mignone guitar azul

Francisco Mignone (1897-1986)
Complete Original Works for Solo Guitar
12 Valsa Brasileiras em Forma de Estudios
12 Estudos para Violão
Francisco Luz (guitar)
No recording information provided
Digital release
Azul Music 1800 [120]

This music programme is revelatory, and poses the questions: how parochial is the guitar world, and did the composer suffer from the same malady as J.S. Bach’s contemporaries, exemplified by Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758) who, despite his significant prowess, remains relatively unknown. and unjustifiably under-recorded.

Outside of South America, few guitar aficionados will have heard of the Brazilian composer Francisco Mignone, and even fewer will be aware that he composed a significant corpus of quality music for the guitar. It is probably more than coincidental that the recorded works of Mignone for solo guitar have been made, in the main, by his fellow countrymen. In an environment where new compositions for the instrument were being pursued assiduously, none of the key mainstream names from the past such as Andrès Segovia, John Williams, Julian Bream and Narciso Yepes embraced any of his works. It seems that, as in the renaissance of Agustin Barrios, we may be experiencing a similar trend with Mignone’s guitar music. His Twelve Studies have been recorded by Brazilians, Fabio Zanon and Carlos Barbosa Lima, along with more recent additions by the younger generation of players such as Flavio Apro, Cyro Delvizio, and Francisco Luz, the guitarist of the present programme.

Francisco Mignone, born in 1897, was the son of Italian immigrant and flutist, Alferio Mignone.

He is considered to be the next most important Brazilian composer after Villa-Lobos, and in 1968 was awarded Brazilian Composer of the Year. He was a graduate of both the São Paulo and the Milan Conservatory. In 1929 he returned to São Paulo from Milan to teach harmony, and in 1933 took up a position in Rio de Janeiro at the Esola Nacional de Musica. Mignone was a versatile composer and strongly influenced by the folk, popular melodies and forms of Brazil, which he used as the foundation for his compositions.

 It appears that, in conformity with the prevailing negative attitude toward the guitar in the first half of the 20th Century, Mignone ignored the instrument, and considered it unworthy of his compositional energies. That all changed dramatically in 1970 when he heard a guitar recital by Carlos Barbosa-Lima, and realised the guitar was an instrument of significant potential. Within three months he composed not only the Twelve Studies, but also Twelve Waltzes all in the minor key. The former were dedicated to Barbosa-Lima, the latter to Isaias Savio Burlo.

Mignone and Villa-Lobos were essentially contemporaries.  Every serious student of the guitar will have played some, if not all of the Villa-Lobos studies. Few will have even heard of Mignone and even fewer pursued his Studies. There is every probability that, in the wider sense, Mignone was over shadowed by Villa-Lobos. As far as the latter’s guitar studies are concerned, they were written some fifty years before those of Mignone, although not published until many years later. Dedicated to Segovia, and very selectively played by him, along with eminent mainstream players of the time, this gave Villa-Lobos a relative pre-eminence in the guitar world. Of course this did not apply to just his guitar studies, but to the range of his guitar works. In the tradition of the early guitar virtuosi, they were written by a guitarist for guitarists; Mignone was a pianist, and Segovia frequently referenced the challenges of such a composer when writing for the guitar. One cannot discount the possibility that Mignone collaborated closely with a guitarist in the writing of these studies. It may have even been the dedicatee, Barbosa-Lima, who provided that advice and guidance. He recorded all 12 on vinyl, and a complete score for these is available with his editing.

This is the first recording which represents the complete works of Mignone for solo guitar. It includes the Twelve Studies, Twelve Waltzes and five other discrete items. In a programme which lasts for just over two hours, the longest item plays for 7:59, and the shortest for 1:50. This recording initiative avoids music which Mignone repurposed for guitar. Guitarists would transcribe his piano music for guitar which Mignone then published without due credit to the transcriber. Two hours of music by a relatively unfamiliar composer represents a challenge. While it is not unusual to encounter recorded guitar programmes dedicated to a single composer, the music usually has some familiarities; this has few. The first saving grace is that the musician is very capable, technically and musically, and represents an ideal conduit between composer and listener, with an exemplary performance.

Franciso Luz, now 30 years of age, began his studies at the Maestro Paulino Conservatory and graduated from the School of Music and Fine Arts of Parana. His main teachers were Fabio Zanon, Luiz Claudio Ribas Ferreira, and Nicolau Schmidt. With the support of the Brazilian Ministry of Culture, he studied at the University of Alicante (Spain) with David Galbraith, Paul O’Dette, David Russell, Pepe Romero and Manuel Barrueco. In 2015, after being nominated for the Julian Bream Trust award at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, he performed for Bream at his home in Wiltshire, UK.  Luz has recorded more than 20 works by Brazilian composers, and is currently guitar teacher at the Conservatory Maestro Paulino in Ponta Grossa.

In general, the music by Mignone has much appeal. For those unfamiliar with it, a pleasant introduction is the Valsa Choro No 3, played by pianist Olina Allessandrini. Aficionados of Ernesto Nazareth will find the transition effortless.

The music for solo guitar by Mignone is particularly interesting for several reasons. The 12 Studies, in comparison to those of Villa-Lobos, generally sound less pedagogic and more musically embracing. They are harmonically and rhythmically complex, remarkable in their pedagogic content and the way in which the composer has successfully achieved a pleasing balance between musical content and technical endeavour. As mentioned, until 1970 he displayed no interest in the guitar and then, apropos an epiphany in that year, was motivated to write these studies along with 12 waltzes in study form, over a 3 month period; this is remarkable per se, but especially so because the studies address technical issues of which one could reasonably conjecture a pianist would not be aware. A simple example is Study No 1 in which the issue of playing rapid arpeggios on non-adjacent strings, while highlighting a melody, is addressed in a similar fashion to the Estudio Brillante by Tarrega. In study No 2 there are certain bars which echo Aguado. Under such circumstances it is reasonable, as indicated, to postulate that these were written in collaboration with a guitarist. One could argue that Brazilian, Radamés Gnattali (1906-1988), a concert pianist and violinist, also wrote 10 very important studies for the guitar which effectively address such technical issue. That he was also a guitarist, is highly relevant.

This programme is especially enjoyable, and executed by a very capable guitarist who understands what the music is all about. There is delightful music among the waltzes which confer their own didactic values. As attractive as they are, the five other pieces of the programme do not supplant the guitaristic virtues and appeal of the five solos that collectively form the Suite Populaire Brésilienne by Villa-Lobos.  Luz’s clarity and precision of playing is laudable. The temptation to sacrifice these qualities for showy speed, as often occurs in Study No 1, does not influence Luz. He is entertaining, and convincing, but not at the expense of embracing a showman’s approach. There are sufficient renditions of this music available on social media to establish clearly Luz’s performance as hard to match, and even harder to beat.

On this occasion Francisco Luz plays a guitar made by renowned Japanese luthier Yuichi Imai (2013). He elected to use D’Addario Pro Arte strings.

Zane Turner

Availability: Azul Music