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Justin Holland : The Essential Justin Holland : DOz

Justin Holland: Compiled and edited by Christopher Mallett

Les Productions D’Oz: 48 pages

Sub-titled ‘A unique collection of arrangements and compositions by America’s first black classical guitarist’ this book offers a fascinating insight into someone I had never previously come across. His dates being 1819 – 1887, this player/ composer wrote around 35 original works and approximately 300 arrangements of European operatic themes as well as popular songs from America and Europe. This book consists of 14 of them, collected by Christopher Mallett.

The arrangements consist of a number of rare pieces that I (again) hadn’t come across before, for example Delta Kappa Epsilon March by one Alfred Humphreys Pease which is in D Major, as are a number of the other pieces in this book, with a dropped D 6th .Another piece in the same key and tuning is apparently a celebrated Italian Air called Sweet Memories of Thee, done as a set of variations, something that occurs in quite a few other pieces as the variation style of writing seems to be a favourite of our composer. Another piece new to me is Ferdinand Beyer’s Last Waltzes of a Madman from his Soirees Musicales Op109 No7.This again is in D with a dropped D 6TH and like the previous pieces is friendly, often with melodies harmonised partly or wholly in 3rds, and usually in two or three voices.

Also included are his arrangements of well – known pieces such as The Last Rose of Summer, again done as a set of variations and a Finale marked Finale Giuliani, as this is the style of this piece as, indeed, is much of the other music here.

Home Sweet Home, is another well – known melody, here also set in D with a dropped D 6th, and moreover included also is the religious melody nearer, My God, to Thee this time in E Major, full of large chords at the opening, and then receiving an arpeggiated treatment later on.

The main fact about this music is that it sometimes seems a little repetitive, as the same usage of certain harmonies crops up a number of times, with thirds being a favourite harmonic style, and the theme and variations set – up as another, although this is completely understandable, as this was a very common way to develop pieces in the 19th Century.

Nothing in the book is easy, by any stretch, and so you do have to be moderately talented to make a good job of the majority of these but it was certainly fascinating to find a new composer from the 19th Century that I had never discovered before, and so if the idea of this man’s music appeals ,, it might be a good idea to search it out!

Chris Dumigan

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