Luigi Legnani

Cellist Pablo Casals used to say that ‘The most perfect technique is that which is not noticed at all’. There were times, however, when some technically challenging music was necessary in order to either adapt to new instruments or give a next step that would allow a different style to emerge. It was the case with the guitar in some moments in history, when the instrument had to adapt either structurally or stylistically to new trends, and we can see the emergence of sets of pieces and studies that would follow these changes in order to either adapt or prepare guitarists for the challenges of the coming times.

The guitar by Austrian luthier J. G. Stauffer used in WGC Heritage is of a kind called ‘Legnani model’, due to the collaboration between the Italian guitarist-composer Luigi Legnani with the Austrian luthier. This instrument presented some structural changes that would help delineate the way the guitar would be constructed for times to come. The ‘Legnani model’ became very famous and popular in Europe within a very short period, and Legnani, himself a luthier later in life, took it to a next step developing it even further.

In 1822 Legnani wrote his 36 Capricci op. 20, probably inspired by Paganini’s famous 24 Capricci op. 01, which in its turn brought important developments in violin’s technique. Written in all major and minor keys, Legnani’s Capricci explore not only ‘obvious’ virtuosity such as fast scales and arpeggios, but also more subtle technical and musical aspects of guitar playing, such as left-hand bars and unusual phrasing. The three Capricci presented in WGC Heritage bring a bit of each aspect: Capriccio #5, in D, is a kind of celebration of the ‘Legnani model’ guitar, as the very first note of the piece is the very last note possible to be reached on this guitar (a D), showing off its tone qualities even in extreme positions; Capriccio #22, in Cm, explores a technical aspect (left-hand barrées) and the texture of accompanied melody, bringing the cantabile skills of the performer to proof while sustaining very tense positions on the left hand; and Capriccio #36, in E, the very last one of the series, is a timeless challenge of fast combinations of scales and oddly constructed arpeggios that bring the guitarist’s technique to its limits.

Mauro Bonelli

Is virtuosity still relevant today, after so many aspects of guitar technique have been ‘stretched’ by composers such as Legnani? The instrument has been subject to major transformations since Stauffer’s models, and structural changes are always followed by major or minor technical adaptations. The modern guitar is one of today’s instruments that have been most experimented on, with ‘extended’ (or ‘expanded’) techniques being regularly present in the musical vocabulary of today’s guitarists. Mauro Bonelli is a guitarist/composer from Genoa, Italy, and one of the guitarists who are active today in finding new expressive ways for the concert guitar. Having graduated in Performance and Composition, Bonelli is known by the enormous technical difficulties of his works.

When creating new technical concepts or exploring an existing one to its limits, the Genovese composer proposes exciting challenges to performers of his works, as it is the case with his piece Tremolovals:

Mauro is also a specialist in early plucked instruments, performing regularly early guitars, lutes, and other instruments, and often experimenting with these. A good example is this video of Mauro’s performance of the incredibly difficult ‘Absolute Exercise’ for improvisation, by Mark Mazzei, on a 19th-century guitar:

A recent development in yet another instrument, the Baroque archlute, is creating a buzz in the guitar field, as Bonelli has recently collaborated with Alessandro Giusto, an engineer and musician from Savona, in building an electric archlute combining traditional and modern building techniques. Some pictures of this very recent collaboration can be seen in this video:

Mauro Bonelli, as a composer, has also explored other early instruments in order to create new music and new ways of expression for 21st-century music. His short ‘Serenata per Claudia’ explores

Due to his vast experience with early instruments and new music, Bonelli was the perfect composer to create contemporary Caprices for the Stauffer guitar, in response to those by Legnani. However, instead of creating ‘echoes’ of 19th-century music and technique, Bonelli went further to explore aspects often only applied to the modern guitar, such as expanded techniques, improvised combinations, and the limits of the instrument idiomatic possibilities. Each of the 3 Capricci brings a specific subtitle that defines the kind of technical or musical approach desired by the composer. The first, Capriccio Tribale, creates an enticing rhythmic movement combined to the percussive sounds of crossed strings; its ‘tribal’ character refers to primitive rhythms, while the technique is appealingly modern. The second, Capriccio Elettrico, is a breathtaking piece created by the free combination of pre-conceived ideas; the composer only offers the performer boxes with some musical ideas, and the latter decides in which order and how many times these will be repeated. In WGC recording, the boxes of this Capriccio have been recorded by Fabricio Mattos, and recombined by sound engineer Beto Japa, while in live concerts Mattos will perform the original free-combinatory version. The third and last, Capriccio Idiomatico, is a rather ‘neurotic’ overdose of guitar’s main technique: extremely fast arpeggios! Using a simple structure of two fast sections with a meditative interlude in between, Bonelli is here at his best: a clear demonstration of why guitarists consider his works technical challenges of the highest level, while his music turns out to be surprisingly organic and often enjoyed by audiences worldwide.