Monday, October 29, 2012

In Memoriam John W. Duarte

John Duarte, known to his friends as "Jack" was a very important figure in the classical guitar world and music world generally for many years. He was born in 1919, died in 2004 and a brief biography can be found here. Though certainly not a close friend I did come to know Jack even though I lost touch with him in his later years. He was a very kind man, though with an acerbic sense of humor! I met him through a concert I played in Wigmore Hall in 1980, my international debut. At the time Jack was reviewing all the guitar, harpsichord and Baroque concerts for the magazine Music and Musicians, though, as luck would have it, around the time of my concert something happened with the publisher--he either went mad or committed suicide, I forget which! In any case, that was it for the magazine and my review! So, I wrote Mr. Duarte a letter and asked him if he could comment on my concert and he very kindly sent me his notes--which were very complimentary.

A year or so later I invited him out to the Canadian West Coast for a couple of master classes and got to know him better. He was an energetic man and excellent company. One evening we ended up at my mother's house outside Vancouver. The thing about her place is that there were always a hoard of musical instruments tucked away in every corner as she was a very active fiddler and played old-time dances every weekend. Somehow Jack got hold of a banjo and started playing some old jazz tunes which I ended up trying to accompany on the electric bass. A good time was had by all.

Jack was an interesting teacher in a master class situation. He didn't offer a lot of hints about interpretation, but had good advice on technique (he was the author of quite a few books on guitar technique). He put particular focus on sitting position, which for guitarists can be a problem. Unlike all other instruments, we have to make ourselves into a stand for the instrument. One interesting thing I learned from Jack's master class is the role of the right foot. If it is flat on the floor, it fixes you in a rigid position, but if you tuck the foot underneath you, it completely frees up the back. Here is a drawing from my technique book that shows what I mean:

Jack was an excellent editor of music for guitar. His series for Universal Edition was a great resource--it included, by the way, the Cinco Preludios by Máximo Diego Pujol that I am posting these days. But it covered a wide range of music: lute music from the Renaissance, Baroque guitar music, contemporary music by Pujol, Reginald Smith-Brindle and Duarte himself, of course. There were also a healthy number of transcriptions, particularly of Scarlatti sonatas. These editions were of the highest quality: clear, readable, well fingered and above all accurate.

But perhaps Jack's greatest contribution was as a composer for guitar. He was early on given encouragement by Segovia who played one of his earliest pieces for guitar, the English Suite, op 31. Here is a lovely performance by Antigoni Goni, a Greek guitarist. She currently teaches at Columbia University and the Royal Academy of Music in London.

Here is an extended set of variations on the Catalan folk song Cançó del Lladre played by John Williams:

And for an example of his sense of humor, you couldn't do better than this quartet movement called "Hoe-Down" played by an Italian guitar quartet:


Anonymous said...

Nice. Jack Duarte, a characteristic individual man.
You mention "acerbic". Yip. Not everyone got on with him easily though; the man was thoroughly British/English in a way. ( ).
I really like the English Suite, esp. the old recording where Segovia plays it.
That was yesteryear, and different times... for sure!

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh yes, Jack could say some rather startling things sometimes. And don't get him started on North American beer!