Chamber Music with Guitar (1950-1968)

Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco / News / / 1 like
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Chamber Music with Guitar

After nearly two decades of writing for the guitar, in 1950 Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote his first works of guitar chamber music. What began as experiments of a curious mind evolved into a group of works that are beloved today by both musicians and audiences.  The Quintet for Guitar and Strings op 143 (1950) is without a doubt the most high-profile of these works, since it was requested, premiered* and first recorded** by his friend Andrés Segovia.

In his autobiography Castelnuovo-Tedesco presented the work in this fashion:

This was composed in less than a month (between 7 February and 5 March 1950). It is a melodious and serene work, partly neo-Classic and partly neo-Romantic (like most of my works). I would say it is written almost in a Schubertian vein—Schubert has always been one of my favorite composers.

The composer acknowledged that combining the guitar with the string quartet presented many technical problems, but he was very pleased with how the work turned out. In fact, he considered it one of his best works of chamber music (not only of chamber music for guitar).

The Fantasia for Guitar and Piano op145 was also composed in 1950. This work, too, can be traced back to Segovia. Mario dedicated the work to the guitarist and his second wife Paquita Madriguera, a brilliant pianist and student of Enrique Granados. During the 1940s the couple often performed as a duo and were always searching for interesting new material. Unfortunately, by the time Mario completed the work, the couple had split up. As a result the work remained in the shadows until it was eventually rediscovered by later generations. Here, too, Mario acknowledged the challenges inherent to the pairing:

This composition is an interesting experiment in which I tried to combine these two instruments, which, in truth, do not go very well together. I tried to soften the disparity between the two by always keeping the piano very light, almost harpsichord-like.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco extended his guitar experimentation even further: in 1951 combined the guitar with a quartet of voices in Romancero Gitano. Based on the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca, this intensely visual work is usually performed today by a small chorus. The composer called Romancero Gitano “perhaps the most beautiful of my recent guitar compositions.”

Other guitar chamber works were composed near the end of the his life:

  • Sonatina for Flute and Guitar Op. 205 was written in the summer of 1965 at the request of an Austrian duo— flautist Werner Tripp (1930-2003) and guitarist Konrad Ragossnig (1932-2018).  
  • Eclogues for Flute, English Horn and Guitar Op, 206, also composed in 1965, was dedicated to the Nuovo Trio di Milano. 
  • Aria Op.146a is a 1968 arrangement for oboe, cello and guitar based on the second movement of an earlier work, the Concerto da Camera (1950), and is dedicated to Margaret Aue and Dorrye Roettger.

To understand better what this music means to today’s artists, we asked a handful of guitarists who have recently recorded these works to share their thoughts and experiences. The answers we received were so interesting that we decided to publish them in a series of articles over the coming weeks. 

*with the Paganini Quartet

** with the Quartetto Chigiano