Pedro Rodrigues’ choice of concert programme in Goa reveals several aspects about him as a musician: his abiding passion for the music of the Baroque era (Bach in particular is his self-confessed supreme musical deity); his unstinting support for contemporary music as well; his love of the music of contemporary Portuguese composers, several of whom are close friends of his; and his extraordinary skill at transcription of music originally written for other instrumental forces, for solo guitar.
The very term “Baroque” originated from the Portuguese word “barocco” meaning “misshapen pearl”, a retrospective term used later by those who felt there was something grotesque about music from that period, although thankfully this negative connotation is now lost.
Music written by the High Baroque greats for harpsichord lends itself particularly well for transcription to guitar, due to the similarity in their sonorities and the fact that both are essentially “plucked” string instruments. Indeed, guitar maestro Andres Segovia had likened the harpsichord to “a guitar which has caught a bad cold”. It was interesting therefore to hear the works of Georg Friedrich Händel and Johann Sebastian Bach back-to-back; Händel and Bach are not only contemporaries but also share the same birth-year 1685, along with Domenico Scarlatti (incidentally all of them exceptionally gifted harpsichordists and prolific composers for the instrument). Furthermore the compositions on the programme (Händel’s Suite for keyboard in D minor HWV 448 and Bach’s Partita no. 4 in D major BWV 828 for keyboard from his famous Keyboard Practice (Clavier-Übung I)) were written within a few years of each other, in 1705-6 and 1731 respectively.
Each work is essentially a suite des danses (set of dances) beginning with an overture (Ouverture) or prélude, and followed in order by an Allemande (stately German dance in 4/4), Courante (lively French dance in 3/4), Sarabande (slow stately Spanish dance in 3/4). Then come the Intermezzi, where the composer was at liberty to insert two to four dances of his choosing. The suite would typically conclude with a Gigue (a lively dance stemming from the British jig), although Händel chooses a Chaconne (a Spanish folk dance believed to have originated in the New World, with variations on a theme in the bass line) to end his Suite. Bach’s composition, while didactic, also had on its title page the additional qualification: “Composed for Music-lovers to delight their spirits”. Even the great master could not have foreseen how much his music continues to delight music-lovers so many centuries later.
In both cases, Rodrigues’ skilful transcription very evocatively transported us into the Baroque sound-world, preserving the public grandeur of Händel as well as the private meditative style of Bach. The ability to do justice to multiple melodic lines occurring simultaneously in the bass and upper registers is quite a feat even on a keyboard instrument, but Rodrigues was able to masterfully convey this complex contrapuntal texture on the guitar. This was particularly evident in the second segment of the Ouvertures, and in the Courantes, the Gigue and Chaconne. It underscored why he is so highly respected in the music world for his transcriptions.
Bearing in mind the proximity of the concert date to Portugal Day (10 June), the second half of the programme was devoted solely to the works of contemporary Portuguese composer and pianist António Pinho Vargas (born 1951). All eight pieces on offer were originally written for solo piano, and have been transcribed for guitar by Rodrigues. The inspiration for these miniatures was variously drawn from songs of yesteryear (Uma já antiga); a canção alentejana (a song from the Alentejo region of Portugal, “Lindo ramo, verde escuro”, “Beautiful dark-green branch”); Fado; poetry (“O sentimento dum ocidental”, a poem by Portuguese poet Cesário Verde, who in turn heavily influenced Fernando Pessoa); the American singer-songwriter Tom Waits; among others. The balladic nature of the compositions seems to account for their popular appeal. “Tom Waits” in particular stood out in this respect. Pinho Vargas himself endorses Rodrigues’ guitar transcriptions as well his interpretation of the works. The composer was present at Rodrigues’ concert in Lisbon just before his trip to India and congratulated him on a “splendid” rendition of his music. Such praise from the composer is undoubtedly the best compliment a performer can possibly receive.
(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times, Goa India on 14 June 2012)