The guitar is often used as a hammer, bashing out wailing solos, shredding hard and fast, strumming a few simple chords.
So it can be easy to forget just how entrancing a basic wooden acoustic guitar can be with a skilled player. A good classical guitarist uses the instrument like a delicate surgical tool, picking out the right notes and letting them ring and blend into each other in a way that even the best rock guitar players struggle to achieve with their distorted sound.
John Williams is one of the most famous classical guitarists of the latter 20th century. “Cavatina”, which provides a truly heartrending backdrop to the classic Vietnam movie “The Deerhunter” in 1978.
Stanley Myers had actually written the song for a 1970 film, “The Walking Stick”, and the song was originally for piano, but rewrote it for guitar for Williams.
The song is built around Williams’ fingerpicking, with the addition of a tasteful string section, and a restrained double bass. The guitar is augmented by flutes later on, but the focal point of the song is the guitar, no doubt about it.
I’ve never really heard a guitar used to express wistful sadness so effectively, and that is in large part to the skill of John Williams. There are versions of him playing the guitar without the backing instruments, and the song remains almost as emotive.