Lennox Berkeley: Quatre Pièces pour la guitare
If Cyril Scott’s Sonatina deserves to be added to the regular repertoire, another Sonatina which has already achieved this status is Sonatina Op. 52 by Lennox Berkeley (1903-1989) written in 1957 for Julian Bream. It was always thought to be his first piece for solo guitar, followed by Theme and variation (1970). So, it was a huge surprise when a new piece by Berkeley was recovered from the Segovia Archive. Quatre Pièces pour la guitare, whose French title leads us to deduce it must date from his Parisian years (between 1927 and 1932), is now a little gem in our repertoire. It is a great example of the young Berkeley, still in his twenties, and completing his studies with the famous teacher Nadia Boulanger. From the same generation of British composers as William Walton and Michael Tippett, he admired Ravel and Poulenc who were both personal friends and also representative in his music. Maybe it was through his teacher Boulanger that he met Segovia, a big name on the Paris music scene at that time. In any case, his piece was set aside by the Spanish guitarist. However, the exciting this is that we find a composition which shows a very remarkable understanding of the language of the guitar. Four delightful miniatures, lively, gracious, with light textures and neo-classical elements influenced by the French group “Les Six” in what some historians have called Mediterranean lyricism.
The first piece is a dance in a simple triple metre that can evoke a Spanish rhythm with a middle section in tremolo and a humorous accent. The second one is more pensive, two-voice writing alternating with chords and always in a peaceful mood. In the third, we find a slow and melancholic meditation with a sarabande tempo. He uses the texture of the voices in a choral form and the pauses with the silences have a dramatical sense. The laast piece is a toccata written in motto perpetuo mode and Ravelian style with fast modulations and chords in between. This piece is the most “athletic” one for the performer.
Quatre Pièces pour la guitare reveal an elegant and unaffected virtuosity and these attributes are required of the guitarist who really wants to play this gentle music.
In my previous CD, Andrés Segovia Archive: French Composers, I played Quatre Piéces pour guitare by Henri Martelli and in the booklet notes I wrote that Martelli’s work together with Frank Martin’s Quatre piéces bréves are the most outstanding four pieces for guitar of the twentieth century; now, they have to share that honour with Berkeley’s Quatre Pièces.
Cyril Scott’s Sonatina and Lennox Berkeley’s Quatre Pièces have re-written the history of the guitar. They are the first guitar compositions of the 20th century ever written by British composers who were not themselves guitarists.
—Roberto Moronn Pérez