Václav Tomáš Matějka
Counterpoint is a compositional technique that came to life in Western musical tradition many centuries ago. It was adapted and modified by different periods and styles, and was never totally abandoned. The basic idea of counterpoint is to reach a musical dialogue through repetition, using structural motifs or phrases that could be replayed (sometimes ad nauseam…) in a way to create a complete and coherent musical work. This technique has been used and updated in different historical times, particularly in 16th and 17th centuries, when counterpoint was the most generally applied compositional technique, usually called ‘fugato style’. Counterpoint has reached great heights with Bach, who used the technique as the main means to realize his musical genius, and many other composers through the centuries have incorporated it as a way of adapting to new trends in music without losing touch with tradition.
Czech composer Václav Tomáš Matějka (anglicized to Wenzel Thomas Matiegka) was born in Bohemia and moved to Vienna at the beginning of 19th century to work as composer, piano teacher, and guitarist. In the artistically prolific Viennese environment Matiegka worked as a Kapellmeister in the suburbs, and took part in a group of artists, composers, and wealthy amateurs who contributed to the recognition of his work locally and abroad. In fact Schubert is known to have added a cello part to Matiegka’s Notturno op.21, which has been for a long time attributed to Schubert.
Matiegka is considered by many guitarists the ‘Beethoven of the guitar’. Apart from some rather ingenuous misconceptions such a comparison might raise, the composer’s style does share with his contemporaries some attributes that undoubtedly make him one of the most impressive composers for the guitar of his times. One of these attributes is his absolute musical and technical control of counterpoint applied to the guitar, followed by impressive technical feasibility on an instrument that was already a challenge for composers in those times. One of the works that best exemplify Matiegka’s technical mastery is his Sonata op.23, also called Fuga, Minuetto, e Rondo. Particularly in the first movement, Presto-Fugato, Matiegka demonstrates an impressive conduction of a counterpoint texture through a wide range of instrumental and compositional resources, which deals elegantly and with great efficiency with the technical limitations of the guitar. Sometimes we can indeed hear echoes of Beethoven in his music, while the guitar still imposes a more concise way of dealing with musical structures making even Romantic sonatas written for the instrument rather economic if compared to those for piano and other instruments. Matiegka, however, through the use of compositional techniques such as hidden voices and a crystal-clear form, make any simplistic approach to his guitar music deceptively wrong, as behind apparently simple ideas lay great intentions and echoes of one of the wealthiest periods in music history.