Fernando Sor

One of the oldest and most important musical structures still in use today is the ‘Theme and Variations’. The basic idea of such structure is to explore a musical theme in a way that the basic structure of the melody (e.g. rhythm, intervals, harmony) are still recognizable but the diverse musical results and general moods come from a creative approach to the possibilities the theme offers. In 19th century this form was so generalized that every composer was expected to have in his portfolio a good set of different Variations for solo instruments, ensembles and, sometimes, even orchestra.

Fernando Sor, Spanish composer who built up most of his career in Paris, was not different: he was one of the most prolific guitarists of his time, and a composer of very particular qualities. From his Studies to concert guitar pieces, Sor’s works, as any other great composer, require from guitarists a challenging combination of musical knowledge and technical competence.

Sor’s Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart op.09 is one of the most performed guitar works of all times. However, as it happens to most masterpieces, it does not get worn out with time as each guitarist brings out a slightly different musical colour or technical aspect of the piece that contributes to adding a feeling of freshness to it. The theme used by Sor for this set of variations is called ‘Oh Cara Armonia’ and it comes from the even more popular opera The Magic Flute. Sor’s exploration of the technical and musical capabilities of the guitar in the first half of 19h century is remarkable; technical aspects that make even 21st-century guitarists sweat of anxiety, which combined to extremely elegant and effective compositional solutions create a sense of completeness to audiences worldwide. The quality and popularity of the ‘Magic Flute Variations’ acquired it the status of one the most popular solo works of all concert music repertoire.

Huanqi Lin

HuanQi Lin is a composer from Shanghai, China, who is actively engaged with the spread of classical guitar in his country.

Recently Lin has been involved in important projects such as the Chinese première of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s ‘Platero y Yo’, and the translation of the book ‘Practicing’ by Glenn Kurtz into Chinese, published by Lijiang Publishing House in 2014.

Lin’s compositional output has been growing in quality and quantity in recent years, as can be witnessed in his highly imaginative ‘Nocturne 2’ for solo guitar:

HuanQi Lin’s work for WGC is a set of variations on a theme of Chinese Guqin, a plucked instrument that goes back thousands of years in Chinese history, and continues to be played by philosophers, poets, and aristocrats, although nowadays the access to it is more popularized. The instrument, played by Confucius himself, shares many particularities with the Western guitar, and the theme chosen by Lin is an extract from ‘Liang Xiao Yin’ or ‘Wonderful Night Prelude’, in free translation.

All variations follow Lin’s very imaginative style, and bring exciting technical and musical challenges. The theme is first presented in a very idiomatic Guqin style, and one can sometimes mistake the sound of the guitar for that of the Chinese instrument. The first variation is the Variation of Bell Tone, and this effect can be reached playing most of sequences of notes on different strings, called in the West campanella effect. The second variation is the motif variation, where the first three notes of the theme become a motif that appears throughout the variation.

The third is a ‘Chinese opera motif’ variation, as the rhythm is quite typical of Chinese most traditional opera style. In the fourth variation the theme can be heard in the bass line with higher voices added in counterpoint. The final is a dance-like variation, or what Lin thought of as a ‘variation of Latin music’ (“well… it's my impression towards Latin music”, in his words). Here the melody of the dance comes from the inversion of the theme, and indeed presents a very strong Latin-American character, waving to Fabricio Mattos’ Brazilian origins. The work then closes with a recollection of the original theme again in a very idiomatic way.

This is an exciting new work for the guitar by a young Chinese guitarist-composer, exploring the instrument in its most peculiar and interesting technical and musical aspects. The borders between East and West are not dissolved here; rather, they are explored in a very creative way in order to show that the mutual comprehension does not come from any naïve merging of cultures, but from a cultivated awareness of tradition allied to a common aesthetic sense. Such artistic attitude can then bear the creative output of further East-West collaborations, and provoke the world into the wonderful realm of possibilities that may be built up by such collaborations.