Philip Hii has some simple and yet profound advice for his guitar students: “Indulge in your music. Move with the rhythm, let your melodies sing of the joys and sorrows of life. Play only those pieces that move you. Life is too short to spend on pieces that do not speak to you.”
Hii embodies this philosophy on his recent Frédéric Chopin: Nocturnes [GSP Recordings]. Although several of these nocturnes had been previously transcribed for guitar, Hii decided to create his own transcriptions. Meeting this challenge required intelligent key transposition and a classical guitar customized with a longer fretboard.
What got you interested in this project?
I just feel so much for this music—it speaks deeply to me. It’s like Bach’s music, so timeless. I could clearly hear the guitar playing these melodies before I made the transcriptions. Of course, if you go to some of Chopin’s other pieces they get a little too pianistic, and I don’t want to try them on guitar.
In your liner notes, you make the argument for recording the nocturnes as opposed to some of the more accepted guitar repertoire. You state there is an uncanny resemblance between the opening section of Albeniz’s Cordoba and the religioso section of Chopin’s Opus 15 No. 3.
That Cordoba section is very hymn-like. And the religioso section in that nocturne almost sounds like a hymn. I feel strongly that both Albeniz and Granados were very influenced by the salon music of the day—maybe even more so than by flamenco, the more folkloric Spanish music from the area. Some people will argue with me, but I’ve always felt the Granada, which we all play on the classical guitar, is a beautiful nocturne in the salon tradition. My line of reasoning is, if you feel you should play Albeniz and Granados comfortably on the guitar, then why not any other salon music? It will translate equally well.
Why did you decide to redo all these transcriptions yourself, rather than use those done by Tarrega and Llobet?
They were both great performers and composed a lot of music, so it’s natural they would try to add something of their own to the transcriptions. And I’m sure some of it came from improvisation. I didn’t want to play Tarrega’s Chopin; I wanted to play Chopin. I thought what he wrote translated so well to the guitar that there was no need to add any more guitaristic devices.
What guitar did you use on this album?
It’s made by Christopher Savino. I just love the tone. The high C is very strong, pure, and clear. When I ordered my Savino, I was playing quite a bit of music by Johann Kaspar Mertz. His music frequently goes up to the high D, and I was frustrated with having to cut down the entire line just because I couldn’t reach that one note on my earlier guitars. So when I commission custom guitars, I always have the builders extend the fretboard all the way to high D. •