Ernest Shand: Guitar Music

In Brief

  • Title: Ernest Shand: Guitar Music
  • Musician: Alberto La Rocca, 10-string guitar.
  • Identification: Brilliant Classics 96435.
  • Recording: 2013, 2021, Thiene, Italy.
  • Year of publication: 2021.

Il Pensieroso by Ernest Shand


When it comes to sheet music, I’m always looking for music by lesser-known composers for the DOS Amigos Homepage. Collections such as those of Carl Oscar Boije af Gennäs are a rich source for this purpose. That’s how I came across music by Madame Sydney Pratten, also known as Catharina Josepha Pelzer (1821 – 1895).

Madame Sydney Pratten turned out to have a talented apprentice in Ernest Shand (1868 – 1924).

Ernest Shand started as an autodidact after seeing a copy of Dioniso Aguado’s music in his father’s music store. He left the violin, bought a guitar and started composing in addition. His study with Sydney Pratten had the great advantage that he could make use of her own music publishing company. In this way he became known within the small guitar world in England as a performing musician and composer.

However, that was not enough to live on, the guitar market was too small. Thus, he earned his living as an actor in small variety theatres, traveling the world. He took the guitar with him, which sometimes came in handy. Unfortunately, not always, because one bad day during a performance he was attacked and injured by a Russian in the audience for playing an arrangement of a “wrong” Russian national anthem. That literally and figuratively gave him stage fright.

His repertoire includes music salon pieces, chamber music and songs, not just for guitar. His career as an actor clearly marks his compositions in which he clearly knows how to entertain his audience and certainly not boring it. Some pieces are almost like film music, they make you visualize a scene. Other pieces follow examples of the time, like Tarrega.

I had never heard of Ernest Shand myself. When Brilliant Classics released an album of his music – 3 CDs in the box – I became curious and bought it. The introduction to Shand’s music was very pleasant. Technically, it is not very simple, which I noticed when I inspected some of his sheet music on the Internet.

The Italian guitarist Alberto La Rocca plays Shand’s compositions on a ten-string guitar, even though the pieces were composed for a classic six-string instrument. This has the advantage that the bass lines can be extended a bit further at points where you suspect an octave in the original.

The titles of the pieces often indicate a romantic subject. Pleasantly relaxing listening music, sometimes very narrative and at times humorous. I had no problem playing all 3 CDs in a row.

A few samples from the first CD. Tsigane gives a nice impression of gypsy music where you hear the violin playing. Il Pensieroso has a sunny Mediterranean atmosphere. In The Gnomes, a couple of gnomes dance by joyously. Funeral March sounds like we expect from a Marche Funèbre and in Gavotte Rococo I hear Tarrega again. All in all a pleasant and varied mix of moods and atmospheres.

Alberto La Rocca plays well finished and picks up the atmosphere of the pieces nicely. He regularly manages to circumvent the romantic swoon of a composition by putting accents in the right place.

The recording quality is good, the ten-string guitar gives extra warmth to the sound as a consequence of the deeper basses and the reverberation is set in such a way that it does not hinder faster passages. The result is a balanced sound that does justice to the pieces.

I think this recording is a nice surprise with which Brilliant Classics scores in my opinion, and does so for a reasonable price. I therefore recommend this CD as a pleasant example of romantic nineteenth-century salon music.

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