John W. Duarte : Arctic Suite
Updated: Apr 17, 2021
John W. Duarte
Les Productions D’Oz: 16 pages
John Duarte is a guitar composer known surely to all. When I was first learning to play, I had several of his works including the English Suite, that I tried so hard then to learn to play, and from then on I grew up with several of his works .This latest work is one already recorded by Arne Brattland, who commissioned the work from John for a tour of Norway in 1993, when he was marking the 150th year of Edvard Grieg’s birth. He thought it would be nice to send him a large number of folk tunes and as a result, several were picked, and the four – movement Arctic Suite was the result.
I hadn’t realized that a composer of his standing still had a number of unpublished works, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that that was not the case.
The suite begins with A Stormy Sea, set with a dropped D 6th, and dropped G 5th .Two melodies from the Rana district of Norway were used here. The opening section having a beautiful melody underpinned by a second harmonizing voice and underpinned by a low bass – line. Immediately one finds the slightly harmonic surprises creeping in, which the composer was famous for, and which add to the drama and almost sadness of the music. Then the quavers turn into semi – quavers and then the ‘storm’ enters via some ever – enlarging arpeggios and the inevitable rasgueado section before dying away again to return to the opening theme, which changes yet again into a block chord melody that in fact is a hymn about safe arrival at the heavenly harbour .A coda based on the opening introduction, turns into harmonics and a peaceful close.
The second is Lullaby and is again based on two folk themes. A dropped D 6th is used here. The first theme is set in Dm, initially with the melody on top and gentle harmonies underneath, and then with the melody in the bass and some more acerbic harmonies above in what is quite a complex three voices section. The second theme then appears via a key change into Em, and is an evening hymn, that after one hearing turns back into the opening theme now in the tonic major. This finally returns to the minor for the final ten bars, and closing on an indefinite chord that maybe signifies that the lullaby didn’t, in the end, work and the baby has woken up!
Old Auntie’s Wedding March (dropped D 6th) is the humorous movement in the suite with a pleasant enough opening theme that gradually is accompanied by ever –more bitter harmonies, eventually involving several minor – seconds in a row, before turning into a quick waltz melody that in fact is a Duarte original .The opening idea returns once more and this time is really suffering under some comic harmonies before dying away to a pianissimo close.
The final Pols is a dance with the 5th and 6th detuned as in the opening movement .Gm is the key, and the main theme is very gigue – like and quite tricky to get under your fingers in places. It then accelerates into the second folk melody which in itself accelerates throughout, going through a momentary five flats before returning to the opening theme firstly in the tonic major , and then finally back to the opening Gm, and a nicely climactic close.
This is a lovely work, not easy by any stretch, but certainly achievable by a reasonable player who has a full knowledge of the fingerboard, and doesn’t mind the detuning of the 5th and 6th strings.