Christopher Mallett to Release The First Major Recording of Justin Holland's Music

Justin Holland was the most influential and important American guitarist of the 19th century and wrote the first published and best-selling guitar method in the country.

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Naxos is presenting San Francisco-based guitarist Christopher Mallett's new release championing the music of Justin Holland, America's first Black classical guitarist who made his name during the time of slavery. Titled Justin Holland, Guitar Works and Arrangements, "trailblazer" Mallett (The St. Louis Dispatch) deftly performs on this landmark recording featuring several world premieres.

Justin Holland was an African American, born free in Norfolk, Virginia. He was the most influential and important American guitarist of the 19th century and wrote the first published and best-selling guitar method in the country. He was also a leading voice in the anti-slavery and civil rights movements. As a composer he synthesized European models and embraced popular, church, and parlor songs generating a rich variety of works. A master of virtuosic variations, his arrangements are witty, elegant, and colorful, and culminate in Carnival of Venice, which shows the full range of his gifts, sweeping in breadth and dazzling in effect. Available widely.

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Justin Holland (1819-1887)

Guitar Works and Arrangements

Alfred Humphreys Pease (1838-1882)

1. Delta Kappa Epsilon March (pub. 1861; arr. pub. 1881)*


2. 'Tis the Last Rose of Summer (arr. pub. 1871)*

3. Spanish Fandango (arr. pub. 1856)*

4. Sweet Memories of Thee (Benedette sia la madre) (arr. pub. 1871)*

Ferdinand Beyer (1803-1863)

5. Soirées musicales, Op. 109 - No. 7. Last Waltzes of a Madman (pub. 1851; arr. pub. 1860)*

Henry Bishop (1786-1855)

6. Home Sweet Home (1821; arr. pub. 1871)*

Tekla Bądarzewska-Baranowska (1834-1861)

7. The Maiden's Prayer, Op. 4 (1856; arr. pub. 1871)*

W.H. Rulison (dates unknown)

8. Rochester Schottisch (1852; arr. pub. 1857)*

Alphons Czibulka (1842-1894)

9. Stephanie-Gavotte, Op. 312 (pub. 1880; arr. pub. 1886)*

Justin Holland

10. An Andante in C major (1878)

Alfred Humphreys Pease

11. Antoinette Polka Mazurka (pub. 1859; arr. pub. 1860)*

Alphonse Leduc (1804-1868)

12. Pearls of Dew, Polka Mazurka (arr. pub. 1867)*

Justin Holland

13. Variations on L. Mason's Nearer, My God, to Thee in E major (c. 1888)


14. Carnival of Venice, Fantaisie (arr. pub. 1866)*


*Arranged for guitar by Justin Holland

Recorded: 7-8 and 15 January 2022 at the Music Center, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
Producer, engineer and mixing: William Coulter

Editors: Drew Henderson, William Coulter

Mastering: Rainer Gembalczyk (Sienna Digital)
Cover Image Credit: Keith Mallett

Liner Notes by Kim Perlak, DMA
Guitar Department Chair at Berklee College of Music

Justin Holland (1819-1887)

Guitar Works and Arrangements

Justin Holland is recognized as the most influential American classical guitarist of the 19th century. A Black American studying and working during slavery and in the wake of the Civil War, Holland became a leader in American music pedagogy and a strong voice in the national and international movements for anti-slavery and civil rights. A composer, arranger, teacher, and author who synthesized the approaches of the European masters and embraced the popular songs of his American roots, Holland blazed a career path that has been followed by generations of American guitarists.

A prolific writer, Holland published thirty-five original pieces and three hundred arrangements of European operatic themes and American popular songs. Holland's Comprehensive Method for the Guitar (1874) is the first published American guitar method. Covering technique, applied music theory, and repertoire, the method sets the approaches of the European masters Matteo Carcassi, Fernando Sor, and Dionisio Aguado, in the context of American performance practice. Published in several editions until 1908, it became the best-selling American music publication of the 19th century.

A Black American born free in Norfolk, VA, Holland moved to Boston in 1833, at age 14, to escape a dangerous environment for young black men. In Boston, Holland heard Spanish guitarist Mariano Perez and was inspired to begin lessons with members of the Ned Kendall Brass Band and the Philharmonic Society of Boston. He studied at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio from 1841-43, and travelled to Mexico to learn Spanish in order to study the methods of Sor and Aguado. In 1845, he moved to Cleveland and began his teaching career. He started publishing in 1848 with S. Brainard's Sons/Cleveland and J.L. Peters & Co/New York. As his fame grew, Holland worked as an activist for civil rights, becoming a household name musically and politically.

In the context of the classical guitar lineage, Holland's American career parallels that of the European masters. Holland began his guitar study in 1833, six years before the death of Sor. He began publishing in 1848, one year before Aguado's death. Holland's method was published in 1874, three years before Francisco Tárrega's concert debut in 1877. 21 years after his own death, Holland's method entered its final publication in 1908, one year before the European concert debut of Andrés Segovia (1893-1987), the guitarist considered to be 'the father of the modern classical tradition'. By the time Segovia gave his American debut in New York's Town Hall on January 8, 1928, Holland's work had inspired a vibrant American classical guitar community.

Like his European contemporaries, Holland embraced the popular songs from his homeland. His arrangements, that include 'Tis the Last Rose of Summer and Home Sweet Home, fostered a classical guitar repertoire that reflected American culture and reached across styles to blues, folk, and jazz guitarists.

The pieces on this recording represent the known collection of Holland's solo song and dance arrangements, housed at the Library of Congress and California State University, Northridge. In researching, recording, and teaching these works and their historical context, Christopher Mallett is an American guitarist following in Holland's footsteps. As an American guitarist, Mallett leads a multi-faceted career with artistic work inspired by his history and the aspirations of his students. As a Black musician, Mallett's work writes a more complete history of our instrument in America.

This program is a time stamp of late 19th-century American music. Holland takes us on this journey through folk, church, parlour and dance songs that sing through the solo guitar.

Delta Kappa Epsilon March is the first known recording of this piece. Driving triplets and virtuosic scale runs add energy and joyful motion to this college fight song.

The American song 'Tis the Last Rose of Summer has a rich history, echoing Celtic folk songs that became woven into the fabric of American popular music. Holland presents this nostalgic melody in a classically playful theme and variations form.

Spanish Fandango is written in "open G" tuning, with the strings of the instrument tuned to the notes of G major. This folk song was so popular in its time that guitarists of all styles claimed it as a traditional piece in their American repertoire, which resulted many guitarists referring to "open G" as "Spanish" tuning for years to come in their aural traditions.

With Sweet Memories of Thee, Holland sets another European song that became an American popular theme. He explores the Italian roots of the melody with a compositional style reminiscent of Mauro Giuliani's techniques and sensibilities, a European contemporary known to Holland's players and listeners.

Last Waltzes of a Madman is an adventurous, fun, and sometimes wild take on the theme and variations form. With elegantly placed dissonance, bass lines and melody that chase one another around the fretboard, and sweeping melodies, Holland invites the player and the listener to go on this colourful ride together.

Home Sweet Home is a poignant arrangement that will inspire the most contemporary American listener to smile in recognition. Holland's setting of this song respects our affinity to the melody and its meaning by never leaving the tune for more than a brief moment. In virtuosic passages that contrast the song statements, the guitarist's left hand dances across the fretboard - looking ahead to the stride piano style that would emerge in popular music.

Holland begins The Maiden's Prayer by leaving the listener in suspense with a musical question, and then spins a lyrical story through ornamented melodies that call and respond to one another across the fretboard.

Rochester Schottisch is a dance piece influenced by Scottish music, as heard in its continuous lilting rhythms. Lyricism is never far from the forefront, and enters here as a second theme to answer and reintroduce the dance.

Stephanie-Gavotte is an American classical interpretation of a traditional European dance. Playful, humorous, and inviting as it is buoyant and in-time, the main theme conjures the image of an invitation on the dance floor. The connecting sections tell a story surrounding the dance, at times mysterious, at times playful, at times lyrical - always leading back to the long melody note that slides us back into the familiar Gavotte dance.

An Andante is another traditional dance with a "modern" twist. Holland begins traditionally, upbeat, light, and in-time, with a song-like melody floating on the surface of the dance. Variations follow that add darker elements of tone colour, and virtuosic runs in the lower voices that run up to main melody notes, answering the phrases of the song - all accompanying the underlying dance form.

Antoinette Polka Mazurka begins with a flowing cadenza to introduce this traditional European dance form. The rhythm of the dance lifts up the lyrical melody, passed between the high and low voices of the of the guitar, like two singers in conversational serenade.

Pearls of Dew starts with a statement. After an intentional pause, the lyrical melody slides us into a rocking rhythm created by flowing arpeggios and scales, and answered by alternating warm and sharp melodic statements. The piece ends with a return to lyricism, answered with a triumphant scale run and chordal statement.

Nearer my God to Thee is one of the first known guitar recording of this beautiful piece. The dense harmonies and voice leading are evocative of a church congregation lovingly singing in harmony. The stately arpeggiated chords and their variations imitate a church organist's interpretation of the hymn.

In the twelve variations on Carnival of Venice, Holland explores the full spectrum of sounds the guitar can produce, in what is widely considered his most significant piece. Stately chords invite lyrical melodies that slide us into their main notes. Virtuosic scale runs connect humorous, colourful statements that dance from the high to low registers. Short sounds contrast with connected lines. Pointillistic harmonics delight the ear. A carnival of sounds indeed!

Christopher Mallett, Guitarist & Educator

Christopher Mallett is an American classical guitarist and educator based in California. He has performed in some of America's finest concert halls, guitar societies, and festivals, including the Kravis Center, The Sheldon Concert Hall, the Guitar Foundation of America (GFA) Convention and Austin Classical Guitar Society, among others. He has also performed across Asia. Mallett's trailblazing work with Duo Noire has been highly critically acclaimed, and the duo's most recent album, Night Triptych, was named one of the best classical albums in 2018 by both AllMusic and I Care If You Listen. Mallett has commissioned new works by over a dozen composers. He is on the guitar faculty of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has given lectures at The Juilliard School and the New York City Classical Guitar Society among others. In 2019 he joined the GFA's board of trustees, and he is also the co-founder of the California Conservatory of Music, with two locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mallett has been featured in Classical Guitar Magazine, American Suzuki Journal, Acoustic Guitar Magazine, and on the cover of Soundboard Magazine. Photo: Teresa Tam


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