While Valse No. 5 is my overall favorite, No. 6 has my favorite episode. The middle section floats a melody that makes me smile whenever I hear it. What’s more, my performance of this melody shows how intellect and inspiration can happily coexist.
Recording the takes for this waltz, I fell for the middle section melody in a big way. More and more, I wanted to bring out its coyness. On the spur of the moment I did one take with a light staccato, cutesy articulation—as I did it, I wasn’t sure it would work. But listening to the playback, I loved it. Score one for going with the flow. Now, should I have left well enough alone? Well, in listening to the take again, I realized that it was a good idea, but the execution could be better. For example, there was a note that I hadn’t played staccato, but it really wanted to be staccato. Further, this melody occurs four times. The second time is when I do the staccato, but I don’t do it the next two times the same melody recurs. Why? Because I want to keep the listener guessing. After hearing the staccato, an alert listener will likely expect it again when the melody repeats. By refusing to do it again, I keep the alert listener off balance. With Sor, one doesn’t want to go to the well too often. It’s better to understate rather than hit the listener over the head. So thinking through my spur of the moment idea gave it a brighter sheen. I redid the take, and the result was better.
Some musicians mutter darkly that intellect kills the spirit. I’m not one of them. Used judiciously, intellect heightens those happy accidents of inspiration that make music come alive.
Goya: Old Man on a Swing (1824-1828)
Now that you’ve listened to the six waltzes of Op. 44 bis, I’d like to offer a parting thought. Hearing these pieces from the vantage of our own troubled time, we shouldn’t make the mistake of believing this music reflects a simpler and more joyous era. Sor lived through the Napoleonic wars, and anyone familiar with Francisco de Goya’s work knows how brutal a time it was. In this light, Sor’s graceful little waltzes are poignant evocations of an ideal that reality—then and now—seldom achieves.
“I think to overapply romanticism to Sor’s music is a great mistake. There’s a classicism—not unlike Mozart—in his style, which to my mind is a style of beautiful understatement. But if you give understatement space and time, it has a positive element that transcends the simplicity or the innocence of the material. Sor needs immense care and affection, and if one invests his music with that, I can’t see how anybody can object to it.”— Julian Bream