I began my musical life as a jazz guitarist with eighteen months of sporadic lessons (1934-36) from Terence Usher, an amateur guitarist and professional public relations officer to Manchester City Council. He gave me a sound technical grounding and a knowledge of basic musical theory, and encouraged me to improvise - for all of which I owe him a debt of gratitude. They were the only formal lessons in music I ever had. He was also interested in the classic guitar and this led naturally to my own growing interest in that instrument and in art music in general. As the processes of improvisation and composition are essentially the same — composition is improvisation, given the benefit of time to reconsider and to refine the product. At first I wrote small pieces for the jazz guitar, mostly ‘portraits’ of current girlfriends, but by 1939 I had begun to write for the classic guitar; it developed naturally from there. Music remained an increasingly rewarding hobby, secondary to my professional life as a scientist, until I was almost fifty years old, when it took over the whole of my working life and science ceased to play an active part in it.
Improvised music originates in the mind and is ‘heard’ in the inner ear, and this is a two-way process; what one hears becomes translatable into ‘play-back’ action and/or, given a knowledge of musical theory, comprehensible. It can provide a direct route to eclecticism — one may adopt what one chooses into ones own bloodstream, and bypass what one feels foreign to ones own nature. For this reason I have never had one immediately identifiable style and have happily lived with a wide variety of idioms. By the same token, wise performers choose to play only what ‘speaks to’ their own natures. In Antigoni Goni’s case it is tonal, romantic and clearly structured music.
The English Suite was written at the prompting of Segovia, who loved English music; it was the first work by any English composer since Purcell to be played and recorded by him. Each movement contains an English folk song, together with original thematic material: In the first and third movements the folk song is framed by composed themes — in the first, "Low down in the broom" and "The Ballad of Robin Hood", respectively; in the second movement it ("The cuckoo") occupies the outer sections. When I had finished it Segovia said: "You will be astonished by the success it will have". I was, and it led to requests for similar works from many other countries, amongst those to which I responded were two in this recording:
Suite piemontese, written for Angelo Gilardino, is based on folk tunes from Piemonte, the region of his birth. "Il pastor fedele is the faithful shepherd, the sounds of whose pipes or of nearby birds are heard. The second movement uses a tune Gilardino remembered from his youth. The counter-melody to its second statement develops into the theme of the central section. In "La danza" there is an episode that pokes gentle fun at a typical village band which often plays out of tune!
Musikones was written for Eleftheria Kotzia and has five movements whose subtitles are the names of three of the Nine mythical Muses. It forms a kind of ‘nominal rondo’ the refrain of which is the dance (Terpsichore), the last of which is in 7/8 time - five and seven times are as natural in Greek folk music as 2, 3 and 4 are in western countries. Erato is the Muse of Lyric Poetry. Over 2000 years ago a man called Seikelos wrote a lament on the death of his wife Euterpe (the name of another Muse), notated in tablature for a guitar-like instrument, the barbitonü tuned in fourths. I have treated it freely but respectfully.
Two more of these works have ‘national’ overtones. Variations on a Catalan folk song were written for and on the suggestion of John Williams. The tune, Canco del lladre (Song of the thief), is perhaps more solemn than one might expect — but he is/was already in prison. The variations are virtuosic and exploit a variety of textures and moods; the tonics of their keys — D.E.F#.F,E.A.D follow the sequence of the bass line in Miguel Llobet’s setting of the tune!
I had recently been in Venezuela , where I first met Antonio Lauro, and had had many Venezuelan students in London. One afternoon I thought "I wonder if I could write a Venezuelan waltz?". In the event I wrote three, in the order in which they appear, and in the same afternoon! The first two feature the hemiola (juxtaposition of three-four and six-eight times) that is common to so many Venezuelan waltzes; in the first waltz three-two time is added, making a ‘hemiola trio’!
In 1976 I wrote eight bars of music to serve as a sight-reading test for the four finalists in a competition. The only one who succeeded in making sense of them was placed fourth in the final! Later I decided to extend these few bars into a complete piece — and then into a three-piece Suite. The competition took place in Paris, evoking memories of the French nursery song "Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse toute en ronde" — On the bridge of Avignon they all dance in a round — a round dance. The title of the Suite reflects the fact that all three movements are in different variants of rondo form.
The three Birds are characterised by their behaviour, not their song! Swallows fly high, swoop and nest in church towers — campanile passages at the beginning and end. Swans float gracefully and sadly on the water. A first-Elizabethan wrote: "Tis said that swans sing only afore they die. T’were better if some men were to die afore they sing". Sparrows are gregarious, noisy, quarrelsome and self-assured — and are portrayed as such!
After hearing the Sonatinette It would be difficult not to realise that the guitar is tuned in fourths! The title is owed to the very brief development section of the sonata-form first movement — Sonata — Sonatina — Sonatinette! The work was written for Alice Artzt, who played it in her debut concert in the Wigmore Hall (London) in 1968.
As a composer I have never given much thought to what posterity might think of me — I will not be here to know it! My aim is to write primarily for the living and hopefully to give pleasure. However, I have never ‘released’ anything with which I was not satisfied; making ‘a quick buck’ from substandard music has never been on my agenda. That way I have been able to sleep with a clear conscience!