine this is particularly the case for first-time, untrained listeners.

We should then downplay the appoggiaturas (they will sound clearly regardless, since they appear by themselves on a high register), and of course damp them toward the last note of each group. I would also consider two alternate voicing options: (1) to move the last note of each group an octave higher (Figure 2) or (2) invert each group, so as to retain the shape and “gesture” of each group but feature the appoggiaturas on the lower octave, where they are less prominent (Figure 3). I encourage you to try these; even if you keep the original version in performances, they might bring you a new insight for the passage.

Figure 2
Giocosa alternative 1

Figure 3
Giocosa alternative 2


On a related note, this passage has led me to write an article about the dissonances in Rodrigo’s guitar music. It will be published in the upcoming Soundboard, Vol. 41, No. 3.

Thought Spots: J.S.Bach’s “Sonata BWV 1001”

When transcribing music for bowed instruments to the guitar, bowing indications can give us valuable insight into how the music should be articulated. However, they can also mislead us if we assume they are invariably included for musical purposes. Sometimes they clarify technical aspects of bowing, which for us guitarists means that we should not read them necessarily as guitar articulations. Let me explain with the following example from the Fugue of Violin Sonata BWV 1001 by J.S.Bach.

J.S.Bach: Violin Sonata BWV 1001, Fugue, mm. 29-32
Bach BWV 1001

Bow indications are scarce in this Fugue (and others), for the polyphonic texture requires a specific, mostly unambiguous way of bowing, and the sixteenth-note lines of the episodes are to be played detached. A different case is, for example, the Adagio, where chains of ornamental single notes can be articulated in many different ways. When bowings are included in the Fugue, it is likely because performers would be musically inclined to group the notes differently.

Such is the case in this example. These bowings are technical in nature, to prevent the passage from sounding “choppy” by changing bow directions at every eighth note. They are included because they are musically counter-intuitive: the single eighth notes anticipate the next chord, instead of deriving from the previous one. Many guitarists interpret them as “appoggiaturas,” playing strong chords that “resolve” to the single eighth notes, which come slurred and softer. (Many violin players also follow this interpretation, aiming to achieve a “sigh” effect, which some treatises considered as actually implied in the slur markings.) We should notice that the single notes are anticipations instead of resolutions. They belong to the next chord’s harmony instead of resolving a dissonance from the previous chord. Then, grouped in pairs of single eighths/chords, it becomes clear that these are iterations of the repeated notes of the Fugue’s theme.

It is interesting to notice that the slurred, “sigh” interpretation does agree with the dynamic intent, for the single anticipating eighths should be softer than the chords, just in the same way that the repeated notes of the theme should be played crescendo. In the guitar, however, we can also be coherent with the detached articulation of the theme simply by not slurring throughout this passage. Always question the markings on a score!

Thought Spots: Agustín Barrios’s Saudade from “La Catedral”

“La Catedral,” arguably Agustín Barrios’s most famous work, was not conceived at once. The second and third movements were written in Uruguay in 1921, reflecting the peace of the Cathedral’s interior and the tumult of the town outside. The Prelude, Saudade, was added in La Habana in 1938. (Different versions conflict as to the true genesis of the work, but these seem to be the most accepted facts.)

Saudade is a word of difficult translation, but it is associated with a feeling of longing, of remembrance. What is in the piece–or what was Barrios remembering–that made him add this first movement to the other two, which were inspired by and written in Uruguay?

Agustín Barrios: La Catedral, mvt. I, mm.1-4
Barrios Saudade

It would make sense to think that this Prelude is somehow related to Uruguay. Is it perhaps a milonga? Eduardo Fernández mentioned the idea to me many years ago, and later made a compelling case for it in a thorough analysis of the work, published in the Italian guitar magazine Il Fronimo.

The 3+3+2 subdivision typical of the milonga is embedded in the right hand pattern. Ring finger plays the high notes, and thumb (the strongest finger, carrying an accent) starts the second group of three. Since the campanella effect makes the right hand pattern not to coincide with the arppeggio’s contour, the 3+3+2 subdivision is not evident in most interpretations. Some performers maintain the lowest voices unaccented; others aim to create a dialog between the first and third strings, sort of an echo effect. In fact the thumb notes (the tenor voice in the first four bars) are usually the softest sounding ones. Without labeling any of the interpretations right or wrong, I however encourage you to consider this Saudade as a milonga, and thus place a slight volume or agogic accent on the fourth sixteenth of each measure.

Thought Spots: Manuel Ponce’s “Sonata III”

Here is a spot that can provide for a lengthy discussion:

Manuel Ponce: Sonata III, first movement, mm. 47-50Ponce Sonata III

Let us focus on the first beat of measure 48 (second bar of the example). The open E appears slurred to the following A. This suggests that both notes belong to the same phrase. I would instead consider the following interpretation: the E is the resolution to the line Db-D of the previous bar, and a new phrase begins with the A (second eighth of the bar). In support of this interpretation, notice that the downbeat chord (Fmaj7) does sound as resolution to the previous harmonic progression, the descending leap of fourth of the new phrase (A-E) derives directly from the theme, and this head of phrase is echoed–without a downbeat note–at measure 50. If we agree with this view, then we should not slur the downbeat E to the A, but actually play them slightly detached in order to suggest the end of a phrase and the beginning of another. One would think that the slur is more likely a technical one by Segovia than a musical one by Ponce. What do you think?

Regardless of our interpretation, the example illustrates how we should not blindly follow all the editorial markings on a score, but rather inquire why they are there.