Saturday, October 13, 2012

Townsend: La Catedral by Agustín Barrios

Agustín Barrios (1885 - 1944) was a Paraguayan guitarist, one of the greatest players of the first half of the century and one of the great composers for guitar. He was not the first guitarist to make a recording, that honor belongs to the Mexican guitarist Octaviano Yanes, but he was probably the second, around 1909/10. Here is Barrios' own recording of his lovely Vals No. 3 (oddly, it is the only vals we have by Barrios):

For a long time, about the only pieces that were known by Barrios were this waltz and two movements of his La Catedral: the andante and allegro. Then in the late 1970s (around 1977 or 1979, I believe),  the great English guitarist John Williams released an entire album of music by Barrios that set the guitar world on its ears. Since then, Barrios has been more and more recorded and played in concert and there have been several complete editions of his surviving music. We seem to have about three hundred pieces by him. The main influences are the indigenous music of Latin America, Chopin and Bach. One piece particularly influenced by Bach is La Catedral. It turns out there are actually three movements, the first, Preludio saudade is, of course in the style of a Bach prelude, one of those that is just a single arpeggio like the first prelude from the Well-Tempered Clavier or from the First Cello Suite. The second piece, the Andante religioso is in dotted overture style, a bit like the first part of the prelude to the First Lute Suite. The third movement is a driving rondo based on a chromatically-inflected B minor arpeggio. La Catedral was apparently written in 1921 and is Barrios' largest piece. Here are all three movements in my recording:

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