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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

Poll Results for The 20 Guitar Pieces You Must Hear Before You Die

Latin-American composers have the widest support but three European pieces hit the top spot

For the past month I have been receiving nominations from distinguished soloists, professional players and teachers, and from guitar-lovers in response to my request on Facebook, Twitter and on this page to help choose the 20 guitar pieces you must hear before you die, based on solo works and concertos, but not arrangements. Each considered the question in his and her own way: some from the heart and some from the head, and others from both. I hope it has helped to focus our minds on the important and the essential, on the enjoyable and the invaluable. Even better, it may give us food for thought, and offer a platform from which to develop what binds us all together, our love for the guitar and its music.



composers represented

pieces by Agustín Barrios were nominated

of the 16 composers in the top 20 had little or no prior knowledge of the guitar

living composers in the top 20

of the pieces in the top 20 were composed before 1800

of the pieces in the top 20 were composed in the 20th century

of guitar works composed by Villa-Lobos were nominated


1 Britten: Nocturnal
=2 Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez for guitar and orchestra
=2 Tarrega: Recuerdos de la Alhambra
4 Barrios: La Catedral
5 Falla: Homenaje a Debussy
=6 Sor: Introduction, theme and variations on a theme by Mozart Op. 9
=6 Rodrigo: Invocación y Danza
=8 Ginastera: Sonata
=8 Giuliani: Concerto in A Op 30 for guitar and orchestra
=8 Lauro: Venezuelan waltz “Natalia”
=8 Tarrega: Capricho Arabe
=8 Villa-Lobos: Prelude no 1
=8 Walton: Bagatelles
=14 Barrios: Vals op 8 no 4
=14 Barrios: Un sueño en la floresta
=14 Barrios: Una limosna por el amor de Dios
=14 Carter: Changes
=14 Berio: Sequenza XI
=14 Brouwer: Sonata
=14 Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Sonata Ommagio à Boccherini
=14 Koshkin: Usher Waltz

Runners up:
José: Sonata
Myers: Cavatina
Ponce: Sonata Romantica
Regondi: Reverie
Yocoh: Theme and variations on Sakura

Three quintessentially European pieces win top marks, but the composers with the widest base of support are the Paraguayan Agustín Barrios with nominations for no less than 15 different pieces, 4 of which reached the top 20, and Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos whose entire oeuvre for guitar has been put forward. However, neither of these composers delivered the killer punch to claim top spots for individual pieces: these go to Britten’s Nocturnal inspired by English lutenist John Dowland’s song Come Heavy Sleep, Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez inspired by the Royal gardens near Madrid, and Tárrega´s Recuerdos de la Alhambra inspired by Spain’s Moorish legacy, thus each referring to musical and historical chapters of bygone ages - in Europe.

The composers represented in the top 20 are polarised between those who were excellent players themselves, and the other half who came to write for the guitar with little or no prior knowledge. Of the latter, most were ably assisted and advised by renowned players including Casteluovo-Tedesco and Ponce by Andrés Segovia, Britten by Julian Bream, Ginastera by Carlos Barbosa-Lima, Elliot Carter by David Starobin, and Berio by Elliot Fisk. The results here confirm what many, including myself, have believed for a long time: that it is not essential for composers to play the instrument to be able to compose for it. What more proof do we need other than that two of the three top spots have been taken by such composers?

It is a remarkable fact that half of the pieces in the top 20 have been composed by 20th century composers who could not play – maybe the single most important development to have added significantly to the quality of the repertoire and finally begun to put to rest Britten’s assertion that the guitar is an instrument without a repertoire.

Whether these results would be repeated in a wider survey is hard to tell. There are some conspicuous absences here and the balance maybe would tilt to the more popular. On the other hand, the top three spots occupied by three emblematic pieces is as far as I am concerned entirely to my own taste and satisfaction!

1st November 2013
To read my article “Echoes of Barrios” click here

To read my article “Benjamin Britten - the greatest non-playing guitar composer of all time?” click here

To read my article “Adventures and misadventures with the Aranjuez Concerto” click here

For a complete index to my blogs click here

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=2820 .
© 2019.

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