Virtual Class with José María Gallardo del Rey at Música en Compostela – Part 2

Courtyard of the Hostal de Los Reyes Católicos. Festival classes are held in adjoining rooms.

José María Gallardo finished his presentation on the second day with a discussion of the “Suite Compostelana” by Frederico Mompou (see 2:08:00) which was composed for the festival in 1962. Gallardo keeps a copy of the score signed in swirling script by Mompou himself at home but brought working copy to share on this video. Although he was already over time, Gallardo did want to say a few things about the Mompou: that one should listen for the church bells in the Preludio (1:50). All across medieval Europe, three times a day, when one heard the bells of the “angelus” ringing from cathedrals and churches, one stopped working to pause and pray.

One can also hear, amidst the minimalist repeated notes in the Preludio, the drizzle that is so characteristic of Compostela. Indeed, in the opening clip of the video, it is raining in the medieval courtyard of the festival site (0:41). The third movement of the Suite Compostelana is a lullaby: Cuna translates as cradle in Gallego – the native language spoken in this part of Spain. There’s a nice summary of the Suite’s six movements here. My favorite movement is the last one: the Muñeira, which is a dance performed to the Celtic bagpipes (called a Gaita). The characteristic hop of the muñeira gives it a distinctive lilt that is very charming! Spain is a mosaic of different cultures and this beautiful suite – inspired by Galicia, the northwest region of Spain – presents a different face of this marvelously diverse country.

A group of teachers and benefactors from about the period when Gallardo was a student at the Compostela festival. José Tomas is in the back row, second from the left; Mompou is fifth from the left, and just in front of him in the center is Margarita Pastor, the visionary patroness who contributed much of the funding for the festival.

Gallardo devoted this second day of Música en Compostela to instruction. He demonstrated several warm-up exercises, moving both right and left fingers across all six strings in a zigzag pattern. Gallardo starts high on the neck where the frets are closer together to ease into warming up the hands which makes a lot of sense.

He also discussed finding a good sound. He finds playing too close to the bridge to be too metallic, preferring to develop a good solid sound in the middle range between the bridge and neck which he then can vary according to the music. Gallardo gets a strong, clear tone using a “semi-apoyando” approach, hitting the string in the same place between flesh and nail regardless of whether one is playing rest or free strokes (demonstrated at 15:04). He advises cultivating a good base sound. It is more important, he added, to cultivate a penetrating sound that carries out to the furthest corner of one’s audience rather than simply aiming to be loud.  

Gallardo also noted how much he learned from watching other students having their lessons with José Tomas many years ago. He observed that when he was a student himself at the Compostela festival, it was often easier to learn as an auditor without the pressure of performing. In his own practice now, he often records himself to step back a bit and hear his playing at a distance.  

Gallardo offered a wealth of ideas on how to play De Falla’s “Hommage au Tombeau de Debussy” with a seriousness appropriate to a piece commemorating the death of a friend. For example, at 47:30, one must take care to follow the melodic line, maintaining a continuous sound with the fingers of the right hand even though the tune is played on different strings. Gallardo recommended listening to the orchestral version of the Hommage to get a sense of the variety of tone colors one should aim for when playing this haunting piece. Also, notice silences: for Debussy, the music could be found in “the silence between the notes.”

Much of the piece “Sevilla” by Albeniz sounds like a rowdy fiesta, with catchy dance rhythms, but Gallardo notes that parts of it should be played delicately. Impressionism – in music as well as in the visual art of Albeniz’ day – suggests rather than declares. However, Gallardo continued, even when playing with a languid rubato as might evoke the hazy colors of impressionism, “don’t lose the heartbeat” of the movement. In Albeniz’ “Granada,” for example, there is an underlying Flamenco rhythm that should carry through even while playing freely with the melody (which Gallardo sings at 1:28).

Parts of “Sevilla” break into a classic Spanish dance called the “Sevillanas.” Gallardo recalled Tomás once asking him to dance a section of the Sevillanas for a Japanese student who had not seen it before. Gallardo’s mother was a fine Flamenco dancer and even though Gallardo does not claim to be a dancer, he certainly has the dances of his native country in his bones!

Gallardo discussed the music of Joaquín Rodrigo at length. It is important, Gallardo cautioned, to remember that many of the legatos and fingerings in scores are added by editors later. So it is a good idea to find original scores to study the intent of the composer. Indeed, since Rodrigo was blind, every note and indication took a great deal of work to write down, thus Gallardo advised working through Rodrigo’s music with special attention to details.

Along the way, Gallardo presented a technique quite new to me: displacing a finger of the left hand with another finger, one can keep a note ringing while making a shift (see 48:01). I have not tried this in practice but would be interested in hearing if other players use this technique. Unlike a wind or bowed string instrument, each note on the guitar begins to decay as soon as it is plucked so it’s great to have another tool for extending the length of a note!

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