Episode 190: Chopin for Guitar

Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2; Barrios: Mazurka Appassionata

rc-guitar-200It’s inevitable. Write a pretty tune for one instrument, and all the other players want to get in on the action. How else to explain the sheer volume of Chopin transcriptions? Some, quite natural, and others… not so much.

Beethoven called the guitar “an orchestra at your fingertips.” For Paraguayan composer and guitarist Augustin Barrios, it was a piano. Taking music composed for eighty-eight keys and rewriting it for six strings is no easy task. Barrios, born 75 years after and a hemisphere away from Chopin, was still something of a kindred spirit.

Just as Chopin was devoted to his native Poland, Barrios felt a passionate connection to his mother’s Indian ancestors. But he too was a wanderer…he roamed Central and South America restlessly, like a medieval troubadour in search of a living, and struggled with poor health. And most importantly, he similarly expanded the sonic world of his chosen instrument: According to guitarist John Williams, Barrios’ “romantic musicality is expressed by a far more imaginative and developed guitar technique than anything that had gone before – in this he was a great original.”

Small wonder, then, that Augustin Barrios was called both the Paganini of the Guitar, for his dazzling virtuosity – as well as the Chopin of the Guitar, because of the melancholy lyricism of his original compositions.

As a performer, Barrios played traditional Spanish classical guitar music, as well as his own transcriptions, including a lot of Chopin’s hero Bach….and Chopin himself. Barrios’ even wrote his own Mazurka appasionata, lending a South American prism to Chopin’s favorite Polish dance. At the hands of the man “From the Jungles of Paraguay” Chopin’s music – and spirit – found a new home. - Frank Dominguez

Radio Chopin Episode 190: Chopin for Guitar



Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2 (arr. Philip Hii)



Barrios: Mazurka Appassionata