We were saddened to hear of the passing of the wonderful maestro of the guitar who taught us so much about musical nuance, guitar technique, and the understated critique.
José Luis Rodrigo Bravo (1942-2020). Born in Madrid, Spain, Jose Luis Rodrigo studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music of Madrid with Jose Maria Lopez and Regino Sainz de le Maza. He also studied with Daniel Fortea and Andres Segovia. As a student he received the Extraordinary Award de Carrera (1961), First Prize in Harmony (1962), and First Prize in Counterpoint and Fugue (1966). He had been professor of the guitar at the Royal Conservatory of Music of Madrid since 1970 and held the Andres Segovia Chair of the International University Course of Spanish Music “Musica en Compostela” since 1981. He received awards in international competitions, concertized throughout Europe, America, and Asia, and collaborated with prestigious orchestras. He was considered one of the world’s foremost experts on the interpretation of Spanish music.
Jose Luis demonstrated a profound musical knowledge coupled with virtuosity and a sense of elegance. He wonderfully communicated that to his students. He was a charming and endearing person. All of us who had the good fortune to study with him have fond memories of Friday afternoon classes adjourning to the “Savol” bar across the street where Jose Luis would chat with us, buy the first round, then catch his cab home. We all owe a tremendous debt to Maestro Rodrigo. He will be greatly missed.
Tamara & Neil Caulkins playing Sunday, 2:00 pm, March 21 at Gallery One, 408 N. Pearl, Ellensburg WA, and Saturday, 7:00 pm, March 22 at Fire on Main, 400 Main Avenue E. in Soap Lake, WA. Admission by donation.
We will be premiering “Prelude Music” in three movements (Prelude, Fugue, and Passcaglia) written for us by organist/composer Michael Young as well as playing two pieces by Peruvian/Berlin composer Virginia Yep. We’ll also play new repertoire from the archives: more duets by the French early 19th century composer Benigne Henri, and from the British Library, a Duo in four movements – Allegretto Sustenuto, Adagio, Scherzo, and Polonais – by W. W. Würfel, a composer whose name is as fun to say as his music is to play!
Neil and Tamara Caulkins recorded a critically acclaimed CD and have pursued a rigorous concert schedule, including performances in New York, Calgary, Hong Kong, and throughout the Southeast and Pacific Northwest. The duo’s playing has been described as “altogether exciting!” (by Fanfare, New Jersey), “a striking debut album” (by Guitar Review, New York), and as “A well-matched team” (by Guitar International, Wiltshire, England). Their scholarly publications have been published in the US, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany. They studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Madrid, Spain and hold Master of Music degrees from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
Please join us in Olympia next Saturday, Sept. 14th at 7:00pm at the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (1515 Harrison Ave NW, Olympia WA). This is a benefit for the Gaza Palestinian Cultural Palace. All are welcome!
Neil and I participated in the 2019 International Guitar Research Centre (IGRC) conference in Hong Kong, an academic gathering which took place alongside The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts International Guitar Forum and the Altamira Hong Kong International Guitar Symposium and Competition. It was an incredibly packed week of presentations, lecture/demonstrations, and concerts, and a momentous time to be in Hong Kong, as I have reflected on in my history of science blog.
Neil’s lecture/demonstration at the conference explored the practice of improvisation and guitar music in the early 19th century. He brought our nifty packable Terz guitar to play examples of improvised preludes. An excellent overview of all of the IGRC papers and performances can be found here.
In this post, I would like to turn my historian-of-science eye towards the IGRC proceedings and apply insights of the French philosopher Bruno Latour to the practice of music. In his book, Science in Action, Latour refers to the accumulation of scientific data and the dominant explanatory theories as “immutable mobiles.” The process of writing down and circulating scientific discoveries results in scientific knowledge that travels without being changed by local observations (i.e. that is mobile and immutable). Universal scientific findings are findings that are true everywhere. According to Latour, the repeated iterations of information layered multiple times results in scientific knowledge that has gained legitimacy and authority. In the same way, I suggest, a musical score, composed and set down on paper, widely circulated and played over and over by many different musicians, starts to become an authoritative “classic.”
The period we refer to as “Classical” in Western music is generally thought to be the period from about 1780 to 1850. Much of the music composed was published to be purchased by a broader public of expert amateur musicians. These were often highly accomplished players, however, they were not necessarily trained in music theory or the intricacies of improvising from a bass line, as were professionals, especially during earlier periods. The composers who wrote for these musicians, such as Leopold Mozart, specified the exact notes these musicians should play and did not expect them to add to what was written on the page. By the time Beethoven was publishing his music, all musicians were expected to stay true to the score.
Nevertheless, the practice of improvising continued to be a vital part of music-making. Virtuosi famously invented cadenzas to impress their audiences. Amateurs also played improvised preludes and passages, especially in the early 19th century. This was true for guitarists as well as for pianists and other instrumentalists and for singers. This tradition was largely lost by the mid-to-late 19th century in classical music but continued to be a key element of new musical forms such as jazz and eventually rock & roll.
Therefore, when we play musical scores from the early 19th century, we can think of them as mutable mobiles. These scores were published and meant to travel – one could hear the same duet variations of Fernando Sor’s Souvenir de Russie, Op. 63, or Mauro Giuliani’s Rossiniani, in Paris, as well as in Vienna or St. Petersburg. The evidence, nevertheless, suggests that these standards of the guitar repertoire were also meant to be interpreted somewhat freely, perhaps with an improvised prelude, a flashy cadenza, or even some flexibility in the interpretation of an arpeggio.
Like a scientist – a term invented during this period – the early 19th century musical artist created musical performances working from both a written score and from his or her own observations and experiments. In the early 19th century, science too was often performed for a public audience. Sir Humphry Davy, for example, exhibited his own improvisatory flair while demonstrating the properties of gases. Such improvisations were expected. Improvisation was part and parcel of early 19th century culture, both in art and science.
We have been generously loaned a guitar for practicing while we are here in the UK, but didn’t realize that it would be a fine handmade instrument, carefully crafted from local woods. The luthier, Les Backshall, has built forty guitars in the last decade or so and is now making ukeleles for his grandchildren (lucky kids!).
The top of this guitar is European Spruce, common in modern guitars as well as earlier instruments such as lutes and vihuelas. However, unlike most classical guitars which have backs and sides made of Rosewood (either Indian or Brazilian), the backs and sides of this guitar are made of Yew (taxus baccata). This yew is a tree that figures importantly in English history. Yew needles and seeds are also toxic to humans which has led to many references to it in mythology (think Druids – this is England!).
The Yew tree is indigenous to England. A slow growing conifer, it has a beautiful, distinctive grain and bright sound. It is perhaps similar to Maple, which is what one usually finds on the backs and sides of early nineteenth-century guitars, including ours. We came across a very old Yew at the Oxford Botanical Garden on a visit there last week.
Yew was a much favored wood for the making of longbows and lutes. It conjures images of King Arthur and traveling bards. As we’ve wandered castle ruins and cathedrals these past few weeks, adventure tales of Medieval England come to mind.
The Willamette Heritage Center is a particularly apt place for a performance of early nineteenth-century music on guitars from the period.
Located across from Willamette University at 1313 Mill St SE, in Salem, Oregon, the Willamette Heritage Center preserves buildings that date from the 1840s when Euro-American missionaries and immigrants settled in the Mid-Willamette Valley, home of the Kalapuya. It is likely that these settlers would have brought guitars with them very similar to the ones we will be playing on our concert!
The concert will take place in the Pleasant Grove Church, built in 1854 by Oregon Trail immigrants. The Heritage Center includes many other historic buildings and the 1896 Thomas Kay Woolen Mill (where Neil’s mother shopped for fabric for her sewing projects well into the 1960s!).
The mill is a National Park Service-designated American Treasure, vividly telling the story of industrialization of the Mid-Willamette Valley. Concert-goers are encouraged to stay and visit the rest of the Willamette Heritage Center to experience the life and culture of early Oregon and the era in which the Caulkins’ music would have been heard.
The concert is Free to the Public. Donations to the museum will be gladly accepted.