ONCERTO ANTICO is a suite of tunes based on old dance and song forms from different parts of Europe. I use the word "concerto," though, in its original sense to mean a concerted, collaborative effort, with the guitar often involved in interplay with or accompanying a variety of other instruments.
The concerto was written to celebrate the ability of my good friend John Williams in a way that would compliment and contrast with the more usual staples of the guitar repertoire. My other aim was to write a piece that would stretch John's technique by being impossible to play, yet interesting enough to be a worthwhile challenge. His imperious response to this challenge, particularly in the fifth movement, makes me thrill with delight each time I hear it.
1. Alborada: The name Alborada implies a morning song, and the music begins by evoking the atmosphere as dawn breaks over fields and houses. As the day and the music gather pace, working up towards the bustle and energy of a small-town market day, the woodwind theme that emerges is redolent of the ancient meaning of Alborada, a rhythmic traditional folk piece for oboe and drums.
2. Contredansese: This rustic, full-blooded dance should be in 414 but can't always make up its mind. There may be martial overtones, but these off-duty dancers would definitely be irregular militias rather than a regiment of the line.
3. Cantilena: This is a lyrical, dreamlike sequence, like a ballet acted out behind a veil of gauze. The flowing singing qualities of the solo woodwinds and strings ate what give this longer movement the character of a Cantilena.
4. Forlana: This slow dance features the guitar with a capo on the fifth fret, to produce a smaller sound more like a lute. Technically, the piece is not quite a Forlana, which ought to be a Northern Italian dance in 6/8 time. This oscillates between 7/8 and 4/4 and was written in Surrey. But the name somehow suits the piece, so it has stuck.
5. Lavolta: The original Lavolta was an innocent but startlingly indelicate Tudor dance, after the Italian model, in which the female partner was levitated in a highly unusual manner. I hope the same spirit of unshockable vitality comes through here, especially in the con fuoco finale, which spans the complete range of the guitar fretboard, from bottom E to top B, in a flurry of explosive activity in the last four bars.
Although these titles were for inspiration at an early stage of the composition process, they are interpreted very loosely indeed. I draw freely and unrepentantly on any style that is appropriate, including elements from archaic, folk and ethnic sources, particularly when associated with the guitar or other fretted instruments. I am fascinated by the guitar's place in many different folk and popular traditions and by its ability to give joy at many different levels. If the Concerto Antico can draw on those traditions to give pleasure in unexpected ways, it will be because the guitar is simply the most accessible and adaptable of instruments.
© Richard Harvey
ICHARD HARVEY (* 1953) is a prolific composer, a performer on and collector of instruments blown, plucked, keyed, bowed, beaten and programmed, a conductor, and a traveling musicologist. He has been a guest conductor with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra, toured with John Williams as principal guest soloist, and won a coveted BAFTA award for TV music written in collaboration with Elvis Costello. Richard has scored more than a dozen feature films and many internationally popular TV drama series. He has also written a viola concerto and a massive "eco-oratorio," Plague and the Moonflower, blending conventional orchestral forces with Andean musicians and electric instruments. His musical education took him via recorder lessons at the age of four to first clarinet with the British Youth Symphony Orchestra and on to the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition. Before he was 20, he had formed the internationally successful folk ensemble, Gryphon, with which he toured three continents, played 30 different instruments and recorded five albums.