The Catalan Guitar

Guitarist Bernat Padrosa reclaims the musical universe of the Catalan guitar in his recent monographic recording, devoted to the figure of Frederic Mompou (1893-1987). In musicological terms, the author of Música Callada (Silent Music) has rarely been thought of as a composer closely associated with the guitar. But Padrosa’s transcription of Impressions Íntimes (Intimate Impressions) (1911) spurred him to undertake a project focused exclusively on Mompou. With the transcription, he also realized that the sonority and linguistics of the guitar as an instrument could intensify certain characteristics and esthetic concepts of this preeminent figure in the history of Catalan music, such as new beginnings, primitivism or mysticism.

The transcription has earned Padrosa a place in the history of Catalan guitar. From the publication of Europe’s first treatise on the instrument in 1596, by Joan Carles i Amat (1572-1642), Catalonia and the guitar have formed a partnership marked by prodigious composers like Ferran Sor (1778-1839), Francesc Tàrrega (1852-1909), Miquel Llobet (1878-1938) and obviously, Mompou himself, who came to the instrument through Cançons i Danses (Songs and Dances) X and XIII, and Suite Compostel·lana (Compostellian Suite) (1962).

Bernat Padrosa’s role as a performer of this repertoire is intimately bound to the esthetic and tone of the instrument itself. Far from putting on an exhibition of volume and virtuosity for their own sake, this guitarist is on a quest for the gravity and intimacy of a bygone sonority, beginning in his use of gut strings, and culminating in his playing of guitars made by the Torres luthiers.

Having achieved this subtle sound, Padrosa offers in his concerts an experience somewhere between the mystic and the esthetic, that seems to echo the words of Mompou himself:

“This music has neither air nor light. It is a faint beating of the heart. We do not ask it to go beyond a few millimeters’ space, but to perform the mission of penetrating into the deepest reaches of our souls, and most secret regions of our spirits. Restraint and retention.”