Standing on the Shoulders of Giants after Villa-Lobos' Etude No.1 by Gerard Cousins

Gerard Cousins   
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Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ is a study which is modelled on Villa-Lobos’ Etude No.1, but takes it technical demands to another level. The original study is well known as one of the most beneficial etudes for the right hand developing the difficult alternation of the a & m fingers.

Villa-Lobos’ use of ‘block chords’ ie. One chord shape per bar creates an incredible illusion for the non-guitarist as so many notes seem to be produced for such little visible effort.

Whilst composing the piece ‘Assyrian Game’ I noticed that a certain ‘campanella’ arpeggio pattern could be fingered with the well known Villa-Lobos right hand pattern. This gave me the idea to write a study using this expansion of Villa-Lobos’ original idea which would allow for more complex harmonies and subtle melodic consequences.

The result is an arpeggio that seems faster than Villa-Lobos’ Etude no.1 when played at the same tempo and the resulting arpeggio patterns that we hear are now more reminiscent of Villa-Lobos’ Etude no.2.

There have been previous re-writes of Villa-Lobos’ Etude no.1 but these have been confined to simply replacing the chord sequence with a new one. Two notable successes are by Joe Diorio and Mark Small. Instead of attempting to re-write the original, I felt there was merit in creating a new Etude which presented the guitarist already comfortable with the original to face a new challenge. ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ demands a far higher level of co-ordination than the original, but because the right hand pattern is so familiar the performer can focus almost exclusively on the left hand patterns and synchronisation from the offset. This greatly facilitates the learning of the notes and frees up the mind to concentrate on other aspects of the performance.

So what does a composer do when faced with this idea of remodelling such a classic from the repertoire? After much thought (this piece took me over a year to write) I settled on the idea of mirroring the structure of Villa-Lobos’s original both out of admiration for the success of the original and in tribute to Villa-Lobos himself. Despite the almost infinite possibilities this new idea afforded I felt the limitations imposed by directly modelling Villa-Lobos’ original would lead to a successful new composition.

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