Down the Black River

Release Date: 2022

Down the Black River / Works by Sergio Molina


  1. Down the Black River into the Dark Night [Descendo o Rio Negro na noite escura] for guitar quartet, piano and string orchestra (2008)* | 10:52

Quaternaglia Guitar Quartet / Rogério Zaghi (piano) / String Orchestra conducted by Emiliano Patarra

  1. Song of the Universal (after a poem by Walt Whitman) [Canção do Universal] Quintet n.2 for four guitars and piano (2017)* | 15:15

Quaternaglia Guitar Quartet / Rogério Zaghi (piano)

  1. The Journey of the Weary Souls [O Percurso das Almas Cansadas]

for four guitars and string orchestra (2004) – “Homage to Leo Brouwer” | 16:18

I-Greeting [Saudação] / II-Sagacity [Sagacidade] / III-Nostalgia [Saudade] / IV-Sacrifice [Sacrifício] / V-Sabedoria [Wisdom]

Quaternaglia Guitar Quartet / String Orchestra conducted by Emiliano Patarra

Quintet for Another Time [Quinteto para um outro tempo]

for guitar quartet and piano (2006)*

  1. Past [Passado] | 8:20
  2. Prayer without words [Oração sem palavras] | 5:39
  3. The Mirror of the Enigmas [O Espelho dos Enigmas] | 5:48

total time: 62:12

* works dedicated to James Dick and Quaternaglia Guitar Quartet

Quaternaglia Guitar Quartet

(Chrystian Dozza / Fabio Ramazzina / Thiago Abdalla / Sidney Molina)

Rogério Zaghi (piano)

Emiliano Patarra (conductor)

Recorded at Santa Marcelina Studio (guitars and piano) on October 19 and November 8,9 and 30, 2021; and Trama NaCena Estúdio (orchestra) on January 29, 2022 (São Paulo, Brazil)

Producer: Sergio Molina

Engineers: Thiago Abdalla (guitars and piano) / André Magalhães (orchestra)

Assistant Engineer: Fernando Sobreira, Felipe Bulbarelli and Lucas Maggieri

(Santa Marcelina Studio), Ricardo Camera and Douglas Martins (Trama NaCena Estúdio)

Editing: Thiago Abdalla

Mixing Engineer: André Magalhães (tracks 1 and 3) / Thiago Abdalla (tracks 2, 4, 5 and 6)

Mastering Engineer: Felipe Tichauer (Red Traxx Mastering)


First Violins: Luiz Amato (concertmaster), César Miranda, Rodolfo Lota, Soraya Landim

Second Violins: Amanda Martins, Katia Spassova, Leandro Oliveira,

Andreas Ulheman

Violas: Emerson De Biaggi, Ederson Fernandes, Elisa Monteiro

Cellos: Adriana Holtz, Vana Bock

Double Bass: Cláudio Toreza

Executive Producer [PROAC]: Tenuca Comunicação e Eventos

Photos: Pamela Lahaud

Making of: Gabriela Ramazzina

Cover and booklet art: Lia Assumpção

Texts: Sidney and Sergio Molina

Translation: David G. Molina

Apoio: Faculdade Santa Marcelina

Realização: Secretaria de Cultura e Economia Criativa e Governo do Estado de São Paulo

Texts by Sidney Molina / Sergio Molina

This booklet accompanies the album Down the Black River (available for streaming) with compositions by Sergio Molina performed by Quaternaglia Guitar Quartet. The four works presented here are the product of the collaboration between the composer, the musicians, and the Festival Hill in Round Top (TX) for more than a decade.

For the 2005 season, Round Top had scheduled the American premiere of the concerto for four guitars and orchestra by Leo Brouwer, with Quaternaglia as soloists. A few months before the event, however, the Cuban composer, for political reasons, did not authorize the performance of the piece in the United States. This was the occasion, thus – almost accidentally – for Sergio Molina’s composition of the Journey of the Weary Souls,the oldest piece registered here, premiered on February 12th, 2005.

Invited to the premiere of Journey, Molina was asked by pianist James Dick – creator of the Round Top Festival Institute – to produce a work that combined the sound of four guitars and a grand piano. Two years later, Quintet for Another Time was first performed on February 10th, 2007. At the end of the first performance of the work, programming director Alain Declert invited the musicians to repeat all three movements of the piece so the public could become better acquainted with its sophisticated aural solutions.

Not long after, a new composition was commissioned to Molina, this time for four guitars, piano, and orchestra: inspired by the Amazon rainforest, Down the Black River into the Dark Night was premiered in Round Top on February 14th, 2009 (with soloists James Dick and Quaternaglia).

The most recent work in this album, Song of the Universal, based on a poetic excerpt from Walt Whitman, was premiered nine years later, on March 3rd, 2018.

In this first world recording of Sergio Molina’s “Round Top Compositions,” Quaternaglia is privileged to perform alongside pianist Rogério Zaghi and a string orchestra under the direction of Emiliano Patarra.

When Quaternaglia first arrived at Round Top Festival Hill on January 18th, 2002, a Friday, it was late. We had only recently performed a recital at the Houston Guitar Society and traveled across Texas by car.

It was dark, and the physical sense of touching the earth – of sand and stone – in a cold night presented an immediate contrast to the enclosed and predictable spaces so common in tours: airports, hotels, theaters.

Awaiting our arrival was pianist James Dick, creator of the Round Top Music Festival, which – as we came to learn later – is one of the most traditional summer music venues in the United States, a six-week festival that, every year, welcomes musicians and instructors for training in orchestral and chamber music.

Awarded in international piano competitions such as Tchaikovsky, Busoni, and Leventritt, an acting concert pianist, and invited judge of such traditional venues as Van Cliburn, James Dick transformed the town – which, according to the 2000 American census was inhabited by an intriguing 77 people (not much has changed since) – into a hub for American classical music.

Although we were tired from our travels, our hosts insisted that it was crucial for us to see the theater in which we would be performing the following day.

No one forgets the experience of entering the Round Top Concert Hall for the first time. With over 1000 seats and an enormous stage, it is an architectural wonder in which wood reigns supreme and whose richness in detail evokes European gothic cathedrals. A higher priority, however, directs the choice of material, structure, and dimensions of the building: acoustics.

Guitars are not instruments well-known for their volume, but in the great hall at Round Top, Quaternaglia could perform an entirely acoustic recital in which melodies in harmonics could be heard from any point in the room.

The next day, another surprise: the hall was completely full. “Whence came so many cars, so many people, to hear classical/Brazilian music for four guitars?” we asked ourselves.

In one of the poles adjacent to the theater, the Brazilian flag welcomed us. We were – we learned then – not only the first Brazilians to perform in the hall, but the first guitarists to play in Round Top.

After the concert, organizers and performers began to enthusiastically discuss the details for another recital the following year. It did, in fact, take place, but it was only in 2005, our third return to the small town, that our story with Round Top began to include commissioned works by Sergio Molina.

From this moment on, each new Quaternaglia concert in Round Top is tied to the premiere of a new composition by Molina, all of which are registered in this album: Journey of the Weary Souls (2005), Quintet for Another Time (2007), Down the Black River into the Dark Night (2009), and Song of the Universal (2018).

Despite the distance, this recording seeks to be faithful to the spirit of the place and the people that motivated the compositions and premieres: here is a bit of the earth, the flowers, the ornaments, the kindness, the refinement – and why not? – the acoustics of Round Top.


Dedicated to the memory of Richard Royal

Down the Black River into the Dark Night (2008)

In his 2008 Brazilian tour, James Dick consulted Sergio Molina about a possible commission to be premiered in the United States in 2009. The setting of the conversation was the lobby of the Hotel Regente, in Belém do Pará, in the north of Brazil, and already then, the embryonic piece found in the Amazon River its source of inspiration.

Molina promptly imagined a possible analogy between certain musical patterns and a long evening voyage through the silent waters of the rio Negro (Black River), one of the most important tributaries of the Amazon. Thus was born the idea of Down the Black River into the Dark Night, for guitar quartet, piano, and string orchestra.

The beginning of the journey is calm, full of expectation, but also open to unexpected occurrences. The silence of the night amplifies the sounds of nature. The strings establish a continual flow of sound, duplicating the black waters of the river where the extended notes insinuate a sensation of non-pulse, of non-time.

Occasionally, we hear the reverberations of the music produced by the inhabitants of the villages on the banks of the river as well as the sound of the Amazon landscape itself. The lack of visibility – imposed by the darkness of the waters and the night – clears the way for the emergence of memory: from the depths arise fragments of Jobim, Ligeti, Steve Reich, and Schumann.

At the end of the piece, a tropical storm falls over our travelers at the exact point in which the dark waters of the Black River and the light waters of the gigantic Amazon intersect. The Black River is diluted, but one can still hear reminiscences of the original droplets that, although incorporated into the Amazon, still retain something of their original identity, traversing the circle of fifths on their trip towards the sea.

Conceived a posteriori, this narrative is only one of the possible references for the listener; the hearer of Down the Black River into the Dark Night is also encouraged to devise a plot of their own.

Song of the Universal – after a poem by Walt Whitma (2017)

In February of 2017, pianist James Dick sent Sergio Molina the following excerpt of a poem by Walt Whitman:

Come, said the Muse,

Sing me a song no poet yet has chanted,

Sing me the Universal.

From an entirely musical starting point – the amalgamation of two intervals (B/C/G, a half-step and a perfect fifth) activating an embattlement of two asymmetric rhythmic cells associated with the popular music of South America: the rhythm of the tamborim in the samba of Rio de Janeiro and the accents in the Argentine milonga – Molina chose, as part of the compositional process, to set Whitman’s excerpt to music.

The resulting song was taken as a starting point for the narrative arc of Song of the Universal in a kind of “backwards composition.” The melody (with lyrics carefully excised) only appears in full in the piano part ten minutes into the piece, in its final section.

The melodic designs and harmonic patterns of the generative song, however, are intercut, developed, and varied from the very start, acting as fragmented memories that are gradually reconstructed.

In the words of Dick, the piece is “a true song of the universal […] The piece has an ability to hold itself […] It’s all meaningful, from the very beginning. It ends with a peacefulness, but a peacefulness that is looking forward. It ends, but it is still looking forward.”

As in Whitman’s poem, Molina’s musical setting is at once a generative seed, an unconscious directive upon which the piece is constructed, and an elusive essence to be pursued. Dedicated to Quaternaglia Guitar Quartet and James Dick, Song of the Universal is the second quintet for guitar quartet and piano by Sergio Molina.

The Journey of the Weary Souls (2004) [O Percurso das Almas Cansadas]

Written as a concertino in a single movement for four guitars and string orchestra (with five internal parts played without interruption), Journey of the Weary Souls is the first composition for guitars and orchestra by Sergio Molina.

Echoes of the honored composer, Leo Brouwer – such as an idiomatic use of the guitar (the chords are constructed to resound widely, evoking a “harp-like” quality that is amplified by the four instruments) – are coupled with inspiration from Bartók (superposed keys in string writing, canonical imitations, and experimental timbres) and with rhythmic-melodic references to Brazilian urban popular music (such as a characteristic baião in five beats).

“Greeting” is an elaborate orchestral introduction, one that flows into the majestic entrance of the guitars; in “Sagacity” the quartet introduces its own musical material in abrupt and ironic motions followed by an eloquent pause; “Nostalgia” emulates the B minor chord (underscored by the low 7th string in the 4th guitar part) of the celebrated “Adagio” of the Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, but the harmony is expanded to a whole-tone scale, a move that also embraces the expressive tradition of Brazilian songwriting.

In “Sacrifice,” the interaction between the soloists and the orchestra reaches maximal tension, culminating in a virtuosic cadenza in the guitars. The cadenza is composed as a jigsaw puzzle in which pieces slowly come together: present are the themes of each of the previous sections as well as an anticipation of “Wisdom,” the fifth part, which begins with an orchestral intermezzo and comes to an end in a violent coda, rhythmic and technically demanding.

Quintet for Another Time(2006) [Quinteto para um outro tempo]

For the occasion of the world premiere of Journey of the Weary Souls in 2005, Sergio Molina was received for a festive dinner at the home of Alain Declert, Programming Director of the Round Top Festival Institute.

In the living room of the house, in a prominent place, was a copy of the original program of the premiere of the Quatour pour la fin du temps (1941) by Olivier Messiaen, work written and performed for the first time in the prison camp of Stalag VIII-A during the Second World War, to the south of the city of Görlitz, where the composer and musicians were arrested for having resisted Nazism in France.

More than its techniques or soundscapes, the memory of that work – intensely beautiful, and written in adverse circumstances – was the starting point for Molina’s own Quintet for Another Time, his first work for guitar quartet and piano.

The first movement, “Past,” is a tribute to the musical tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries, but, in it, the main theme is lead to an inevitable death which is announced by a long and painful funeral procession: it is the end that simultaneously makes way for the emergence of a new time.

“Prayer Without Words,” the second movement, occurs in the present, and tries to operate on two levels: it is both a necessary pause for contemplation, and the anticipatory moment that antecedes the journey’s return.

The third movement, “The Mirror of the Enigmas” – a restless and visionary toccata – is proleptic in nature and proposes a coexistence of meters, scales, modes, sound systems, asymmetries, games, cycles, fragments, and duels in a tireless search for a wider and more diverse time.

The premiere of the work in 2007 was widely covered by the American Record Guide: with sheet music in hand, critic and editor Gil French followed, for three days, the rehearsals and the recital, generating a detailed review.