This music for solo guitar is in the form of a highly condensed sonata, in three movements. In this respect it is similar to my Sonata for Tuba. As with the tuba sonata, there is a sense of irony: the most classical of forms (the sonata), contrasted with the least “classical” of classical instruments — the guitar — an instrument that is today loaded with very non-classical cultural reference.
The opening movement is, as one might expect, in sonata form — but in miniature. The first subject consists of little more than an insistent, repeated note punctuated by sparse chords. The second subject — contrasting in character — is a rubato melody. The two subjects are then developed together, and are finally heard combined together in a modified take on the traditional “recapitulation”.
The second movement is a Sarabande — slow, relaxed, suggestive of the evening. It calls in places for the player to gently tap the instrument while holding a chord, which gives a gentle ringing, perhaps like an evening church bell.
The final movement recalls the repeated notes of the opening of the first movement, but here they are furiously struck in tremolo, almost like a mandolin. Time and again this motif returns, between alternating melodic and angular music: this movement is in the traditional Rondo form often used as the finale in classical sonatas. The music closes with a return to the repeated notes; the pitch here is now exactly the same as the opening of the whole piece.
The Sonata for Guitar was composed for Hector Murrieta.
28th May 2008, Gareth Holwill, at Christ Church Music Room, Oxford
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