Richard A. Del Pizzo

Composer / Nylon-String Guitarist

Influences & Styles

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        The classical guitar did not really come into its own until Segovia almost single-handedly elevated its status and brought it to prominence in the 20th century.  As such, the great European composers of the 17th through 19th centuries largely ignored it in favor of other instruments, and, if they visited the guitar at all, produced works which were not their most memorable efforts.  Thus, the guitar's repertoire, unlike that of the piano or violin, is rather limited in scope.  There were however several virtuoso guitarists from the classical and romantic eras who composed specialized show pieces they could perform in their own concerts.  While much of it is still challenging to the player today, to 20th century ears, the harmonies and forms are rather staid.

        In an effort to increase the repertoire available to the guitar and himself, Segovia pursued a number of composers to write guitar works.  He carefully chose who he approached with the result that the majority of this music was temperamentally suited to Segovia's romantic Spanish soul.  Few of these composers were guitarists themselves, and whether any were composers of the first-rank I will leave to others to argue.

        The music of Bach of course is available to the classical guitarist through transcription from lute, violin and even keyboard manuscripts.  No one will argue that this music is anything other than the zenith of any age or style.  But, even today when one hears Paul Galbraith's stunning recordings of Bach lute or violin transcriptions for his unique eight-string guitar, one realizes that guitarists are still seeking solutions to adapt music written for other instruments to the guitar.

        While Segovia was the classical guitar's champion, and indeed for many years and people, the only classical guitarist, there was another brilliant musician, whose light shone just as intensely if only on distant lands - Agustín Barrios Mangoré.  A stunning composer/guitar virtuoso whose music is as beautiful as it is difficult to play, he seems for many years to have remained largely unknown outside of his native South America.  He produced a body of works, ultra-romantic in nature, which in my view are to the guitar what Chopin's are to the piano.

        Whatever the status of the repertoire of the classical guitar, I have always found that classical guitar technique affords the player widest range of tone and expression on the instrument.  This is achieved through the use of a nylon-string instrument, proper posture and form, and the nails of the individual fingers of the right hand to sound the strings.

        While I was studying classical guitar, I concurrently studied jazz.  What I heard in jazz, and what profoundly influenced me from the start, was the use of harmony.  Chords, opened up with extensions and alterations, began to produce worlds of sounds, moods and feelings which were entirely lacking in the world of stricter classical harmony.  The ideas of jazz guitarists like Johnny Smith, Tal Farlow, George Van Eps, and more currently Ed Bickert, made me look at the guitar's fingerboard in a new light.

        While Europe may have let the nylon-string guitar languish, it seems Brazil embraced it.  To hear the work of some of the contemporary Brazilian guitarists (which is of course influenced by the guitar's accepted position in Brazil's musical history) is to realize that the guitar is truly an unlimited instrument which needs neither apologize for the neglect of its past, nor play the role of poor cousin to any other instrument.  What hooked me into Brazilian guitar music was the use of traditional European harmony, spiced with jazz chords and souped up with infectious rhythms.  The sheer exuberance and virtuosity of Raphael Rabello leaves one breathless.  (How ironic and tragic that Rabello, whose lust-for-life exploded out of his music, should have died so prematurely).

        But as I am a composer myself, I must give top honors to Paulo Bellinati, whose bountiful compositional skill and dazzling technical polish leave one spellbound.  His music exploits every technique, register and resource of the guitar, always while eschewing any etude-like quality.

        My interests and influences also extend well beyond the guitar world to the spheres of opera and lied, and the great American tunesmiths Rodgers & Hart, Cole Porter and the like.  Perhaps because of these influences, often a piece comes to me along with the words.  The addition of words in these forms allow me to clarify a particular meaning, or force a specific idea or emotion to the forefront.

        Opera is on the grand scale, while lied reflects the intimate - the former can be sensuous and forceful, the latter subtle and poetic.  Writing for a classically trained voice, to text in the euphonic Italian language, opens up avenues of expression which are not readily available in the realm of purely abstract music.

        Since childhood I have also soaked up the standards of the American tunesmiths in countless renditions by the great jazz singers and musicians.  As you listen to these, keeping the basic tune in mind, you realize that what you have before you is a virtual goldmine of interpretation, ingenuity, and musical flexibility and freedom. Take 20 performers' renditions of My Romance and you will likely have 20 masterpieces.

        While these disparate musical elements at first glance might not appear to assimilate easily, when I compose they fuse quite naturally.  I am not consciously trying to force them together or create some new sort of fusion.  I simply use the elements as subconscious forms, styles, building blocks and resources from which I can draw to create the desired musical effect.

        Let me close with a little (lightweight!) musical philosophy.  I belong to no 'school', as it were.  I am, and always have been, a fierce individualist.  I have not allowed myself to be influenced by the dogma of institutions, academics, or individuals.  Though I have studied with many teachers over my life, (for better or worse) I never remained with any for a prolonged period of time.  I have allowed myself to be guided by my own curiosity, instinct and intelligence (be it as it may).  I do not necessarily accept what is written in books or has become conventional wisdom by tradition. Everything constantly gets re-evaluated.

        On my disc you will find absolutely no avant-gardism or unconventional musical techniques employed solely with the intent to shock or impress.  There is no display of "technique for technique's sake" as it seems so many musicians have done and still do (much to the harm of their musicality).  I believe music, and art in general, shines its brightest when it strives towards beauty.

        I compose because I need to do and because I think I have something to say.  I often find it painful to compose, but more painful not to.  For me music often acts as a balm or a salve which comforts the soul when it cries, thus my attempt is to write beautiful music to heal the spiritual wounds.  No trickery, no hidden agendas, no exhibitionism, no sell-outs for financial gain. Just beautiful music which I hope follows down the path of all the wonderful artists, musicians and composers I have mentioned above.

© 2014 Richard A. Del Pizzo

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