Artistic Integrity

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the concept of artistic integrity. What does it mean for an artist (or musician, writer, painter, illustrator, etc) to have artistic integrity? Is it a relatively black and white concept (like integrity), is it more subjective (like art), or is it something in between? What about the dilemma of how far an artist will or should go in order to please an audience and sustain a career? As a result of asking these questions and doing some reading and thinking, I thought I would compile some of my ideas on this topic in the hope of better defining what this concept means for me, as well as to share some of what I have learned along the way.

To possess artistic integrity is to embrace the contradiction between exquisite detail and boundless freedom. As a classical guitarist, I spend countless hours practicing and refining my technique with the goal of transcending technique. In my interpretations, I dedicate myself to learning about the composer, period, and style, while also assimilating my own musical ideas into the rich and highly textured fabric of musical influences present in a given piece. Classical musicians, like artists, walk a tightrope between respecting the traditions of the past and utilizing their individual musical aesthetic to create a body of work that is firmly grounded yet unmistakably original. In my live performances and teaching, I strive to share the fruits of my work and communicate the passion, love, and inspiration that I feel as a result of playing the classical guitar. For me, this involves performing and teaching music that I deeply enjoy, as well as discussing relevant background information about the music in a way that is both engaging and educational. It is vitally important to be true to myself, aware of my strengths and weaknesses, and to conduct myself in a manner that is professional, ethical, and morally sound. It is of the utmost importance to listen to my moral compass, artistic intuition, and common sense to make the choices that are right for my artistic journey. As a musician, I am continuously grateful that my chosen occupation involves bringing joy and beauty to others through the music that I perform, teach, and write about. In order to do this, it is crucial for me to cultivate my love of music, appreciation for beauty, and desire to learn more about music and other topics of interest. One of the wider reaching implications of being a musician with artistic integrity is that your work is not just a career. Instead, it is an all-encompassing lifestyle in which living, learning, and creating are interconnected.

Ultimately, artistic integrity, both for myself and the art form of music as a whole seems predicated on one word: balance. To be a musician requires being exacting yet expressive; learning from the past while developing your unique voice; keeping an open mind but staying true to your core principles; having the tenacity to devote extended amounts of time to something that does not always compute according to the standards of the world, and the courage to spread the word about your music. Although musicians perform for audiences and depend on pleasing their audience in order to sustain a career, a musician that has artistic integrity will not change the essence of their work for the sake of his or her listeners. Paradoxically, this commitment to strong artistic principles is often what attracts the audience in the first place.

To have artistic integrity, it is necessary for a musician to be able to work towards opposing ideas while also firmly maintaining their moral and artistic principles. To be artistic generally refers to the skill of possessing creativity or a refined sense of aesthetics, while being a person of integrity presupposes the character traits of honesty and moral uprightness. Thus, the concept of artistic integrity nicely illustrates the need for balancing an open mind with the establishment of clear boundaries. Musicians, like all people, should strive to be good, honest, and ethical people who prioritize upholding their values in every aspect of their lives, including in their art.

As you can see, I haven’t yet been able to settle on one particular definition. Instead, I attempted to outline some of the conclusions that I have reached in my exploration of the concept of artistic integrity. It is a truly fascinating topic, and writing about it has both solidified my understanding of the concept and also left me with more questions. I would love to hear your thoughts on this broad, intriguing, and important topic-how do you define artistic integrity for yourself and/or your work?

 

 

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Prelude #6 by Manuel Ponce

Prelude No. 6 is the last prelude to be analyzed in this six part series on Manuel Ponce’s Preludes. It is my favorite of Ponce’s first 6 Preludes because of its beautiful melody, intriguing musical structure, and cohesive sound despite not being written in a song form. Like Prelude No. 5, Prelude No. 6 is in 2/4, combines modern music, Mexican folk music, and impressionist influences to create a sublime musical whole. The piece primarily uses an 8th note texture and utilizes auxiliary components (a simple introduction from mm 1-3 and a Coda from mm 34-40) but does not follow any traditional song form. Instead, the form of the piece is suggested by the melodic contour of each phrase. The entire composition seems to be derived from the first phrase (mm 4-8) after the introduction, as each subsequent phrase possesses a similar (and at times identical) melodic contour as the first phrase. In addition, this piece is the only one of the 6 Preludes to feature bitonality. The accompaniment is in the tonal center of A major, but the melody is in the key of D minor.

An A pedal tone is present throughout, and the accompaniment acts as a drone that supports the melody, although colorful impressionist harmonies are also present. A change of voice occurs in mm 21-24, in which the melody is played in the bass and middle voices, and a tone color change occurs in mm 29-33, in which the right hand plucks the strings towards the bridge of the instrument, creating a ponticello effect. The Coda consists of cadential material derived from the last two measures of the final phrase before the coda begins, and the piece both begins and ends on the same voicing of an A major chord.

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Overview of 6 Preludes and Conclusion

Manuel Ponce and Andres Segovia’s 6 Preludes reflect the wide reaching influences of their composer, making use of elements from Mexican and Spanish folk music, 20th century music, the impressionist music of Debussy and Ravel, and the unique characteristics of the guitar. The irregular phrases that occur throughout the work and the relatively small pitch range and lyricism of the melodies are elements from Mexican and Spanish folk music. The 20th century music influence can be seen most clearly in Prelude No. 3 and Prelude No. 6, neither of which ascribe to a traditional song form. In addition, Prelude No. 3 uses pantonality and Prelude No. 6 uses bitonality, two primarily 20th century harmonic concepts. The impressionist influence can be seen throughout the work in the often unusual and extended harmonies chosen for the accompaniment. The profound dynamic and tone color changes in Preludes 1, 2, 4, and 6, the change of voice in the melodies of Preludes No. 1 and No. 6, the use of harmonics in Prelude No. 2, and the use of open strings in Preludes 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are all notable examples of Ponce and Segovia’s exploitation of the musical potential of the guitar. This extraordinary synthesis of styles and compositional approaches demonstrates Segovia and Ponce’s virtuosic skills, creativity, and commitment to musical excellence.

Some Cool Resources

Hope you enjoyed this mini-series on Ponce’s 6 Preludes! If you would like to learn more about Ponce, Segovia, the 6 Preludes, or any related topics, I highly recommend checking out the following resources:

“A History of Western Music” (somewhat pricy but an excellent and comprehensive resource for any music-related research) http://books.wwnorton.com/books/webad.aspx?id=4294977603

“The Influence of Folk Music in Guitar Compositions by Manuel Ponce” by Arnoldo Garcia Santos. Absolutely fascinating dissertation on how folk music influenced Ponce’s compositional style!

“The Classical Guitar in Paris: Composers and Performers c. 1920-1960” by Duncan Robert Gardiner. Excellent thesis on the leading guitarists and composers in Paris working during the mid 20th century!

“Preludes (24) for Guitar” by Blair Johnston. Brief yet very informative overview of Ponce and Segovia’s Preludes. https://www.allmusic.com/composition/preludes-24-for-guitar-mc0002462700

“The Segovia-Ponce Letters” by Andres Segovia and Manuel Ponce. Fascinating book that is a great window into Segovia’s collaboration with many notable composers, including Manuel Ponce. https://www.amazon.com/Segovia-Ponce-Letters-English-Spanish/dp/0936186291

 

 

 

Prelude No. 5 by Manuel Ponce

The second to last piece in this series is Prelude No. 5, which is in 2/4 time, features the creative use of open strings, modal mixture, wide intervals in the melody, and has few definitive cadences. The piece is also in three-part song form (Simple Introduction, A, B, A’, Postlude), utilizes an eighth note texture throughout, and features irregular phrases. Like the preceding Prelude, the tonality of Prelude No. 5 is a modal mixture between B minor and B major, although in this piece B minor is the primary tonality. The combination of diatonic and secondary dominant chords with extended and Neapolitan chords, as well as the ambiguity of the cadences, demonstrate the intriguing blend of classical, folk, and impressionist influences that are an important characteristic of this work. See below for my analysis of Prelude No. 5:IMG_0488

Prelude No. 4 by Manuel Ponce

Prelude No. 4 is a fast and lively piece in 3/8 and is written in regular three-part song form. The texture of the piece is primarily eighth notes. All phrases are irregular, the piece is primarily a modal mixture of the parallel keys of B major and B minor, the melody is similar in character to a Spanish gypsy song, and the harmonies include Neapolitan and extended chords. These developments exemplify the combination of folk, impressionist, and modern influences that is a constant throughout the work. The A section (mm 1-15) utilizes a B pedal tone from mm 1-7 and the harmonic accompaniment alternates between B major and B minor throughout the A section. This is followed by a transition that consists of an unaccompanied scale passage from mm 16-21 that leads into the B section. The B section features a stark change of texture to a largely unaccompanied melody from mm 25-28 that possesses characteristics that are similar to melodies sung in the style of Cante Jondo, a vocal and poetic style of Andalusian flamenco music that is known for setting melodies of a small pitch range to lyrics that typically convey deeply emotional subject matter. Like most Cante Jondo music, the melody features a narrow range and is primarily unaccompanied. Shortly thereafter, the key changes to G# minor, the relative minor of B major, and there is an extended half cadence from mm 33-36 leading to a varied repetition of the melody that first appeared in mm 25-28. There is also an F# pedal tone and impressionistic chord voicings from mm 41-49. The first phrase of the A section (A’) comes back in slightly modified form from mm 53-58, which is followed by a ten measure Coda that alternates between B major and its neapolitan chord, C major, ending on an imperfect authentic cadence in B major.

For more on Flamenco and Spanish gypsy music, check out this dissertation: https://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1846&context=dissertations (go to pages 5-6 to learn more about Cante Jondo music)

Prelude No. 3 by Manuel Ponce

Prelude No. 3 is in several ways a composition that is significantly distinct from the other five Preludes. It is the only Prelude in this work that is completely through composed, meaning that there are no definitive sections and each phrase is different while also exhibiting some commonalities. It also is the shortest Prelude, consisting of only 19 measures, and has the slowest tempo of the 6 Preludes, being played at a graceful and somewhat free Andante. In addition, it is in F# major, which has more sharps than any of the other keys used in this work. Unifying factors in this piece include the melody being either unaccompanied or very lightly accompanied, sometimes by a bass line and occasionally by chords, which for the most part tend to be placed at the end of phrases to give the piece a sense of momentum. Also, imitation between the melody and bass line or the bass line and melody occurs in measures 1-3, 8-9, and measure 15. Phrases 2 and 4 have a similar melodic contour, as well as phrases 3 and 5. Phrases 1, 3, and 5 are irregular, though phrases 2 and 4 are of the normal four-measure length. A brief modulation to the chromatic mediant bIII key occurs in measures 10-11, before quickly modulating back to the tonic. Measure 17 uses pantonality, which is the use of nonfunctional and chromatic harmonies, to set up an imperfect authentic cadence that ends the piece. See below for my analysis of Prelude No. 3 (as well as the first 13 measures of Prelude No. 4):

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Prelude No. 2 by Manuel Ponce

Like the first Prelude, Prelude No. 2 is also in three-part song form, though instead of the typical three-part song form in which the A section comes back in some capacity, this piece goes to a section that contains some material from the A section but seems to be too distinct to be labeled as the return of the A section. Because of this, I have analyzed the musical structure of Prelude No. 2 as A, B, C. This piece is played at a rapid tempo in 3/8 meter, is in the key of A major, makes extensive use of motives, and also features dramatic contrasts in dynamics. The A section (mm 1-12) consists of an expanded contrasting period in which the first and second phrases are sequences of each other; the second phrase starts and ends a step lower than the first phrase.

The B section (mm 13-30) derives its character from a two-measure motive that repeats throughout the entire section. The melody of phrases 2 and 3 of the B section use the exact same melodic and rhythmic pattern as phrase 1 of the B section, though the melody is stated a minor third above in phrase 2 and a major second below in phrase 3. This melody is accompanied by a descending bass line and light harmonic accompaniment in phrase 1 of the B section, a stepwise bass line and equally sparse harmonic accompaniment in phrase 2 of the B section, and harmonies based on the dominant in mm 21-22 and mm 27-30 and bVI chromatic mediant chord in mm 23-26. In addition, a gradual and long crescendo occurs throughout the entirety of the B section. The C section begins with a one measure motive from measure 1 of the A section, though this time it is played an octave lower. The second phrase of the C section is a modification of a motive from the third phrase of the A section. This phrase also modulates to the chromatic mediant bVI key. The third phrase of the C section modulates back to the tonic and makes use of harmonics, while the fourth and final phrase of the C section begins with the same motive that began the section, although this motive is transposed a perfect fifth lower than its first appearance in the C section. The piece ends on a perfect authentic cadence. Recurring themes of this piece include the repetition and variation of rhythmic and melodic motives. These characteristics combine with the fast tempo to create a restless and driving rhythmic feel that contrasts with both the preceding and upcoming Preludes.

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Prelude #1 by Manuel Ponce

In the spring of last year, I analyzed the first set of 6 Preludes by Manuel Ponce as part of an assignment for a Form and Analysis class at Nyack College. Fast forward about a year and a half, and I am now preparing to apply to graduate schools, most of which require writing samples as part of the application. As a result, I’ve been looking over some of the papers that I had written and came across this analysis of the first set of Ponce’s Preludes. After doing some editing on this project, I thought that I would share my analysis of each Prelude on this blog in the form of a series of posts, each of which will discuss one Prelude. See below for my analysis of Prelude #1:

Prelude No. 1 is a mid-tempo piece in the key of F# minor that uses regular three-part song form (A, B, A’, Coda) and is in 4/4 time. The A section (mm 1-8) begins by stating the opening phrase in the tonic key with a two-measure phrase extension, followed by a restatement of the first phrase, this time in the chromatic mediant biii key and without the phrase extension. This section contains a primarily eighth note texture with sparse accompaniment. The B section (mm 9-16) is of a markedly different character than the A section, featuring a repetitive 1 measure rhythmic and melodic motive, as well as rapid key, dynamic, and tone color changes in the first phrase of the B section. The second phrase of the B section returns to the tonic key and features a bass line in mm 13-14 that ascends the natural minor scale by step from the tonic up to the tonic an octave higher. This bass line is supported by diatonic harmonies and an eighth note upper voice, all of which propel the phrase to a definitive half cadence in measure 16. In addition, a change of voice occurs in measure 15, where the melody is placed in the middle voice. The A’ section (mm 17-19) consists of an exact repetition of the first phrase of the A section. This is followed by the Coda (mm 20-26), which consists of an F# pedal tone, a variation of the 1 measure rhythmic motive from the first phrase of the B section, and a phrase extension from mm 24-26. The section ends on an extended plagal cadence in the tonic key.

 

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24 Preludes by Manuel Ponce: A Brief Historical Background

In the late 1920’s, Mexican composer and pianist Manuel Ponce was commissioned by Andres Segovia to write twenty-four Preludes for guitar. Two volumes consisting of 6 Preludes each were published in 1930, while the remaining twelve Preludes were not published until 1980 by guitarist, Miguel Alcazar. All twenty-four Preludes make extensive use of many of the unique attributes and timbres of the guitar, such as the use of harmonics, different musical textures, placing the melody in different and sometimes unexpected registers, and utilizing specific strings extensively to bring out some of the distinctive tone colors of the instrument. Though not primarily a guitarist, Ponce composed many works for guitar, and had an ingenious ability to exploit the unique characteristics and limitations of the instrument, composing many memorable and unique pieces that are now important parts of the standard classical guitar repertory.

Segovia and Ponce first crossed paths in 1923, when Segovia played a concert in Mexico that Ponce attended for the purpose of writing a concert review for a local paper. Ponce was instantly impressed with Segovia’s virtuosity and musical sensibilities and wrote a favorable review of the concert. After reading Ponce’s review, Segovia arranged to meet with Ponce to encourage him to compose music for the classical guitar, starting a prolific series of collaborations and a long friendship over a period of slightly more than twenty years. This collaboration resulted in the composition of many notable guitar works such as “Theme Varie, et Finale”, “Sonata Mexicana”, “Concierto del sur for guitar and orchestra”, and twelve of Ponce’s twenty-four Preludes. Segovia also played a part in refining these pieces by adding fingerings, occasionally transposing to more guitar-friendly keys, and making other changes for performance purposes.

Ponce composed these twenty-four Preludes during the first five years of his eight-year stay in Paris, France, which began in 1925 and ended in 1933. Ponce and Segovia originally intended to write twenty-four Preludes for guitar with the purpose of creating a guitar method that would introduce guitarists to all twenty-four keys. However, after the publication of the first two sets of 6 Preludes by Schott Publishing in 1930, Segovia informed Ponce that Schott would not publish the remaining two volumes due to the economic depression of the 1930’s. Segovia recorded the first set of 6 Preludes for Decca records in 1952, greatly contributing to their enduring popularity. Nearly fifty years after the publication of the first two volumes, guitarist, Miguel Alcazar was granted access to some of Ponce’s surviving music archives and found all but one of the additional twelve Preludes that previously had not been published. To complete the set, Alcazar used Ponce’s folk song “Cuando la Aurora” in place of the missing Prelude and transposed the piece to G major, thus fulfilling Ponce and Segovia’s original goal of publishing twenty-four Preludes that would introduce guitarists to all twenty-four keys. Alcazar than proceeded to publish the final set of twelve Preludes in 1980 (fifty years after the publication of the first two volumes in 1930), which were received well by the classical guitar community and continue to be widely taught, learned, and performed to this day.

References: “The Influence of Folk Music in Guitar Compositions by Manuel Ponce” by Arnoldo Garcia Santos: https://repository.asu.edu/attachments/134856/content/GarciaSantos_asu_0010E_13688.pdf, “The Classical Guitar in Paris: Composers and Performers c. 1920-1960” by Duncan Robert Gardiner: http://ro.ecu.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2268&context=theses_hons, “Preludes (24) for Guitar” by Blair Johnston: https://www.allmusic.com/composition/preludes-24-for-guitar-mc0002462700, “The Segovia-Ponce Letters” by Andres Segovia and Manuel Ponce. Edited by Miguel Alcazar. https://www.amazon.com/Segovia-Ponce-Letters-Miguel-Alc%C3%A1zar/dp/B0058UA0ZW

 

BWV 998: Prelude

There is always something special and somewhat indescribable about Bach’s music. I know it sounds cliché, but something about his music seems to transcend place, time, and definitive description. This piece is no exception: I have performed this piece at events ranging from farmers markets to very formal events, and it always seems to fit regardless of the occasion. The flexibility and ambiguity inherent in this piece also applies to some details of its historical background. The exact date in which the piece was written is not definitively known, with the general consensus being approximately between 1735-1740. The instrumentation of this piece was indicated on the original manuscript to be for lute or harpsichord (the manuscript recently sold for more than 2.5 million euros-see the following link for details and a very cool video which shows the manuscript: https://www.christies.com/features/Johann-Sebastian-Bach-autograph-manuscript-7497-3.aspx) However, there is much scholarly debate as to whether or not the piece was actually intended for lute, as some lutenists and scholars have found the writing style more suited for harpsichord then lute. Regardless of its original instrumentation, this is an excellent and beautiful piece that has become a staple of the classical guitar repertory.

A couple of noteworthy features include nearly constant forward motion rhythmically (except for measure 40 and 48), the use of all closely related keys (the piece is in D Major and modulates to A Major, e minor, b minor, f# minor, G Major, and even uses the key of g minor, which is the parallel minor of the subdominant). The form of the piece involves the theme or main musical idea being repeated and varied in different keys in between short musical statements that appear to be both related and distinct from the main idea. In addition, the piece utilizes several pedal tones on the tonic, a couple of memorable bass lines that are repeated with small variation in order to accommodate the current key (the bass line in measures 4-5 repeats in mm 17-18, 23-25, 36-38; and the bass line in measures 11-13 repeats with slight variation in mm 30-33).

Big picture analysis: the theme or main idea appears in measures 1-5 (D Major), 6-8 (A Major), 14-18 (b minor), 25-27 (G Major), and 42-44 (D Major), with a Coda from measures 45-48 in the tonic key.

Phrases and cadences: mm 1-6 (IAC), 6-11 (IAC), 11-14 (IAC), 14-19 (IAC), 19-25 (IAC), 25-30 (IAC), 30-33 (HC), 33-38 (IAC), 38-42 (PAC), 42-48 (IAC with a 4-3 suspension).

Pedal tones: mm 1-4 (D), 6-9 (A), 14-17 (B), 25-28 (G), 42-46 (D).

Hope you enjoyed this brief analysis of the BWV 998 Prelude! As always, feel free to reach out if you have any comments, questions, suggestions, or insights relating to this piece or analyzing Bach in general, as there are many aspects of Bach’s music that can yet be discovered and discussed.

See below for some fascinating and informative sources/references regarding this piece: http://brandon.multics.org/music/articles/ReadingBach.pdf, http://www.johnhallguitar.com/blog/prelude_analysis_bwv_998_by_j.s._bach/, https://www.allmusic.com/composition/prelude-fugue-and-allegro-for-lute-in-e-flat-major-bwv-998-bc-l132-mc0002369008

Variations Mignonnes from Bardenklange Op. 13 by Mertz Part 2

In the first part of this mini-series, I discussed Mertz’s career as a guitarist and composer, some of the influences behind Variations Mignonnes, and analyzed the first two variations. This post will analyze the third and last variation, with a focus on some of the different variation techniques that are used. Note: the measure numbers for this variation pick up where variation 2 left off. Thus, the first measure of this variation is marked in this post as mm 92, not mm 1.

Unlike the previous two variations, variation 3 begins on an 8th note pickup and utilizes many pedal tones on the tonic and dominant notes that serve to heavily reinforce the tonic key. While the harmonic progressions are similar to the first two variations (though with a slower harmonic rhythm), there is a change of melody, which is more chromatic and does not seem to be directly related to the melody of the theme. There is also a change of meter, as this variation is in 6/8 time, and imitation between voices occurs in measures 118-119, 122-123, 126-127, and 130-131. It should also be noted that there are three contrasting sections in this variation, each of which derives its distinctive character from a regularly recurring rhythmic pattern. The first section (mm 92-118) features a quarter note, 8th note, dotted 8th note, 16th note, and 8th note rhythmic figure that first shows up in mm 94 and comes back six times in the section. The second section (mm 118-157) uses several rhythmic figures, the first being the dotted 8th note, 16th note, and 8th note figure from the first section, which is followed by a 16th note chromatically descending melody accompanied by 8th note pedal tones (throughout mm 118-126). An 8th note and four consecutive 16th note rhythmic figure is found in mm 134-136, adding interest and contrast to the preceding material. Another important rhythmic figure is the 8th note, two 16th notes, and 8th note figure, which is found in measures 138-145, 199-202, and 211-214.

Big picture analysis: introduction (mm 92-93) in tonic, 1st section (mm 93-118) in tonic, relative major, 2nd section (mm 118-157), tonic, relative major, repeat of introduction (mm 158) in tonic, exact repeat of 1st section (mm 159-182) tonic and relative major, 3rd section (mm 183-214) in tonic, outro in tonic (mm 215-228).

Phrases and cadences: mm 93-97 (IAC), 97-101 (PAC in C Major), 101-105 (HC), 106-109 (HC), 110-113 (IAC), 113-118 (IAC), 118-123 (HC), 124-127 (IAC), 128-131 (HC in C Major), 132-133 (HC in C Major), 134-137 (DC), 138-141 (IAC), 142-145 (HC in C Major), 146-149 (HC), 150-153 (HC), 154-157 (HC), 159-182- same phrases and cadences as mm 93-118), 183-186 (HC), 187-190 (HC), 191-194 (HC on V of iv), 195-198 (HC on vii dim 7 of V), 199-202 (extended HC), 203-206 (HC on V of iv), 207-210 (HC on vii dim 7 of V), 211-214 (extended HC), 215-218 (HC), 219-224 (PAC), 224-228 (extended PAC).

Pedal tones: mm 92-94 (tonic), 102-109 (dominant), 116-117 (dominant), 120-121 (tonic), 124-125 (dominant), 128-129 (tonic), 132-133 (5th of dominant in C Major), 147 (VI), 148-149 (dominant in C Major), 152-153 (dominant), 158-159 (tonic), 181-182 (dominant), 199-202 (dominant), 203-205 (tonic), 211-214 (dominant), 219-222 (tonic).

I hope that this post will help some fellow guitarists who are learning this piece to better understand some of the compositional techniques behind the memorable melody and driving rhythms of this work. Please feel free to comment if you have any questions, suggestions, or insights relating to this post.