Guitar Concerto ("Rhapsody on a Spanish Theme")

Instrumentation: solo guitar, - - strings [also available in versions for guitar and string orchestra AND guitar and string quartet]

Duration: ca. 26'

First Performance: Alan Thomas with the University of Leicester Sinfonia, conductor Michael Sackin, 9th February 2008.

Additional Performances: Helix Ensemble




"Alan Thomas was the excellent soloist in the premiere of his own Rhapsody on a Spanish Theme for Guitar and Orchestra - a three-movement work of lush harmonies and memorable melodies written in a rich, romantic style that pays homage to Rachmaninov. It was very appealing and enjoyable, with the composer making ingenious use of the work's opening theme." Neil Crutchley's Leicester Mercury newspaper (England)

"The world premier of Alan Thomas' Rhapsody on a Spanish Theme for Solo Guitar and Orchestra proved to be very popular with both the players and audience alike. Alan Thomas indicated that he set out to write a piece based on the powerful romantic style of composers such as Rachmaninov and it is a tribute to his ability as a musician that he was completely successful in his aim.

The resulting work was full of swirling luscious harmonies underpinning broad melodies. It also seemed to include a solo guitar part of great technical difficulty which Alan Thomas sailed through with consummate ease. Certainly worthy of further performances..." Roger Swann's internet review of the premiere

Programme Note

My Guitar Concerto ("Rhapsody on a Spanish Theme") grew out of my love of the great Romantic pianist-composers, from Chopin and Liszt up to Rachmaninoff. How I would love to be able to play their music on the guitar! While this is unfortunately a ridiculous dream on many different levels, the idea of composing a guitar concerto in the general language and style of these composers nonetheless began to take shape in my mind, not as an act of kitsch, but rather simply from a sincere desire to write and play a Romantic concerto for guitar (one which, despite its title, is not based on folkloristic elements as most of the well-known guitar concerti are, but rather using the language of the Germanic/Russian tradition).

The "Spanish theme" of the work's subtitle is the famous Spanish Romance--probably the most well-known piece for classical guitar. It is a beguilingly simple little tune in even note values, presented first in E minor then in modified form in E major. The melody's simplicity made it well suited to use as the basis for my concerto; it is adaptable to a variety of harmonisations, and its essential motivic features (repeated notes and short scalar figures) provide very basic and recognisable "building blocks". While the piece is essentially a traditional three movement concerto, the "Spanish Romance" theme permeates the work in a way that might call to mind a theme and variation form spread out over three movements.

After a brief introduction in the first movement, the "Spanish Romance" theme is presented, immediately followed by a variation. A transition by pizzicato strings leads to the allegro theme that makes up most of the work's first movement. This theme is derived from motivic features of the "Romance" melody, preserving the four repeated notes but altering the original's descending three-note scale into a sequence of descending four-note scale patterns.

The second movement transforms the beginning of the minor key "Romance" theme into the major for an extended melody, first presented by the solo guitar and then developed by the orchestra.

The Allegro scherzando that begins the third movement combines the descending four-note scale with the "Romance's" three-note scale motif (now rising instead of falling). After this rondo-like section, a solo guitar interlude creates a transition back to a reprise of the "Romance" tune. The piece then ends with a brief variation which combines the first movement E minor allegro theme and material from the third movement opening, culminating in a presto coda.

Throughout, the roles of the guitar and orchestra are not so much combative (as in many traditional concerti) as they are complimentary, which is just as well since for reasons of volume and sonic frequency the guitar is simply not capable of competing with the orchestra in anything like the way that the piano or violin can.

The concerto is dedicated to a brilliant guitarist and longtime friend, Denis Azabagic, in appreciation of his encouragement and invaluable musical insights and suggestions over the course of the work's composition.