menu fr


Texts in the LP (1986) :


""It's quite evident that although I appreciate the guitar, I've never tried to compose in a certain style "sui generis" ; on the contrary, my aim was to introduce new harmonies and expressions from the contemporary syntax up to now unknown to the guitar." Thus André Jolivet expressed himself on his unique work for guitar-duo : Serenade, written in 1956.

No doubt, this declaration is still valid and probably even more appropriate to the other two works composed later, this time for solo-guitar. In fact, the composer, who had already influenced his generation profoundly, meant to break with a certain style of guitar composition highly admired between the two World-Wars and culminating precisely with the famous Préludes by VillaLobos.

Yet by destroying, Jolivet recreates. By refusing the language of the past, he's founding a tradition. Despite his audacious manner his music sticks to the instrument. Certainly we recognize Jolivet's music instantaneously, but we never lose sight of the eternal message of the guitar. Without violence, even with a certain touch of tenderness, Jolivet invades the world of the guitar with "Comme un Prélude", the first of "Deux Etudes de Concert" (1965). The rhythm of the slow Saraband, apparently languid in the beginning, soon turns into a kaleidoscope of suave and glittering iridescence, dazzling our sight, before a sort of "da capo" plunges us again into the shade. With "Comme une Danse", rhythm is defined, as very often in Jolivet's music, by the phases and the intensity of the sonorous flow. The rhythms explode in a lavish fire-work display and are moreover developed in unusually long periods within the same phrase, taking the listener's breath. Rafael Andia used for his recording the version corrected by the composer himself many years after the publication of this work.

Thanks to the request by Andres Segovia, Jolivet wrote the "Tombeau de Robert de Visée", an homage to the favourite guitarist of young Louis XIVth (a guitarist himself) and whose Suites reach the climax in the literature of the Baroque guitar. The work was played for the first time by Rafael Andia on Radio-France on February 1981. Jolivet takes up again the form of the Baroque Suite with regard to the structure and metrics. On the other hand the language remains entirely his, far away from any neo-classical flavour or quotation often used for this kind of homage (e.g. The "Nocturnal" for guitar by Benjamin Britten). The Prelude regains a certain rhythmical smoothness typical of the early preludes, using the 5/4 time and quintolets of semiquavers. The Courante and its Double are treated in the French manner (3/2), with the anacrusis followed by the long value; but just as in "Comme un Prélude", these rhythms are amplified and modified immediately. It is, in fact, an absolute recreation of this dance and by no means a pastiche. The Passacaille has also got the typical form used by Robert de Visée : Refrain and Couplets and in no way the obstinato bass used by Germans in the XVIIIth century. In the first couplet we cast an amused eye on "La Forlane", from another "Tombeau" that Ravel dedicated to Couperin ; no doubt, it's considered one of the most sublime phrases in the whole literature for guitar. Despite the great technical difficulties, the "Tombeau de Robert de Visée" reveals all the richness of rhythmical and harmonic possibilities of the guitar in a extraordinary way and marries them to the highest expressional qualities of this instrument. By the complexity and the richness of the writing, never suffocating the lyricism and humanism ("The games of the human mind are mediocre, if they are gratuitous"), by its dimension and energy from the beginning to the end, this music becomes a monument in the repertoire of the guitar of the XXth century.

"Music is first and foremost a magical incantation," said Jolivet. And the magic of its sound, isn't that precisely the most valuable reason for the existence of the guitar ?


The two "Etudes de Concert" for guitar

It is a kind of saraband a little quaint and, one would say, naive in its rhythmic simplicity which is the first theme for Comme un Prélude.., the first of the Deux Etudes. One finds there "the serial use of a widened modal language " characteristic of the last works of Jolivet. The antecedent of the theme sneaks about in G minor, but the tonal impression is destroyed suddenly by the low E pedal; the consequent develops in a very personal mode of 9 sounds (measures 6 to 13): then widening of the melody material on the total chromatic in the commentary (measures 14 to 20). Jolivet could not be confined into such a simple rhythmic form nor use so little varied metres: the median part, softly syncopated, introduces arpeggios of thirty-second notes and a displacement of the strong beats which literally dissolve the rhythmic characters of the beginning (measures 21 to 38). With measure 39 a kind of da capo get us back abruptly to the shade. It is striking to note that in such a classical form (that Jolivet uses as a challenge or a joke!) which is no other than the aria da capo, how the scattering of the metres and the modal or atonal scales, all through the piece, can erase from it an impression of something heard before and completely recreate a new atmosphere in a renewed syntax.

In Comme une Danse it is "the dionysiac explosion of the primitive forces" which seems to blow along this brutal and refined allegro. One immediately recognizes there the "manner" of Jolivet, that of "Pégase" in "Mana" (1935) or of the Ritual Dances, which appears in the extraordinary skill to combine dynamics and agogics. After a vigorous introduction developed on a rhythmic formula of six sounds chords where one has all the brilliance of the flamenco rasgueados, the chains of sixteenths notes sing a small falseta which zigzags in arabesques. At measure 14 a cantabile sentence opens out in the third of the "Modes with limited transpositions " (third transposition) privileged by Messiaen (1)< style="mso-ansi-language: FR">

The final is made of a single sentence, one of the longest in our literature (measure 23), developing into a climax, and which combines two melodic and rhythmic cells A and B See some examples of the transformations undergone by B during this development


If "guitaristic working" (what I will call put in tablature) of the text of the first Etude does not offer any difficulty, the same does not apply for the second from there where Jolivet poses to the guitarist more complex problems... It is that, technically speaking, the guitar rather badly adapts to processes familiar of the musical writing (transpositions and distortions sets of themes, combinations of several cells, symmetries various) to which the composers (good ones!) are accustomed to the orchestra or the piano. Just see in our traditional and romantic repertoire the poverty and/or the brevity of the themes and the developments to be convinced.(2)
One could expect it: the Deux Etudes, though published since 1965, were in general carefully avoided by the guitarists, especially the second. "Unplayable": such was a long time the reputation of Comme une Danse(3) . However, more than with strictly digital problems, we deal with problems of a structural or formal complex nature . Intellectual music! The anathema is quickly thrown which provides a hypocritical alibi to the idleness! Nevertheless, if the music of Jolivet is intellectual, it never loses sight of the Human and consequently, as would have said Rousseau, the "beautiful" and the "true". "The games of the spirit are poor when they are free" says us the author himself.

The Suite "Tombeau de Robert de Visée"

It is at the request of Andrès Segovia that Jolivet wrote this Suite paying homage to the favorite guitarist of Louis XIV (himself a guitarist) and whose Suites for the "baroque"guitar are at the top of our literature of the XVIIe century. Did he simply want to perpetuate the old tradition of the Tombeaux to which Visée himself had contributed for Francesco Corbetta, a tradition that lasted until the XXe century with, in particular, the Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel? (We will see further one short allusion to this work). Did he want to echo Benjamin Britten whose Nocturnal for the guitar also wants to be a homage, but this time to his English counterpart to some extent: the lute player John Dowland? In the kind of conflict which opposes the musical thought of such or such composer and the guitar which must express it, too often our instrument is seen mistreated or at least misused: because of a lack of adequacy, as somebody who would like to get into an undersized piece of clothe. But, as said (or about) Oscar Wilde: the unintelligent man tries to change the milieu, the intelligent man tries to adapt to the milieu.
Here is an example taken among so many others in this Suite, that of the beginning: let us take among the great number of possible scales, the fifth of the "Modes with limited transpositions":

One notices that the root-chord of this mode includes the six sounds of the mode and only intervals of fourths; for these two reasons, it is particularly adapted to the guitar. Jolivet uses a close chord of the same ambiance (with an added note: C) which one would believe, if one were not warned, dictated by the guitar itself, so well it sounds on the instrument:

This interrogative arpeggio is then abundantly taken up again and modified; it will give its conclusion to the Prelude. All the work teeming with musical ideas in perfect symbiosis with the instrument to which they are addressed. One is struck, in the profusion of the modes used in this Suite, by the frequent return of the notes E, G# and C#. These notes will be the "notes•pivots" of the Suite, the E being the fundamental bass [6] . Also note the role of D # as leading note (Courante measures 10, Passacaille measures 33, 56, 87 etc).(4)
In the Prelude, the rhythmic material is symbolized by the number 5: measure 5/4, frequent quintuplets, which gives to the piece the flexibility and the "vagueness" of the unmeasured Preludes of the Baroque. Let us note the use of "turned over" chromatic formulas which would delight Bartok :

and a beautiful phrase in the second "Mode with limited transpositions" (measures 4 and 5). Also let us note the inverted dynamics compared to what is called the natural phrasing (measures 13, 43, 54).

In the Courante and its Double, Jolivet includes the anacrusis :

and ambiguous measure 6/4 3/2 characteristic of the former Courante Française where hemiolas were required. Even if there is not explicitly the typical bipartite form of the Baroque dances (double median bars with repeats), one can nevertheless easily find the caesura which corresponds to it in measures 10 11 with the notes•pivôts C #, G #, D #, taken here as "dominants". The clarity of the rhythms and the liveliness of the tempi given by Jolivet make these Courantes some of the most difficult pages of all his work for the guitar. But as he said himself: "it pays"! The alternative which appears in the edition for the delicate passage of measure 18 in the Courante is based on modifications which the author had tried to make this passage easier to play or more sounding. Idem in the Passacaille page 12. In the Saraband, the harmonic atmosphere suddenly changes and rather evokes Falla:

There too, the style is such that fits to the guitar. Nevertheless the melody material makes one think of the School of Vienna:

Note the odd division of the first sentence: 7 + 5 measures. As in Comme un Prélude, there is dissolution of the rhythms after the first "cadence" (measure 16), then appearance of a splendid phrase punctuated by an obstinato ornament on a high G whose gloomy effect is underlined by the use of low tambora. At the end, a da capo of 7 measures follows a line similar to the first 7 measures. The low Es , abundant in this Saraband, are used as pivot between the Courantes and Passacaille; For the Passacaille Jolivet borrows the same pattern as Visée and his contemporaries and fellow countrymen: refrain and verses, the refrain being defined above all by its harmonic "grid". Let us remember that Britten also finishes his Nocturnal by a Passacaglia but of a very different form: that of the ground or obstinate bass. That allow me to evoke a personal memory on this subject: Jolivet hated this piece! The first verse, one of the sentences most sublime in all the music written for the guitar, is an amused wink towards the Forlane of the Tombeau de Couperin by Ravel, written for the piano. The parallel between baroque guitar -harpsichord and modern guitar-piano was too tempting for Jolivet not to evoke this other Tombeau thus paying homage to his elder. One also finds there the typical surpointé rhythm of baroque interpretation .

In the fearsome third couplet, the rhythmic and harmonic fireworks reach such a paroxysm that one is tempted to point out this sentence by Messiaen: "... these swords of fire, these abrupt stars, these orange and blue lava flows , these turquoise planets, these purples, these violets of hairy tree structures, these whirlings of sounds and colours in a tumble of rainbows..." The density of the sound masses, truly orchestral, of a level seldom reached by the guitar, makes one think of the "alchemical" theories of Varese, taken up again by Jolivet, in particular the concept of "transmutation of the sound matter", i.e. the variation of orchestral mass (which is a constant in his work) and also with the concept of the magic of sound: "the music born of the terror of silence was intended to appropriate natural forces and the supernatural ones, i.e. to obtain a magic power".

And also: "the music must be sound initially. And the musician, magus of the universal rhythm officiating music, must initially think sonority " (5)

However precisely, if the guitar is generally admired as one of the most tempting instruments, it is well thanks to this kind of " magic of the sound" which is characteristic of it and which makes of any (good) guitarist a "researcher of sounds". One immediately sees all that the guitar can bring to these musics, the smoothness of its velvet, the glare of its metal, the canvas of silence and mystery that it can weave around the unutterable and which gives the instrument its irreplaceable magnetism. Undoubtedly, the guitar would not be completely what it is without the works of Jolivet; nevertheless the powerful work of Jolivet would not be fully completed without the small voice of the guitar. "... I like the guitar..." he had claimed. I believe that the guitar pays him back.



[1] > A mode with limited transpositions is a scale of sounds which one can transpose only a number of times lower than twelve without falling back on the same sounds as the starting scale. For example the major or minor scales are not modes with limited transpositions because they must be transposed 12 times to transform back to their original selves.

[2] Turina was the first to have the wisdom to break in some of its works for guitar from the traditional forms and to invent the form which it called "in gust" (hence the title of his piece of music "Rafaga") which consists of non-developments, in juxtaposition of single cells. Thus he eluded the difficulty.

[3] The truth obliges to say that the lack of fingerings and a serious revision for the edition of the Etudes could be daunting. There is a posterior manuscript version corrected by the author which would be interesting to publish.

[4] "After the dissociations of impressionism and the serial musics it is necessary to recover the meaning of melodic continuity firmly supported by clear rhythmic beats and clearly affirmed modulating pivots" (Jolivet).

[5] Jolivet