Category “new music”

Amanda’s Dance now available

Amanda’s Dance is based on an American hymn called Amanda by Justin Morgan. It’s long been a favorite of mine, with its haunting harmonies and stark words. The surprising use of a cross relation [D# and D at the same time] in the third chord of the song always captivated me and I had long wanted to write a set of variations or other work based on this chord and the related melodies. In the winter of 2017, I began the project and dedicated the piece to my German friend Detlev Bork in thanks for many favors and his love of new music. The opening dance gives way to a contrapuntal fantasy on the melodic elements of the original work and slowly works its way back to a reprise and enhancement of the opening theme.

Justin Morgan (February 28, 1747 – March 22, 1798) was a U.S. horse breeder and composer. READ MORE at WIKIPEDIA. He was born in West Springfield, Massachusetts, and by 1788 had settled in Vermont. In addition to being a horse breeder and farmer, he was a teacher of singing; in that capacity he traveled considerably throughout the northeastern states. He died in Randolph, Vermont, where he also served as town clerk.

My favorite stanza of the verse:

Death, like an overflowing stream,
Sweeps us away; our life’s a dream,
An empty tale, a morning flower,
Cut down and withered in an hour.

Here’s the first section played on a wonderful 1941 Hauser at Aaron Green’s Vintage Classical Guitars

Price: $5.95

Five Short Pieces now published

Fünf Kleine Stücke (Five Short Pieces) is my most recent composition, now for sale, click here to purchase a PDF download. I recently paid a visit to my friend Aaron Green where I had the opportunity to play four different Hauser guitars from 1931, 1941 and two from 1959. The 1939 Aaron recently had was sold and not available as the fifth, so we used one of Aaron’s recent guitars which was inspired by the Llobet model of early Hausers. Read more below about my conception and the birth of this new work.

Fünf Kleine Stücke was written for Dr. Daniel Pewsner in thanks for many favors and good friendship. Also for my new found love of Switzerland and its many graces and lovely medieval towns, such as Basel, Bern and Solothurn.

Fünf Kleine Stücke
I. Sequenz I
II. Basel, 1298
III. Lindenberg, 2017
IV. Durch den Rhein
V. Sequenz II

My wife Nancy and I were on vacation in Basel, Switzerland and I had borrowed a beautiful guitar belonging to Dani. It, and the gorgeous 14th and 15th century surroundings, inspired me to do more more than a little technique maintenance while trying to relax (not my forte!). Composing does relax me, and so it went: a morning coffee, a few warmups, then composing, lunch with Nancy at an intimate downtown cafe, then off to a museum, walking the beautiful streets of Basel to get there. On those walks we continually looked for the earliest date above a medieval doorway – the winner, 1298. Thus the title of #2 – Basel, 1298, with appropriate harmonies to that time, many parallel fourths and a spacious flow reminiscent of the long and luxurious reverberation of tones in an all-stone cathedral or chapel.

My dedication of #4 to José Sanchez (another guitarist/friend residing in Bern who possesses perhaps the most beautiful tone I have ever heard!) is based on a trip we took twice to a country chapel on the outskirts of the exquisite town of Solothurn. José grew up near there and had recollections of discovering this magical place some 30 years before – all the while it sat in his memory. I was touched that I was visiting when it occurred to him to take me and Dani there to share his experience. The memory was good – the all stone acoustics were amazing and we soaked up the vibrations in joy and wonderment. On the first visit, a somewhat elderly woman with few teeth, thin, but strong in appearance, entered and asked if we could be quiet for a few moments. Abiding her request, she disappeared into a crypt behind the alter. Our eyes gazed in question at each other upon hearing the bass tones that emerged – wasn’t that a woman? Our question was soon answered by the next phrase that leapt two octaves and more. And so the questions and answers bounced off the walls, floor and ceiling of hard stone. We did ask what language, as she emerged, “my own, they are sounds that come to me.” And the music? “The same – it comes.” She departed, as mysteriously as she had entered, and left us aghast.

The five works are conceived as studies, tone poems they might be called. The prime purpose of any study is to achieve the maximum resonance of the guitar with beautiful tone in any technical circumstance. So a study takes a particular pattern and repeats it a bit more than normal. The several problems presented here are: scales with slurs, thus the two “Sequenz,” or sequences, that are inspired by the medieval form, and feature long scales with slurs, slurs that need to be incorporated into the flow, or pattern, with strength, clarity and fluidity; Basel, 1298 and the following Lindenberg, 2017 (the street on which these works were composed) focus on im chords, two note intervals, that span all six strings, demanding the right wrist be fluid and accommodate all strings so that the tone remains consistent (though variable as dictated by musical demands or inspiration); and the third major focus is simply melody and accompaniment, though in #4, Durch den Rhein, the melody constantly shifts between bass and soprano.

On this last point, I would comment that I have a rule that is essential to my particular style of playing: ALL melodies should be played rest stroke. Now, you may immediately react, “how old fashioned!” But I would have you pause for two seconds and reconsider. Every rule MUST be broken, so I by no means ever achieve this goal. But, even if it is totally impossible or impractical to play a note rest stroke. it is crucial that you try, that you practice it this way. Why? To get that lovely rich sound in your ear. If the ultimate decision is to play free stroke, you have been informed by the attempted execution of rest stroke, and your ear has been infected by that sound. You may want the melody to be soft and wispy, slightly or emphatically ponticello, where rest stroke feels to heavy and punchy. Great – do it. But I have witnessed too many great guitarists playing the opening phrase of Villa-Lobos Prelude #1 free stroke – it sounds weak – it can never achieve that full cello like quality that must be used. Imagine a cellist bowing across the string without wanting to press the string too hard! Shifting between rest stroke thumb and rest stroke finger demands flexibility of approach, particularly in the wrist, but also demands sensitivity in the fingertip/nail connection and arc of the fingers.


Copyright ©2017 Frank A. Wallace
Cover photography and design by Nancy Knowles
All rights reserved.

Nuevas Cantigas explore medieval sounds

Monasterio de Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Monasterio de Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Welcome to #freefriday. Please go to Free Sheet Music to listen and download a free copy of Nuevas Cantigas, my homage to the Spanish Medieval period.

I fell in love with the sound of Medieval music in 1979 when I toured Spain for three months, performing 12-16th century music in 800 year old cathedrals in Catalunya. This Medieval suite for guitar is the result of much love and adoration of the pure melodies and harmonies of that period: five original pieces with two arrangements of authentic medieval music, Imperayritz from the Llibre Vermell and a Cantiga de Santa Maria. The first movement, Montserrat, was featured in Issue #58 [July 2005] of Fingerstyle magazine.

from the Cantigas de Santa Maria

from the Cantigas de Santa Maria

Montserrat is dedicated not just to the famous pilgrimage site west of Barcelona, but also to the actual pilgrimage Trio LiveOak made there in 1979. We were privileged to have a private viewing of the Llibre Vermell (Red Book) which contains Imperayritz, a hymn or dance of praise to the Virgin Mary, and 13 other important musical examples of 14th century Catalonia, now the northeast region of Spain. Abadesses is a memory of another phenomenal 12th century site, the cathedral at Sant Juan de les Abadessas [see photo below]. Loor means ‘praise’ in Gallego-Portuguese, the poetic language King Alfonso X, “El Sabio,” preferred for his large and magnificent collection of over 400 Cantigas de Santa Maria of the 13th century. Santa Maria Valed is one of the few songs thought to have actually been written by Alfonso when he was ill and in need of his precious Saint Mary’s aid. The suite concludes with an Estampie, a medieval dance form that features many sections not unlike the rondo form of later centuries. This particular one is modeled after the Robertsbridge Estampies, the earliest examples of written keyboard music.

The Music of Bret Williams – CD review

Bret Williams is a funny guy. He’s friendly but edgy, likes to push the envelope in his podcast interviews. Here’s a couple of quotes from his website: “I don’t play strings not made by D’Addario. I’d rather die.” Or, “I hate Apple’s recording software, but I love the head of University of Washington’s guitar department, Michael Partington.” So this music is not what I expected. Williams’ music is sweet rather than ironic, it’s lyrical and nostalgic rather than biting and bitchy. It’s downright beautiful. Melody is king on this disc and the lovely interweaving of each line carries me through the whole CD time and again. The titles are worthy of comment: Pick That Up, Please; I Remember Dancing; and my favorite You’ll Tear Your Dress. While these come from Bret’s love of humor and irony, [that sometimes verges on vulgarity] they betray a love of the common, the mundane, the daily life of a Joe in New York City. But one who is not jaded by the need to conform to a style. Bret has created his own style. And it’s daring is to say, “I dare to love;” “I dare to laugh at myself;” “I dare to wear my heart on my sleeve.” “I dare to write beautiful music!”

This is a rare and fresh piece of work. It’s not daring in the sense of way out experimental music, dissonant harmonies or incessant repetition. But it is daring that one composer has chosen to write so much music for one unusual ensemble. And a nice one it is! With guitar, violin, clarinet and bass, Williams manages to use every instrument (except the bass) in every role he can conjure: solo, accompaniment, duets, dialogues. There is always a fresh texture and new rhythmic groove. Only the bass stays in its relatively typical role of being bass – usually plucking, or is it always, hmm, have to listen again…

I have just completed an interview with French composer Pascal Jugy who is about to release a CD of flute and ten-string guitar music and both have much in common. Both clearly love life and show that through an underlying pop/jazz feel. Through melody. I dare say Bret’s music is almost cabaret in style – a touch of the elegant Parisienne. It’s intimate and caring. It’s flirtatious. It says, “Have a seat and enjoy a glass of wine in the sunshine.”

Towards the end of the CD, I did want to hear something distraught, pissy or pissed off. A little anger, an argument, “Hey Bret, your music sucks, wanta fight?!” Or: Hey Jerk, You Spilled My Milk. But that’s just me and maybe it will come next time. I hope there is a next time, with or without spilled milk. We need more guitarists willing to join forces with other instruments and make a statement, commit to a new sound. We need more composers to care about guitar ensembles. We need to try new sounds and break away from the ordinary. This album is proof that one can do that without being weird or controversial, yet still new and relevant.

I have to end with another quote from Bret, “Why don’t you buy a CD from me? You can buy it from iTunes too, but Apple doesn’t care about me. They only care about themselves. You’ll also find me on all your favorite streaming services if you prefer to kill art in America.”

Do It!

Frank Wallace

PS – I sent this review to Bret and invited his response before publication. I thought there might be some further dialogue that could be interesting…here it is:

Holy shit Frank.

You almost made me cry in public. This is amazing. You should be writing at the Times and teaching at Juilliard. Let me know where you decide to post it. Feel free to post my response.


My response to Bret: Cluster Pluck, by Frank Wallace, from a new collection of seven short works entitled Film Scores, click on the title to read more and purchase. A free copy of Cluster Pluck and Sweet Betrayal is in the Sample PDF on that page. Keep your eyes peeled for a Movie Contest coming up this summer.

Fanfare’s David DeBoor Canfield reviews Wallace CDs Gargoyles and Elemental

WALLACE The Elements. Black Falcon. Passing in the Night. A Heavy Sleep. Sonata One — Frank Wallace (gtr) — GYRE (62:06)

WALLACE Gargoyles. Nocturne. The Coming of Arthur. White Albatross. Night Owl. New England Quartets — Mare Duo; Anne Wolf (man); Kristina Lisner (man); Melanie Hunger (man); Thomas Kolarczyk (db) — GYRE   (63:19)

I would hazard a guess that unlike most other instruments, the majority of those who have composed for the guitar have also played the instrument to one degree or the other. This is due to the difficulty of writing playable music for the instrument barring some degree of knowledge of its technical capabilities. Thus, in the first disc of the two under review here, the reader is afforded the opportunity of hearing a recital of music by the composer-performer guitarist, Frank Wallace. In this case, the composer is the equal of the performer, or vice versa, and both are very good.

Because of the tuning of the instrument (normally from bottom to top, E-A-D-G-B-E), much music for this instrument is written in guitar-friendly keys, such as E Minor or D Major. The reason is simple: Music in certain keys is easier to play, and music of extended tonality or atonality is much trickier. From the very beginning of the solo CD, Wallace proves that he is not limited to the diatonic keys involving frequent use of the open strings. The first movement of the opening work, The Elements, is entitled “Fire,” and it involves some quite complex sonorities, interspersed with chords that utilize the open strings to provide a greater resonance than is achieved through stopped notes and chords. The effect is dramatic and very evocative. The movements of this suite, which also includes “Earth,” “Air,” and “Water,” are obviously derived from the four elements of the ancient Greeks, thought to be the components of all matter. Wallace uses these “elements” in a poetic fashion to depict the creation of the world–the initial explosion, the congealing of the ground, and so forth. Whether the listener would get any of this simply from hearing the piece is beside the point. The work exudes drama, and sustains interest throughout.

A Heavy Sleep draws its inspiration from the well-known Nocturnal of Benjamin Britten, by now ensconced as a staple of the guitar repertory. Commissioned on the occasion of the 100th birthday of the composer, this work evokes the Britten’s masterpiece through its textures, gestures and harmonic language. Sounds of the night are plentiful, but the work is not soporific in its effect: I stayed awake and quite interested throughout! Black Fountain, based on the octatonic scale, and a commission by guitarist Edel Muñoz, exhibits a bit more Spanish flavor in its quasi-flamenco rhythms and chords, but retains Wallace’s distinctive compositional voice.

The Bells consists of three preludes that exhibit Wallace’s experimentation in more dissonant sonorities. The latter two pieces in the set are also based upon the letters of their respective dedicatees’ names. Sonata One, on the other hand, is described by its composer as utilizing a “romantic 12-tone style.” This work was inspired by memories that the composer had of the influential LP by Julian Bream, “20th Century Guitar Music,” a disc which contained music by Britten, Smith Brindle, Martin, and Henze. Judging by the number of copies of this LP I’ve seen as a dealer, it must have sold very well, and influenced a lot of other guitarists and composers. Two virtuosic and note-rich outer movements flank a quiet “Grave” interior movement that produces much of its effect from changes in the kind of plucking of the strings that is called for. The use of different parts of the finger, or plucking closer to, or further away from the bridge of the instrument all contribute to this variety in color. The CD concludes with a moving tribute written on the passing of Wallace’s 94-year-old father, and commemorates him by depicting his love of travel, various activities, and fondly remembered sayings. The last movement, “I’m still your pappy,” includes some very non-guitar-like sounds, which must have been produced by striking various parts of the instrument.

The second CD, entitled “Gargoyles” after one of the pieces on it, combines guitar with various numbers of mandolins. If you, the purchaser of this CD, can figure out which performers on the second CD play in which pieces (Wallace himself does not play on this disc), you either have better eyes or more patience–or both–than do I. Suffice it to say that the Mare Duo, comprised of mandolinist Annika Hinsche and guitarist Fabian Hinsche, play on the majority of the works here included. Given that the mandolin is, unlike the guitar, a rather mono-chromatic instrument (most of its music consists either of plucked single lines or tremolo on notes or chords), I was not expecting to enjoy this CD as much as the solo guitar. I was quite surprised, therefore, to find myself enjoying these works every bit as much Wallace’s solo guitar works. Indeed, the range of moods and colors he extracts from the combination of guitar and mandolin(s), with occasional recourse to a double bass, is quite astonishing. The soft tremolo passages of the mandolin in the background allow the guitar to paint upon an exquisite canvas. The louder tremolos are more akin to tremolo passages in violins or other bowed string instruments, and can and do produce palpable excitement. Then, too, Wallace finds some colors on the mandolin that I had yet to encounter. In With a Wink his Dream was Changed, for instance, he calls for his mandolin performers to employ a technique that makes the mandolin sound very much like a harpsichord with the lute stop engaged, a really interesting sound. The quick juxtaposition of single plucked notes and tremolo in Night Owl was further evidence of this composer’s imagination. There was even a quick glissando in this work, something I’ve never heard on a mandolin previously.

Part of the interest in the music on this CD is the stylistic variety that the composer uses from one piece to the next, or sometimes even within the same piece. One hears everything ranging from firm tonality in Gargoyles to mysterious sonorities in White Albatross to dramatic contrasts in The Coming of Arthur. Some of the works exhibit a sort of almost Baroque counterpoint, while others use extended chordal technique to make their effect. The variety is such that my interest never flagged for a moment during the course of the CD, a fact abetted by the consummate skill of all the performers. One hears some really virtuoso playing during the course of these two CDs.

Although these two well-recorded CDs will unquestionably appeal to collectors of music on plucked instruments, I believe that their value will also be recognized by repertory collectors generally, and on that basis can give them a firm recommendation. David DeBoor Canfield


SUSTAINING POWER writing for winds

art work on the cover of The BellsEnter CMSALE in the Promo Code box at checkout for a 25% discount on all chamber music until November 1, 2013

The day I walked into San Francisco Conservatory of Music, I was challenged to become a melodist, to think beyond the guitar. That’s a fancy way of saying that I was forced to take voice lessons in order to make it through sight-singing class – yes, my voice was that bad. I was extremely shy in high school and had never dared sing and mostly mumbled in public (and, of course, with my parents!)

By the end of college I was singing with Jon Bailey in the Cantata Singers, a semi-professional choir housed at the Conservatory. Jon was a true inspiration and that changed my life! Moving to Boston on graduation, I joined the Quadrivium and eventually formed the LiveOak Consort which featured a mix of voices and instruments. I have continued that mix to this day, though it has become focused on the creation of art song with guitar. So most of my melodic self has gone into this creative process, regularly working with winds or strings as well, but always in the context of guitar ensemble. Lurking in my mind has been the desire to write for larger ensembles of sustained instruments or voices. In September this year I finally took the time to “arrange” The Bells for wind quintet. I say “arranged,” but it feels more like a realization of what is already on the page. It was a fairly straight-forward process. It is such glory to hear a five note guitar chord have the sustaining power of five sets of lungs and the implied voice leading be clearly heard by the distinctive voices of wood and metallic wind instruments.

Listen to the Finale Garritan Personal Orchestra version of the pieces, see sample pages of the score or watch me play one of the guitar versions on the product page on this site: The Bells for winds

I am looking for a wind quintet to give the debut performance. Any ideas or contacts would be greatly appreciated.

–  Frank Wallace