John Gordon Armstrong

Canadian Composer


The Last Waltz in Boston

The Last Waltz in Boston was written for my friend, guitarist William Beauvais, with the support of the Ontario Arts Council. It is a free set of variations and “fantasies” on an original waltz in the style of Chopin. The waltz gradually emerges over the course of the piece but is never fully achieved. At the end of the piece, the waltz theme is shrouded by its own first variation. This is not necessarily a metaphor.

This is my most extended single movement and, I think, a real compositional tour de force for guitar. I am the only guitarist who has ever played it, I think because the length and the unconventional form make it a real musical as well as technical challenge to learn. Audiences, on the other hand usually don’t have any difficulty. It’s an attractive, dramatic piece with a strong narrative thread. This piece will require commitment! Guitarists who want to test the waters with my music may be better to start with ImproVisions or Ghosts. On the other hand, if you want to show off, this is the piece for you!

The fist recording below was done by me in the Dunster House library at Harvard University. You may notice a bit of wind in the background and the sound quality is generally poorer. In most respects, the second recording from my 2017 CD is much better; the sound is better (thanks, James Law!) and the playing more nuanced. I’ve left the earlier recording because I think there’s something to be said for the younger interpretation. It’s faster — by a full 3 minutes! — and, in some ways, cleaner and flashier. If you have time to listen to both, I would be interested in your opinion.

Composed in 1987 for guitar
One Movement
Duration: 15 minutes
Very Difficult/Accessible

The Last Waltz in Boston (recorded 1990)

The Last Waltz in Boston
(recorded 2017)