Italian guitarist Angelo Gilardino is known worldwide for his contribution to the publication and promotion of 20th century guitar music; in the first place as an editor and more recently as a composer. Besides this, he is also a famous guitar teacher.
Isolde Schaupp spoke to him on the occasion of the Lagonegro International Guitar Festival and Competition in Italy, which is dedicated to 20th century guitar music and was established by Angelo Gilardino in 1984.
I.S: Angelo, you have created your own school of guitar playing in Italy. Some of the finest Italian players of the younger generation have emerged, like Marco de Santi. Can you describe your ideas, your concepts and how you came to develop them?
A.G: I will try to do this. As far as mechanical technique is concerned I tried to establish general principles, because I discovered that the process employed in the so-called classical guitar technique was not founded upon true principles but was just coming from a common behaviour, a practice. I began playing guitar in 1953 and gave my first concert in 1958. After 10 years of concert activity I was unsatisfied, not only with my own technique but also with the standard of-guitar technique in general. During the years 1969-70 I then tried to single out the true principles of technique and I found them in my studies of acoustic physics and physiology .My technique is not based upon the positions of both hands but upon the study of finger movement in itself and in its combination with the instrument. From my study of finger movement it was possible to understand that the concept of positions had to be completely changed and that the sacred image of the traditional right and left hand positions of the classical guitarist was either useless or openly wrong. There are photographs of famous players whose positions are a demonstration of how guitar should not be played. So, I have proposed new techniques of finger movement, new hand positions and in general a whole new outlook on the entire behaviour of the player. Of course, all of this research has been oriented by, so to say, a philosophy. I do not like the sort of technique which is obvious. If you think that a player has a good technique then it is not good enough, because when it is really good, you do not notice it at all. My idea of guitar technique has been conceived with the aim of allowing the player to express music in all of its detail without any obvious evidence of the ability that hands have to master in order to play music at this level. I do not think that virtuosity is an arrival point but rather a starting point. I have taught this technique during almost 20 years, since 1971. For the first 10years it was not a systematic teaching activity because I was still active as a player and was still experimenting with that technique on myself. In 1981 when I gave up my concert activity I published my book on technique (La technics de la guitarra fundamenti mechaniei) and became a regular teacher. I think that this technique now has a solid future due to the number and the quality of young players who have learned and who are learning this new way of playing the guitar. I am sorry that I cannot become more specific about this within the limits of such an interview. It would require from me to simplify, and I do not like to do this, as it can easily lead to misunderstandings.
I.S: Well, I can understand that. May I then ask you about your approach to interpretation and what you have to say about the connection between technical training and interpretation?
A.G: Yes, of course. I developed in parallel as a guitarist and as a musician. As a musician I was particularly lucky because I was given very good tuition in the musical schools of my city. I studied cello and guitar and then also composition from a fairly early age, as well as choir conducting. I had musical ideas and noticed quite soon that the majority of guitarists played with strange musical features. Guitar seemed to be a different instrument, not because of its nature but because of the way it was actually played. Phrasing was not oriented on musical form but rather instinctive and often extremely strange. One of my objectives was to build up a system of interpretation at the same level as that of pianists, conductors etc. I studied a lot of interpretation with musicians. It was then a matter of using guitar technique with the aim of producing all the musical results that were common in the playing of other instruments. Technique is strictly connected with phrasing and with strict control of all the elements of musical phrasing e.g. whether apoyando should be used or not should not depend on whether the lower string is free or not; it should mainly depend on what musical effect we want to achieve. From a very early stage the pupil must be taught to use certain techniques in order to achieve very specific musical effects, i.e. for playing legato staccato, for playing staccato etc. With other instruments each musical effect is connected with a specific technical operation. I tried to do the same for the guitar. So, if you want a certain result in phrasing you have the technique.
I.S: Which role do mechanical exercises play in your system? Do you believe in hours of long daily technical training before the work on music is started?
A.G: I think this is completely wrong, a big loss of time and it is useless. It does not produce any sort of virtuosity. Of course, I don’t want to be misunderstood; I do not undervalue technique. I think that players which I have helped to become complete have fantastic technique. In the very early years of practicing, the pupil has to learn certain formulas in which all aspects of, guitar technique are concentrated upon. After two years the guitarist must in principle have solved any sort of technical problem. Better still, he should not have technical problems from the beginning and should be taught to do things without any problems; then it is a matter of playing music immediately because you will find all the elements of guitar technique in the repertoire but employed with a strict musical object. If you have solved basic problems at a foundational level through practising concentrated formulas you will waste your time with doing hours of exercises because all the exercises will be found in the music.
I.S: In this context it would be interesting if you could say something about the studies which you have composed. What are the objectives?
A.G: We all admire the marvellous blossoming of concert studies in the piano literature. Why should the guitar not have concert studies at the same level? We have of course, Sor, namely op. 6, op. 29. We have beautiful studies by Napoleon Caste. We have studies by Regondi and Barrios, and then we have the marvellous 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos. But this is comparatively little compared to the piano literature. I notice that after 1929, the year in which Villa-Lobos finished his studies, the development of the vocabulary of the guitar in terms of pattern, of the way of writing for it, stopped. Nobody made a renewal of it. It was for me a matter of giving the guitar new formulae, not in the sense of exercises, but out of poetic research. So study, here, in my understanding, does not mean study for the player but study for the composer of the instrument of the sound of the guitar in aesthetic terms resulting in new technical formulas for the player. I have written 60 studies, 48 of which have already been published, the 5th book has jus been printed. I tried to create new music for the guitar, not just in general terms but in terms of a musical poetry which is uniquely guitaristic. These studies cannot be played on any other instrument. l think that music written for one instrument should sound better on this instrument than on any other instrument, or, when it has been written really well for this instrument, it should not be playable at all on any other instrument. In my studies I tried to do that.
I.S: What about your other compositions? Do they aim in the same direction?
A.G: Yes, they do, although I must say here I have been more courageous. In the years 68-73 I have published pieces which were oriented to the atmosphere that was dominating European music in that epoch, a style trying to put into agreement Claude Debussy and Pierre Boulez. But I gave up composition at that time because I did not think it was something important that I was doing. My con- cert activity was absorbing me totally. But in 1981 I stopped as a concert player. I did this mainly to compose again. Besides the studies, I have also written two sonatas which are already published and a cycle of variations on the famous theme Folies d’Espagne in order to do something that in my opinion has never been done in guitar music before and never successfully attended to. In the case of the Sonata the composer has either given up the form of sonata in order to retain a certain amount of specifically guitaristic patterns or, the composer used the sonata form to a certain extent and wrote in very common patterns which were playable on the guitar but also on a keyboard, maybe with an even better result. So, I tried to be successful with music which was on one hand from a formal point of view perfecting a sonata with a big development normally based on the two themes (usually you do not have that in guitar sonatas – they never have a development but just a central episode). On the other hand I tried to produce a high level of specific writing characteristic for the guitar. I did the same in the case of the variations.
I.S: Composition then, has obviously become one of your major fields of engagement besides teaching and editing?
A.G: Oh yes
I.S: Let us briefly come back to teaching; I have not asked you yet where you are actually teaching and which courses you are conducting.
A.G: I am teaching basically as a professor at the State Conservatorium in Allessandria (Italy). I also give courses 8 months a year in a super conservatory, so to say, a conservatory for already graduated people. It was founded in Biella, a town in northern Italy. Well known teachers operate there like Aldo Ciccolini on the piano, Anthony Pay on the clarinet. So, it is a sort of international superior academy. There I give a regular course from October to May. During the summer I gave for 17 years a 6 week course in Triveo, a village near Biella at the mountain side. There I teach pupils who do not belong to the Conservatory or the Academy – pupils from outside, who have only time during the summer. Then there is also the course in Lagonegro which is held in conjunction with the annual International Guitar Competition and Festival.
I.S: Besides all these activities you still found time to publish a book on the history of the guitar, which was translated into English. Can you give a brief description of your special approach in that book?
A.G: My approach is a new one compared to other books on the history of the guitar, as far as I am aware. I tried to give an account of the history of the guitar as a minor page in general music history. Phenomena like the renaissance of the guitar in this century are usually presented as the result of the appearance of some great players. This is not my approach. I have described the renaissance of the guitar from Tarrega to our days as the consequence of a new wave in music history. We have always had, in all centuries, very good guitarists, but whether they were highly appreciated or not did not depend on them, but on the general musical scene. In the second half of the 19th century for example we could not have successful guitarists because romanticism and its latest phenomena had created a climax that was impossible to produce on the guitar. The search for a certain kind of colour, a tone of orchestration, led from one side by French composers around Debussy, and from the other side by the composers from the Vienna School around Arnold Schoenberg, had created a new kind of sensitivity to art – to sounds like that of the guitar. This is why we had a new situation in which several guitarists have been able to make themselves appreciated and make the guitar more popular, but not as a personal miracle of theirs, but as a sort of consequence that music history had produced. So guitar repertoire is not primarily the result of the action of any guitarist but is something that happened within the general situation of musical history. This was my approach, and of course, it calls for a complete new setting of the chapters and also for a new explanation of the relationship between facts, causes and efforts.
I.S: The application of this view to the history of the guitar is certainly interesting. Finally I would like to ask you how you see the future of the guitar?
A.G: I see the future of the guitar as I see its past and as I see its present. The future of any instrument depends on the repertoire in terms of amount, extension and quality .The guitar has accumulated already such an interesting repertoire that it is impossible to think that it will be forgotten again. It will now depend on how competent the performers of this repertoire will be. So, if the new players are sensitive, careful and capable of handling this repertoire at the required standard, comparable to that of other instruments, I see no problems for the future of the guitar. It can only be an expansion. And I can see that the general quality of performers is improving therefore, I am confident, that the future of the guitar cannot be but good.
I.S: Let us hope that this optimistic outlook will come true. Thank you Angelo, for the interview.
A.G: My pleasure, Isolde.