The guitar, for Davies, seems to be an updated lute, and like his Elizabethan and Jacobean predecessors, he finds the sound of plucked strings suited both to dancing and to contemplation. The outer movements of this short sonata are quick, the first being in clear ABAB form with a short recitando introduction, the finale being a kind of hobbledehoy galliard. In between comes a slow movement of counterpoint and ornament.
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This is the third set of three solo sonatas which have themes and forms in common – the others were for organ and piano, heard first at previous St. Magnus Festivals. Of all these, that for guitar was the most challenging to write – not only in the avoidance of any unintended Spanish connotations, but in making the available tone colours varied and colourful enough to sustain the abstract form.
The original inspiration came from the harpsichord sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti- clearest in the first movement, an allegro moderato following a slow introduction, where the basic B minor tonality and the thematic core are established. The second movement explores the darkest colours of the instrument, while the finale is rhythmic and brittle.
The Guitar Sonata was first performed by Timothy Walker on 20th June 1987 at the St. Magnus Festival, Tow Hall, Kirkwall
© Peter Maxwell Davies