Concert Program

Olivier Chassain & Stein-Erik Olsen

The programme consist of original compositions by Ida Presti and highlights from the repertoire of the Presti-Lagoya Duo, as well as works for two guitars dedicated to these artists by Pierre Petit, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Joaquín Rodrigo. In addition Olivier Chassain and Stein-Erik Olsen perform a selection of AlexandreLagoya's unpublished transcriptions.

Domenico Scarlatti Sonata
Jean Baptiste Marella Suite no. 1 en La majeur
  • Andante
  • Minuetto
  • Rondo
  • Gigue
Ida Presti
  • Espagne
  • Serenade
  • La Hongroise
Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco Prélude et fugue en Mi majeur
Joaquin Rodrigo
  • Tonadilla
  • Allegro ma non troppo
  • Minuetto pomposo
  • Allegro gentile
Ida Presti
  • Danse D´Avila
  • Berceuse à ma mère
  • Etude Fantasque
Pierre Petit Toccata

Ida Presti’s compositions for two guitars

by Olivier Chassain

The collected works for guitar duo recorded on this album are the fruit of a radical turnaround in the career and life of Ida Presti. The duets, composed between 1955 and 1966, bear testimony of a life together, and of the love between the greatest guitarist ever and he who was to be her husband, Alexander Lagoya.

They met in the midsummer of 1951, during one of the evenings organized by “Les Amis de la Guitare” at Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île, the Paris residence of the founder André Verdier – flautist at the Paris Opera and impassioned guitar-lover. Ida had been attending these gatherings ever since a first visit in 1933, and she would later dedicate to Verdier her Prélude written May 16th 1958, a flood-like arpeggio filled with enthusiastic and generous impulses. 

Until then she had enjoyed a splendid solo career from the first recital she gave in 1935 as a ten year old prodigy, till she founded the Duo with Alexander Lagoya. Though her stern father, Claude Montagnon, was not a guitarist himself, he was her only teacher.

A decisive year was 1952, when Ida and Alexander began their life together and gave their first Duo concert. It was organized by Gilbert Imbar, director of the review “Guitare et Musique”, at the club Plein-Vent, another key location for the Parisian guitar. The Presti-Lagoya Duo was born, but it did not really take off until 1955 when Ida took a definitive farewell with her soloist career in order to devote herself exclusively to the new life she and Alexander had decided to spend together. Two years earlier their son Sylvain was born.

Ida Presti was born on May 31st 1924. She experienced the double grief of losing both her little brother Joseph, two years her junior, when she was 9 years old, and her father in 1938. The years of occupation aggravated her condition, and she barely lived through them. Just before the War, again at Verdier’s residence, she met the painter Robert Bouchet, a guitar lover to whom Ida gave a few lessons. Bouchet was later to become the Duo’s instrument maker.

Ida Presti was a phenomenal performer and an untiring improviser, admired by Django Reinhardt and his gypsy friends, with whom she spent long evenings. When life returned again after the end of the War, and thanks to the new existence with Alexander, she regained her desire to compose. Her wish was to “retain” a music that was by nature volatile and always had come easily to her, according to the younger sister Gina: ”Because she improvised all the time, and the pieces she wrote down were fragments escaping from a never ending torrent that she hardly ever bothered to write down.” (Les Cahiers de la Guitare, no. 12, 1984).

Thereafter, Ida could share her musical universe with the man she loved. Alexander was almost the only one she would dedicate her compositions to, with the exception of Berceuse (Lullaby), composed in September 1957, a month after her mother’s death. It was a last farewell; one of her most moving pieces, and one of the most beautiful in my view. Her maternal Sicilian ancestry, where she got her artist’s name – her mother’s name was Grazia Lo Presti – is sensed in filigree and perceived in the distinctive melody, simple and pure. This Berceuse, so inspired, with a moving depth blended with grace, also conceals touches of Ravel’s music, particularly in the harmonies. 

Another of her works – the Étude no 1 (edited in 1959), a major technical challenge –  somehow exhales a scent of Italy in peaceful, dreamlike cadences where a distant mandolin-like tremolo for a moment blends with a bold virtuosity.

“I do absolutely not claim to be a composer, simply a guitarist writing for her instrument” she confided modestly to Paul Gilson who had invited her and Alexander Lagoya to one of his weekly radio broadcasts, “Des notes sur la guitare.” The Duo was then preparing to perform her Danse d’Avila, a tribute to the great Spanish Saint Theresa of Avila, who lived at the golden age of the vihuela.

That was exactly what made the charm and the attraction of this marvelous melody maker. Her works reflect her character, forged by the vicissitudes of this “transient life”, its joys and its pain, as ‘little Theresa’ said, the other Saint Theresa, the one from Lisieux. By nature, Ida was at the same time moody and impressively profound, dreamy and fiery, playful and melancholic, impassioned and mutinous, with an incarnate and highly spiritual temperament. The composition giving the best musical portrait of her is, according to the family and those nearest to her, to her friends and students, Étude fantasque. 

Her music is strictly speaking not classifiable, because she eludes any analysis. It originates in an interior torrent so violent and filled with stylistic alluviums that she really becomes a confluence of all affluents, in a single musical expression: scholarly and at the same time popular music, worthy of the Autumn Leaves (Les feuilles mortes) or Children in love (Les enfants qui s’aiment) by Joseph Kosma (poems by Jacques Prévert), of Poulenc or Albéniz. The latter was very much part of her “musical luggage” through his performer repertory, and the very Spanish context of the French guitar landscape from the inter-war years until the creation of the Duo, with virtuosi like Andrés Segovia and Emilio Pujol, naming but two, obviously influencing Ida Presti. The result was pieces like Danse gitane, the Danse d’Avila already mentioned, or the very last composition, written a few months before she suddenly passed away on April 24th 1967: Espagne. A mature and dense work, more Iberian than Spain itself, like a mirror for a peninsular soul, so justly perceived. 

Nevertheless, an overarching analysis of her music, just like one of Alexander Tansman’s, will show mainly a juxtaposition of phrases, repeated or not, a succession of ideas constantly renewed, rather than a true exploitation of thematic elements: Like her Sérénade, dated March 31st 1955, which was the first duet she offered her husband, and Tarantelle, (or Danse baroque), dated 1959. The result was highly refreshing.  

But if the music of Ida Presti cannot be confined to a category, it is not devoid of any structure. A tri-partite form, sometimes with flamboyant codas, is apparent in certain pieces, like the Valse de l’An nouveau, written December 31st 1955, and the Hongroise (Hungarian Music), a homage inspired by her fascination with the music of Béla Bartók – however remote from this composition, so very personal, yet forceful and imperious.

I would like to express a heartfelt thank you to Elisabeth Presti, Ida’s daughter, who gave me access to all of her mother’s manuscripts. I applaud her courage and her strength in exhuming and transmitting to posterity this sleeping work, at a time when a veil of silence had covered her mother’s work for several decades because of the insufferable absence felt by the entire family after her demise.

I would also like to thank my friend Frédéric Zigante and the Berben House of Edition, trusting me with the revision; not to forget Joël Dugot, whose friendship and enthusiasm during our recording session at the Museum of Music in Paris was of great support to us. Also Anne Marillia, friend and student of Ida Presti, who together with Elisabeth Presti has written a splendid biography. This work, published by Berben, is a source of inspiration for my friend Stein-Erik and me, who unfortunately have not known Ida Presti ourselves.

And finally; when preparing this complete edition of the duets, I experienced just how integrated this material is with the very character of its author. Between the original manuscripts and some of the available or retrieved recordings of certain pieces, much of the work towards a complete edition had already been done. I think of the Étude fantasque and of the Hongroise that the Duo Presti-Lagoya recorded, but also of Danse d’Avila or Bagatelle, of which Stein Erik and I providentially received a recording from Lisa and Evangelos Assimakopoulos, two former students of the Duo. This allowed me, after a first reading by Ricardo Odriozola, a friend of Stein Erik, to piece together the missing manuscript of the second guitar part, as only the score for the first guitar part remained. Or Espagne, sent me by my friends Ako Ito and Henri Dorigny, also former students of the Duo, whose concert version bore testimony to the evolution of the work. I thank you all for your help and co-operation on this project that in the end saw the light of day thanks to you!

Ida Presti revised her works, “retained” by her immense talent for improvisation. During practice with her husband she managed to breathe new life into his compositions along with her own, but apparently could not decide to write them down, to put a definite “freeze” on the fruits of her inspiration, simply because they had emerged from her spontaneity, her generosity, and therefore by nature ought to remain “open”, evolutionary and free.