Ferdinand Rebay and the reinvention of guitar chamber music.

Mantovani, L. (2019) Ferdinand Rebay and the reinvention of guitar chamber music. Doctoral thesis, Royal College of Music.


Ferdinand Rebay (1880-1953) was a pioneer among the non-guitarist composers who started to write for the guitar in the 1920s. However, in spite of having composed close to 400 guitar works, he is today undeservedly obscure. This thesis examines his more than 30 sonatas or sonata-structured works for guitar, most of which is made of chamber music for combinations that range from duos to a septet. In Part 1, I situate Rebay’s chamber sonatas within the guitar repertoire, understanding it as a reaction to the lighter repertoire of the guitar clubs, the turn-of-the-century's main guitar niche in German-speaking territories. After investigating the guitaristic context, I look at Rebay’s career and interactions with the Viennese guitar circles, highlighting the work of his main champion and niece-guitarist, Gerta Hammerschmid. Later, I analyse his compositional style and demonstrate that, by associating the guitar with the Austro-German Romantic sonata prestige, Rebay may have intended to elevate the instrument’s status in the eyes of the mainstream Viennese audiences. His exploration of the guitar in chamber music is equally paradigmatic, as he frees the instrument from its typical accompaniment roles and explores a fully-balanced texture in his sonata writing. In Part 2, I approach a selected group of seven chamber sonatas from a performer’s point of view. Faced with the lack of a continuous performance tradition of Rebay’s guitar music, I propose to incorporate an extended stylistic and technical mindset largely supported by historical investigation, which helps understand Rebay’s meticulous notation and realize it convincingly. Finally, I trace Rebay’s collaborative steps through the layers of information available in his manuscript sources, also proposing a “posthumous collaboration” to deal with score-based issues and make problematic passages—or in some cases, full works—playable and idiomatic. By initially situating Rebay’s guitar music and later addressing some of its most important performance aspects, I hope to provide secure historical and interpretative grounds for the modern guitarist interested in his music.

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