On Salut für Cauldwell

This Wednesday, Fonema's guitarists Samuel Rowe and Shawn Lucas will perform Helmut Lachenmann's Salut for Caudwell, a relentlessly-paced duo of demanding synchronicity. In a two-part series, the guitarists interview each other, bringing you answers to questions that have come up during their long collaboration on this work. 

Shawn Lucas: Do you identify as a classical guitarist?  Although Salut für Caudwell has a great historical awareness of both classical ideology and the guitar, it is not a classical work.  If you do identify as a classical guitarist, do you feel like a classical guitarist when playing Salut?

Samuel Rowe: I do consider myself a classical guitarist, and remain attached to that tradition.  You’re of course right that Salut is not a classical work, though I also suspect that Lachenmann would be more willing to place his music in a historical lineage with nineteenth-century concert music then your question implies.  I often think that the piece contains eerie echoes, both aural and visual, of traditional guitar techniques.  In fact, many of these are associated with vernacular guitar traditions rather than concert music: the slides we use to create shimmering resonances, for example, recall southern blues.  I think of the end of the piece, in which we rhythmically rub the palms of our hands across the strings while fingering chords with the left hand, as resembling rasgueado technique in flamenco, juxtaposing a familiar-looking way of relating to the guitar with an unusual sounding result.  Then, of course, there is the famous Sprechstimme passage, in which we sing a duet while strumming along.  So perhaps I feel less like a classical guitarist and more like a folksinger . . .

Shawn Lucas: Lachenmann's score is written in an invented form of tablature, and asks the performer to more or less immerse herself in an unfamiliar and unique form of notation.  How did this aspect of the piece influence your experience of learning it?

Samuel Rowe: The double staves (one for the right hand, one for the left) and myriad types of note heads (at least eight, by my count) do make for a daunting score.  But Salut is in fact a very intelligently notated piece of music, providing just the right amount of specific information to guide the interpreter.  For that reason, the tablature comes to feel natural after a while.

Shawn Lucas: As a performer who has played Salut für Caudwell several times with three different duo partners, how has your interpretation of the piece evolved since your first performance?

Samuel Rowe: I’ve gotten better at it, for one thing!  I also find the piece strangely inexhaustible: I think I’ve been playing Salut for almost 7 years now, and I’m not even close to getting sick of it.  Of course, different musical personalities make for different rehearsal and performance experiences.  But the music is so rigorous—so specific and intensive in its demands—that much remains the same.  Salut is this type of piece that makes the performer mold herself to it, and not vice versa.  This may be unfashionably modernist of me, but the fact that Salut allows for expressivity detached from individual personality is a big part of what I love about the piece.