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Topic 4

Roland Dyens, His Musical Style and Influence

Roland Dyens

French guitarist and composer Roland Dyens, was born on October 19th, 1955 in Tunis,

the capital of Tunisia. He began his formal guitar studies at age 13 with Spanish guitarist Alberto
Ponce at lEcole Normale de Musique in Paris, and later studied composition with composer and
conductor Dsir Dondeyne. Dyens taught classical guitar at the jazz and rock school, lEcole, in
Paris from October of 1998 to June of 2000. Dyens currently lives in Ville dAvray and holds the
position of guitar professor at the Conservatoire National Suprieur de Paris, where he began
teaching in June of 2000.

Dyens is highly recognized for his quality compositions, arrangements and

improvisations. He has obtained many distinguished awards such as the Special Prize at the
International Competition Citt di Alessandira and the Grand Prix du Disque de lAcadmie
Carles-Croe for his recording of the Hommage Villalobos. While studying with Dondeyne, he
was awarded First Prize in Harmony, Counterpoint and Analysis. On January 21st, 2010, Dyens
was honored with the title of being the only classical guitarist invited to the Thtre du Chtelet
in Paris for a concert involving an homage to the legendary jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt. In
1988, Guitarist Magazine honored Dyens as one of the 100 best contemporary guitarist of all
styles. Les Cahiers de la Guitare (France), Classical Guitar (Great Britain) and Gitarre & Laute
(Germany) among other magazines have also showcased Dyens on the front cover.

Over his career, Dyens has recorded twelve guitar albums which consist of a variety of

music such as Dyens original works and arrangements of Heitor Villalobos, Joaquin Rodrigo,
Fernando Sor Frederic Chopin, Erik Satie, and Maurice Ravel. Dyens output of original music
consists of forty-eight publications of guitar music, including solo guitar, guitar duo, guitar
ensemble, guitar and string quartet, and guitar and string orchestra. Dyens also published fortysix solo guitar arrangements, three arrangements for guitar ensemble, and two arrangements for
guitar and string quartet. He has also arranged many French popular songs and jazz standards by
artists such as Django Reinhardt, Thelonius Monk, Antonio Jobim.

As a performer, Dyens has a broad repertory playing standards from guitar composers

Sor, Rodrigo, Barrios and Torroba as well as arrangements of works by Chopin, Satie and Villalobos among others. Among his repertory, many of his own compositions are also performed. He
is known for his improvisational sets in which he begins his concerts with a simple idea that
develops for the next several minutes. According to Dyens, he performs improvisations to feel
more relaxed, to test out the audience and to feel linked to musicians of the past who improvised
such as lute players. Dyens performs and teaches extensively all over the world and is a guest at
many guitar events as one of the focused artists. From Michelle Birchs Jazz Mind and Classical
Hands - Roland Dyens and his Style of Arranging and Performing, Dyens states:

My basic ideas on music have been corroborated by the way Brazilian musicians

organize their concert life. There is no musical frontier, they all participate in all kinds of

classical or popular music.(. . .) I try to present my concerts in the same spirit, mixing

music that I like with only one guideline: quality, not history.

Dyens Influence on Classical Guitar

Among the large output of Roland Dyens guitar music, many of his works are becoming

staples of the modern concert repertoire, works such as Tango en Ska, Libra Sonatine and Trois
Saudades. Other notable works are A Felicidade, Songe Capricorne, Valse En Ska, and his
Chopin arrangements of the Mazurka Op.68 no. 4 and Valse Op.69 no. 1. Serving as pedagogical
pieces for intermediate students, his 20 Lettres are widely performed and instructively resemble
works by Fernando Sor, Matteo Carcassi, and Leo Brouwer. In addition to the 20 Lettres, Dyens
makes strides to tackle neglected aspects of guitar technique. These aspects include tuning the
instrument, dampening unwanted notes, and left hand shifting noise. In testament of Dyens
influence, well known and distinguished guitarists Dimitri Illarionov, Pablo Villegas, Jason
Vieaux, Gohar Vardanyan, and Roman Viazovskiy, to name a few, all perform(ed) Dyens works.

Dyens expressed that his music demands much detail to represent the complex reality of

the sounds he is seeking so many of his compositions contain extensive, thorough detail within
the scores. This makes Dyens known for his intensely notated scores which can be recognized at
first glance. He has created his own legends found in the beginning pages of his works to
decipher certain symbols which all serve an important musical purpose. Some of these markings
indicate percussive effects, left and right hand tapping, string dampening, and left hand shifting.

Fig. ? excerpt from the Explanation of Signs from Mes arrangements lamiable.

Fig. ? excerpt from the Explanation of Signs from Mes arrangements lamiable.

Fig. ? excerpt from the Explanation of Signs from Mes arrangements lamiable.

His Musical Style and Homage

Roland Dyens overall style can be described as transforming, clever, formal, yet at the

same time, informal. He takes much of his influence from European art song, French popular
songs, American jazz, and South American jazz. Other influences come from India and Saudia
Arabia. Dyens makes frequent use of irregular rhythms and syncopations in many of his works
along with often quirky melodies and accompaniment parts. In Sean Beavers dissertation,
Homage in the Solo Guitar Music of Roland Dyens, an interview was conducted with Dyens.
Dyens said that a consistent rhythmic pulse is the most important element in music and that the
flexibility and freedom of interpretation develop within the structure of the rhythmic pulse.
Dyens believes that the different timbres from the guitar are crucial to beautiful interpretation on

the guitar. He also emphasizes the importance of articulation, accent, and sparing use of chord
arpeggiation. This attention to detail is apparent in nearly all of Dyens works.

Dyens is also known for his homage to various musicians and composers. An homage is a

dedication and/or tribute from one to another and in this case, in a musical context. Examples
include the loge de Lo Brouwer which shows Dyens respect towards guitarist and composer
Leo Brouwer by incorporating his stylistic traits such as the use of atonality, tritone leaps,
irregular rhythms and reoccurring second and seventh intervals. The Hommage Frank Zappa
which pays tribute to American musician and songwriter Frank Zappa by writing music that
reflects Zappas eccentric personality. And in the Hommage Villa-Lobos, Dyens employs
similar mannerisms of Villa-lobos compositions by evoking the Brazilian style.



To further understand Dyens style and use of homage, a closer look into his music is

essential. In the three-movement work, Triaela, Dyens shows homage towards a few musicians.
The entire sonata is dedicated to Greek guitarist Elena Papandreou. Triaela is a mysterious title
that incorporates word play. Tria is Greek for three" while ela (which translates to come or
come on), possesses a hint of the first name of Papandreou. All three movements are played
with an unusual scordatura (meaning the alteration of a stringed instruments standard tuning) of
the guitars sixth string. This string is lowered from E below the staff, to A, two octaves below the
staff which provides deep resonances and striking harmonic effects.

The first movement, Light Motif (Takemitsu in Brazil), combines two contrasting

influences. The first derives from the homage to Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. Dyens

makes use of Takemitsus textures by taking advantage of range, which he uses harmonics and
the low, altered sixth string. This creates a certain atmosphere and ambience found in
Takemitsus music and occurs from mm. 1-8, then revisited as the movement comes to an end.
Elements of Takemitsus harmonic style can also be found in the middle of the movement.

Fig. ? Light Motif by Roland Dyens. Mvt. 1 mm. 1-9. Shows use of texture, creating a Takemitsu

The second influence presents features of the Brazilian modinha (a type of sentimental

love song), suggestive of Villa-Lobos and his Bachianas Brasileiras. This section is occurs from
mm. 9-24, gradually being mixed, then taken over by Takemitsus harmonic style. In regard to

Dyens own mannerisms, Light Motif uses harmonic and textural variation as the modhina
section develops with dissonant intervals and altered chords and notes.

Fig. ? Light Motif by Roland Dyens. Mvt. 1 mm. 7-17.

The second movement, Black Horn (when Spain meets Jazz), begins with rapid, repeated

chords and quick flourishes across the strings. This reoccurring flourish is used as a melodic line
which leads into a slower section where the tension gradually transforms into a riff-like jazz
groove accompanied by triplet rhythms.


Fig. ? Black Horn by Roland Dyens. Mvt. 2 mm. 1-3. The first occurrence of the melodic flourish
in measure 2.

Fig. ? Black Horn by Roland Dyens. Mvt. 2 mm. 55-63. Arrival of the transformed flourish into a
rock n roll-like bass line at measure 57.

The last movement, Clown Down (Gismonti at the Circus), draws from the music of

Brazilian guitarist, pianist and composer Egberto Gismonti, with an honorary reference to his

album Circense. Clown Down is an energetic, enthralling piece which makes use of a droning
low A accompanied by flourishes and rhythmic accents. Along with a rapidly repeated pedal
bass, there are many guitaristic colours, including harmonics, Bartk pizzicatos, rapid thirtysecond note arpeggios, chordal sequences, and in the coda, a wide variety of percussive devices
completing an finale. Gismonti is known for playing 10, 11, and 12 string guitars resulting in
more lower pitches than a normal 6 string guitar, perhaps one of the reasons that Dyens lowered
the sixth string. This movement is also in the spirit of Gismontis solo guitar piece, Dana das
Cabeas, which make use of a drone note except in a higher pitch than Clown Down. !

Fig. ? Clown Down by Roland Dyens. Mvt. 3 mm. 8-13. Shows the use of the droning low A and
rapid note flourishes.


In closing, Roland Dyens can overall be described as original, adapting atypical

characteristics to create his own style and often using musical homage from various composers.
He has a sensitive and colorful approach to the guitar which helps position him at the forefront of
the guitar community. His impact on this community is attributed to his memorable
performances, output of music, the amount of detail in his scores thanks to his innovations in
guitar notation, and unconventional style.