Preface to Mark Delpriora’s Sonata
By Angelo Gilardino
Until around 1920, original music for guitar was composed almost exclusively by guitarists. Among these, few were able to maintain a balance between musical values and an idiomatic command of the instrument; not even Fernando Sor and Mauro Giuliani—without doubt the most significant guitarist-composers of the first half of the nineteenth century—are immune to such criticism. From the moment, however, when Manuel de Falla composed his Homenaje (1920), and when Segovia first undertook his mission among composers on behalf of the guitar, the history of guitar music witnessed an unprecedented development of fundamental importance: a new repertoire was born which, while securely based on an appreciation of the instrument and its idiom, was just as strongly rooted in musical exploration purified of any demonstrative plan. From then on, the repertoire of the guitar has risen in quality, and has expanded prodigiously, enriched by composers of every stylistic tendency from the most conservative to the avant-garde.
Beginning with the 1960s, a third phase of the history of guitar music began to take form: new guitarist-composers, well aware of the values of the repertoire developed over the four preceding decades, have launched an approach to composition in which the musical form—the weakest aspect of much guitar music written by virtuosi—has been consolidated, profiting at the same time from new, and at times brilliant, idiomatic innovations. This new repertoire stands parallel to the compositions of illustrious musicians who have seriously investigated the field of composition for the instrument: alongside pieces by composers such as Henze, Britten, Petrassi, Maderna, Ohana, Donatoni, Ferneyhough, Berio and many others (nearly all of the major composers of our epoch) stand works by composers such as Leo Brouwer, Gilbert Biberian, Dusan Bogdanovic, etc., who are working towards the realization of autonomous and authentic musical values in symbiosis with an inexorable progress of the “language” of the guitar.
Several young composers are working in this vein of advanced and specific research, which aims to give life to guitar music in which sound and musical form coexist from the original moment of conception and are necessarily developed together. Their works are absolutely different from those of the many guitarist-composers concerned primarily with facility of execution, often with commercial ends. On the contrary, what is most evident in these young composers is the determination to pursue the path of a new philosophy of the guitar which inevitably, and without apology, chooses its adepts selectively, be they interpreters or listeners.
Mark Delpriora is one of the most representative figures of this new tendency. Instructor of guitar music at the Manhattan School of Music, he has assimilated since his earliest years all that can be known about the guitar in the light of a culture in which recognizes no boundary between the knowledge of the historian or musicologist and the practical experience of the active musician. As a concert artist, he presents—one would say naturally—the two Sonatas of the cycle Royal Winter Music of Hans Werner Henze as a kind of credit card in need of no further guarantors. It is just as natural that his research as a guitarist-composer would lead to the work of such powerful dramaturgy for the guitar that is the present “Third Sonata”. Rather than emphasize the dimensions of the work, it seems more appropriate to place in relief the complex cultural stratification which underlies it. This is beyond doubt the heritage of late Romantic piano music, which Delpriora has studied, beginning with Brahms, Liszt, Franck, Busoni, and Faure, and continuing through the more recent offshoots of the northeastern United States, which unfold with such fascination in the Sonata of Samuel Barber that Horowitz performed in the 1950s. The language employed by Delpriora in the Sonata is therefore the fruit of deep reflection on the echoes of the Romantic piano literature which barely survived the categorical rejections of the post-Webern avant-garde (of which the composer is not unaware). In this work of Delpriora there is also, still more specifically, a subtle and delicate autobiographical, even ancestral, content: the knowledge of distant family origins leads him to create a work whose correlative producer of images is the countryside of Italy, or rather of the Veneto region. Here he enters into a relation with a cultural and musical climate in which, in the phantasmal vagueness of a dream, one sees go by, as in a procession, italic musical fragments from Monteverdi to Ghedini, from Corelli to Petrassi, literary allusions from Petrarch to Foscolo (whose sonnet, Alla sera, must have been the source of the second movement, a sort of Italianized Abendlied), as well as pictorial, and perhaps also theatrical, suggestions.
It would not have been possible for so complex a combination of original elements to be made manifest in a coherent musical form if it were not accomplished by means of a very carefully worked-out reflection: the very title of Sonata, with respect to the musical form, or to the forms, is the result of an an elaboration, and requires an interpretation: if the thematic elaboration of the first movement (“Moderato”) is intelligible in the properly classical sense of the term Sonata, and if nothing prevents us from considering the concluding Passacaglia as one of those series of Variations which at times formed part of the classical Sonata, the four central movements demand instead to be understood as occupying a formal region in which the Sonata and Suite are not distinct from one another. A direct consequence of the elaboration developed by Delpriora is the refined propriety of the guitar notation, which is articulated in this composition with exemplary flexibility, uniting at every moment the architecture of the musical thought and that of the sign.
The unreal, that is, anti-descriptive, nature of the Italian dream of Delpriora is also the secret of the particular, intimate approach to the guitar seen in the “Third Sonata”, a piece that can exist only because the guitar exists.
I would like to conclude this introductory note, in which with full conviction I introduce a guitar composition of strong conception and extraordinary distinction, by thanking Mark Delpriora for the honor of seeing it dedicated to me. Implied in this dedication is that I am among those musicians that have most passionately believed, and that continue to believe, in the guitar as an instrument capable of expressing that which Carlos Castaneda has incomparably defined “The Fire From Within”, the union of creative energy and of surviving, inexhaustible spirituality.
Angelo Gilardino, Vercelli , April 1998
Translation by Alessandra Visconti
Copyright © 1998 by Angelo Gilardino. All Rights Reserved.