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Interview with Angelo Gilardino


*Editors note: Here in America we had things like the Monroe Doctrine, have been cultural imperialists and we have enjoyed our isolation. It's always been the bane of living here.

As classical guitarists we have been fed an official diet of questionable information and carefully chosen import publications. All is intended to be a limited view dictated by limited views and commercial, based on the lowest common denominator. Slowly it is changing.

So when I met Angelo Gilardino, guitar composer/teacher and head of the publisher Berben's guitar division, it was with this American filter of ignorance. I had heard his name infrequently and those in the business of information didn't care to mention him too much. The only place I heard his name was in the infrequent company of guitarists that had been somewhere.

So when I met Mr. Gilardino, through Marco Bazzotti of Just Classical Guitar in Italy, I immediately felt that a new source had been discovered. I conclude that his music and direction are some of the most significant contributions to the late XXth century guitar.

Mr. Gilardino is a most unassuming man with a great degree of respect for camps of guitar that he was supposed to be against, as said by those that breed controversy. The beauty of his music is mirrored by his words which are always in reverence of the creativity of others and the process of living in beauty. It seems hard for him to talk too much about himself.

His music is stamped with a terse beauty. His music has much in common with the earlier XXth century in expressiveness but at the same time it is imbued with a sense of tightness more associated with more modern composers. His harmonic language runs the spectrum of the XXth century. Having said all of this I still don't see him as a post-modernist. In the heart of Europe an artist can exist without such trappings. Remember, it's their music this thing called classical. Here in America ours is jazz.

In the interview I attempted to keep it in the Italian speaking English linguistic style. Most was conducted in April and early May over the Internet.

N.M. - The first question I have is: Why did Berben make such a commitment to 20th century music while other publishers were more interested in transcriptions of old music?

A.G - The interest for XXth century guitar music was the main feature of the entry of the firm, on about 1965, by the son of the owner. The company at that epoque was owned by Mr. Bio Boccosi (still alive), and when his son Fabio (present owner and managing director) entered, he thought it would have been a good thing to promote his house with the enterprise of an important series of modern guitar music. In 1967, his project became active. The house also published a lot of early and xixth century guitar music, but not on the basis of a definite program (a serious interest in this area is a recent feature added in these last few years).

N.M - When did you sign with the company? Did this interest start with your involvement with the company?

A.G. - When they decided to start the new series, the Boccosi family sought for a leader and asked for a suggestion to two independent advisors. One was Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, a famous musician who knew quite well the guitar world, the other was the leading Italian plectrum guitarist Luciano Zuccheri (a sort of Les Paul artist), who was a competent person without being involved in all the quarrels of Italian classical guitarists. At that epoque I was 26 years old and I had a lot of ideas, but no reputation and no power. I was just a local guitarist. The more, my ideas had earned me a strong aversion from Segovia's pupils, so I was also in a difficult situation. As all Italian guitarists knew of the forthcoming series of Bčrben, I did not dream of any involvement of mine in it, let alone to become its leader. When I was given the news that both advisors had independently expressed their preference indicating me, I kept silent a couple of days, because I couldn't believe it. Then of course I told myself that I had only to show I was at the height of the situation, and I begun working. Here I am, 30 years after.

N.M - How old is the company? Could you also give me some general company history? What is the ratio between old music and new music for the guitar? When did Berben first start doing recordings and who was the first guitar artist?

A.G. - The house celebrated, last year ,it's 50th anniversary with gifting - under my request - one hundred parcels of music of the value of 1.500 $ each, to one hundred young guitarists all over the world. The firm had been founded in Modena on 1946 by Mr. Ber(lini) Ben(edetto), who owned it up to 1960, then he sold it to an accordion maker company, Farfisa, of which Mr. Bio Boccosi was one of the the owners. When he left the company on his own, he took Bčrben as a mark of his. Then, his son Fabio shared with him the responsibility and from about 1980 he is the sole owner. Their first guitar record was released on 1975. It was the recording of a live concert of mine given on 1973, and it was produced as a Christmas gift for their customers, though it remained after in the catalogue.

N.M - What was your earliest strong influence in music (not necessarily the guitar)?

A.G. - My father, who was a horse breeder, brought me, in 1951, to a market at Modena (I think, though I am not sure of the town). That evening, I was given permission and money to go to movie. Casually, I entered instead a hall where a concert was featured. I did not know which the event was being given: I just saw people kindly talking in wait of I did not know what, and I was - as all children - curious. I remember I took place (shamelessly) in the very first row of seats. Some minutes after, a marvelous lady appeared with her guitar. I remember her dressing (blue-green velvet) and her long dark hair. She begun playing. I had never heard a concert in my life and I scarcely knew what a guitar was, still I was taken by that magic power at such an extent that, when she finished her concert, I couldn't move from my seat. Two old gentlemen came and asked me where I was coming from and where I should go, but I couldn't give them any reasonable answer. They brought me in the dressing room, introduced me to that lady and told her that I had been so fascinated by her playing that I had lost word and mind. It was not like that, but for sure I had been witched. She was very kind with me. Then, I was accompanied at the hotel whose name, at the end, I had been able to remember and where I stayed with my father. That night, my destiny was signed: I decided I would become a guitarist. Three years later, I begun my studies of music, guitar and cello. Needless to say, she was Ida Presti.

N.M - Who were your most influential teachers in composition and guitar?

A.G. - When I begun studying, on 1954, guitar was ignored in Italian conservatories and music school, so I entered the music school of my town, Vercelli - a town with a very strong musical tradition - as a cello student and immediately I was given lessons also in theory and harmony by the same cello teacher, who was excellent indeed (a very old man: I left cello when he died). I had guitar lessons for one year from the two guitarists who performed in the plectrum orchestra in Vercelli. They were not professional players, but they had inherited those features of the Italian school of guitar playing of which, later, I would have been an advocate. Then, I had lessons from two other Italian guitarists, mainly by Benvenuto Terzi - whose guitar works I have recently republished, then paying my debt to his memory. In the early sixties, I became a pupil of the composer Giuseppe Rosetta, who taught me a lot of harmony, counterpoint, forms. He too wrote nice guitar music which I published in the Bčrben series.

N.M - What composers of general classical music do you now believe are most significant and will be studied in 50 years? The same question for guitar.

A.G. - I think we have a lot to understand about the music written on xxth century. I think that we have still to appreciate the true importance and value of Bela Bartok, who is at my opinion the greatest musician of the first half of this century. Generally, we have also to rebalance our perspective of music history, that is now unbalanced in favor of the masters of Wien school: the greatness of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern is without question, but musicians like Bartok and - on the other side - Maurice Ravel and Manuel de Falla are under evaluated, both in terms of knowledge and appreciation of their works and from a philosophic viewpoint. Falla's weltanschaung was extremely deep, and the music he wrote is misunderstood. For what the music of the second half of this century is concerned, our understanding of it is still too influenced by the heavy pressure of the avant garde ideology. Music has been judged not in itself, but for the kind of language adopted by the composer: we have not judged the constructions, but the materials. I think the history of music from 1947 (Darmstadt) on, has yet to be written. Personally, I consider great composers people like Benjamin Britten, Dimitri Shostakovic, Samuel Barber, Giorgio Federico Ghedini, Goffredo Petrassi, Luigi Dallapiccola, and much lesser composers Karlheinz Stockhausen., Luigi Nono and Pierre Boulez. This is not the current issue...

N.M - Why does it seem that guitarists have an aversion to XXth century music?

A.G. - Here the ignorance and the confusions are immense. Guitarists, who filter the repertoire between composers and listeners, are too naive and lazy, and they ignore the majority of the repertoire accumulated in this century for their instrument. Their choices are influenced mainly by fashions and by a desperate search of pieces easy to be listened and appreciated by everybody. There are exceptions of course, but they are too few: in a guitar recital nowadays it is common to listen to pieces whose quality is so poor that in no other musical event a part of a guitar concert they could be offered.

N.M - What part of yourself asserted itself more on your past work, the composer or performer? Same question for nowadays.

A.G. - All my activity as a performer, which took place from 1959 to 1981, appear to me nowadays as an introduction - a necessary, very specialized introduction - to my activity as a composer, which begun definitely on 1981, when I stopped giving concerts and I entered also an official activity as a teacher. Castelnuovo-Tedesco had foreseen this issue on 1967: "No matter how good and passionate, your work as a concert player will give place one day to your talent as a composer, which is your destiny". At that moment, I felt rebellious to this statement, but fourteen years later I realized he was right. From other side, I see that I couldn't be the composer that I am now if I had not pushed my research on the guitar at the point I did during the Seventies, when I premiered ten new works each year...

N.M - Musicologists talk of composers having periods. How would you define your work over the years? What are some of the main components of your work (as in: romantic, classical or modern-tonal-nontonal serial ect.)

A.G. - My music is - I suppose - a bit of all of that: classical, romantic, modern, tonal, polytonal, modal, polymodal, serial, depending from the moment and from the need. I believe in style: what makes a composer and his works recognizable, really personal, detectable at first listening, is not the language, but the style created through no matter which language. Think of how many different languages Picasso painted his pictures, still his style is unique.

N.M - What's a workday like?

A.G. - Fourteen hours of job, devoted to teaching - either in Conservatory or in master classes - composing, editing, writing. A life exclusively devoted to music, with just a connected interest to literature and painting. The rest, is the silence. No family, no other commitment. A man with no qualities (to quote Musil).

N.M - What are your major duties with Berben?

A.G. - Selecting, proposing and preparing new texts for publication. In the last two years, I learned to type music with computer, so as to deliver pieces ready for print. To say that the 350 pages of the score of my last work, the Concerto for guitar and orchestra, have been typed by myself, is a reason of pride, no less than the fact of being the author of the music. After all, I have been taught to compose, but I have learned Finale by myself, with the only help of the handbooks.

N.M - How many new classical guitar pieces do you average per year? Are there any commercial considerations that the company considers when a piece is submitted? Considering that the answer was yes, do you, in some cases, fight for pieces when you have realized that it is important?

A.G. - The average reading is ten pieces a week, so about 500 per year. No commercial consideration is done, and no fight with the Publisher. If I say yes the piece is published. In order to help young composers, Bčrben has opened a blue printed series at a lower cost, where interesting works are given place. The Publisher bought a very expensive tool for printing these works of his own, while the normal output is printed at Florence, in the best Italian factory.

N.M - What was the Segovia/Gilardino controversy? Did Segovia know your work and cover any of it? You know, it seems almost crass to ask this question since the man's dead: What did you think of Segovia at the time of this controversy and what do you think of him now?

A.G. - I have always highly respected Segovia and no controversy happened between him and I. Of course, he knew that, since I was a very young player, I was not among his followers, but this did not open any direct polemic. Simply, I respectfully disagreed with his attitude toward Italian guitar music of XIXth century and with his evaluation of new music written outside his aesthetic, and I did not hide my ideas. From other side, he did not appreciate all of my choices of guitar pieces published in the red series, and he said this, quite openly and respectfully: This did not prevent him to suggest a strict friend of his, like Tansman, to entrust me for publishing some of his pieces. The problems were invented by his pupils (not all of them, of course), who had created a sort of church of which they were cardinals, bishops and priests. They regarded me as a criminal because of my not being a devotee of their God. A significant fact, which means a lot about what Segovia actually thought. Recently, I was in a Spain conservatory for giving a master class. When introducing me to the students, the professor of that Conservatory, an early Segovia student, declared - at my surprise - that in 1974, when he asked Segovia a suggestion about how to pursue his studies - the maestro's answer was: if you really want to study deeply the guitar and its repertoire, go to Italy and work with Gilardino. This happened 23 years ago, when his servants were misrepresenting my opinion of him by all their means. Segovia was an extremely intelligent man, he was able to detect the whole of a person at first sight. Anyway, there is a form of justice also in this world: I did not try to justify myself with Segovia, because I did not think it was necessary. He knew, and in fact, how the one who has to take care of his unpublished guitar music, is me.

N.M - What are your favorites of your pieces?

A.G. - I have no connection with my pieces, except when I am composing them. Since then, especially when published, they belong to everybody, and I am no longer especially fond of a piece or of another. I feel insignificant and unimportant in respect of the music I write. I have to add - to be quite honest - that when teaching I do not like to deal with my own music. I can get passionate with a movement of Henze's "Royal Winter Music" so as to keep a student three hours, missing my sense of time passing, but when it happens I have to teach a piece of my own, I feel rather uncertain about what to say.

N.M - What was one of your most memorable performances?

A.G. - My last concert, on May 31, 1981. It was the 30th concert of a season which I began in February, and I was very tired. But that concert was special, because it was one of the few I gave on my own town, Vercelli, and because it was attended by the old maestro Rosetta, whose pieces I had featured on the first part of the program, so as to allow him to leave after, because he was ill and he couldn't attend the whole recital. I had been told he could no longer "understand" music - he suffers a cerebral illness - but at the end of the first part, his part, he wanted to be accompanied to the dressing room and he was able to say me: thank you. I saw in his eyes a light of Paradise: he had lived his life like a saint, and now - despite his illness - he was understanding much better than all of us.