19TH CENTURY GUITAR FAVOURITES
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Fernando Sor (1778 - 1839) and Dionisio Aguado (1784 - 1849)were key figures in the early history of the classic guitar, which emerged in its presentform some two centuries ago. Both were born in Spain, where they received a sound, formaleducation in music.
Sor's career was nomadic. He left Spain in 1813 having foundhimself into a difficult political corner after the Franco-Spanish War, and lived in Parisuntil 1815; from there he moved to London, where he worked as a performer and taught theguitar and singing, remaining there until 1823, when he returned to Paris (where hisballet Cendrillon was performed - he also became a successful composer of opera and balletmusic) en route for a tour of Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow (Cendrillon was performed there too)and St. Petersburg. Thereafter he again went to live in Paris, but he had perhaps beenaway too long, for he found his services were less in demand than he had hoped. He diedthere, in, it is believed, reduced circumstances, of cancer of the tongue.
Aguado did not leave Spain until 1826, when he moved to Paris,preceded by his reputation, and remained there until his return to Madrid in 1837. It wasin Paris, during Sor's second and last sojourn there, that the two men met and formed aclose friendship, living together for some time. Their playing techniques differedradically: Aguado used the nails of his right hand in plucking the strings but Sor didnot; Aguado said that Sor's method gave a more beautiful sound, but it was too late forhim (Aguado) to change his technique. It was perhaps inevitable that they should playtogether and it is reported that in November 1836 they played a duo concert in Paris. Bythen Sor had already published several guitar-duo works and it may be significant that,although some were comparatively easy to play, none predated Aguado's or Sor's arrival inParis. One of these was Les deux amis, Op. 41,the parts of which were marked SOR and AGUADO.
The advent of a new instrument, with a new playing technique,called for the provision of didactic material and an ample supply of this was forthcoming.
Both Sor and Aguado published tutor books in addition to a wealth of study pieces. Sor's Methode pour la guitare (Paris, 1830) was alsopublished in translations- parallel German and Italian (Paris and Bonn, 1831) and English(London, 1832), and was later revised and added to by Napoleon Coste (Paris, ca 1845).
Aguado's (1825/1843, Madrid) has appeared in several later editions that are variouslyunreliable, some even useless; a scrupulously faithful new one is published by Tecla(London). Aguado also invented the tripodison, a stand on which the guitar rested,relieving the player of the need to support it, but though Sor paid tribute to it there isno evidence that he ever used one; neither, it seems, did many others, for it died a quietdeath.
The backbone of didactic material is the study (etude, studioetc.), a piece focused on a particular aspect of technique or music. Sor composed 97 suchpieces in five variously termed sets: Op. 6 (Studios),Op. 29 (?ëtudes/Studios), Opp. 31 and 60 (Lecons progressives), Op. 35 (Exercices tresfaciles). Those of Aguado are contained in his Method and are similarly dividedinto Leccions and Estudios. "Lessons" were intended for early-stage students,in order to develop certain basic techniques, whereas "Studies" were for thoseof advanced levels. In Aguado's Method the Leccionsprecede the Estudios, and Sor composed his Op. 31 because he realised that histwo preceding sets (Opp. 6 and 29), which he regarded as being complementary, were notsuitable for beginners. Many of those of his Op. 35 are by no means "tresfacile", but those of Op. 60 are among the easiest of all.
Aguado's didactic pieces were embodied in his Method and theprecise technical purpose of each was clearly explained. Only occasionally did Sor specifythe purpose of a study, but where it is musical it is clear, and as he himself explained,where it is technical it can be clarified by reference to his Method. Both Sor and Aguadoprovided adequate fingering for the left and right hands, invaluable in understandingperiod practice and even interpretation, but not invariably followed by today'sperformers. For example, the execution of Op. 31/19 involves, as Sor explains, a type ofright-hand fingering that is uncommon today, and the ultimate purpose of its use -technical rather than musical- is now usually served by other means. Norbert Kraft usesthe modern mode of execution.
The minuets of Sor and Aguado are graciously dance-like,redolent of those of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven - before he began accelerating them intoscherzos. The Minuet Op. 11/6 is one of a set of two themes with variations and twelveminuets (ca. 1822); the other is the last movement of his Sonata Op. 22 - it was not then unusual to end asonata in this way. Aguado's Minuet and Andante arefrom comparatively early collections.
Though Sor and Aguado were Spanish by birth their guitar musicis Viennese Classical in style and form, rarely showing any trace of their Hispanicorigins. Both combined fastidious craftsmanship with highly idiomatic writing for theguitar, and showed leanings toward Romanticism, but though Aguado's music is clear-cut,pleasing, and often brilliant, it never attains the poetic expressivity of that of Sor.
After the deaths of Sor, Aguado and their contemporaries theguitar went into recession, squeezed out by the louder-voiced piano and the orchestra,which better suited the scale of full-blown Romanticism. A later generation of virtuosifollowed in their wake, notably Napoleon Coste (1805- 83), Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806 -56) and Giulio Regondi (1822 - 72), but the good times had passed. The guitar becamelittle more than a suitable pastime for well-bred young ladies and a minor inhabitant ofmusical evenings, both domestic and in the salon. There it rested until a recovery,gradual but more effective than politicians are wont to initiate, began through the workof another Spaniard, Francisco Tarrega Eixea (1852 - 1909), whose crusade to restore theguitar to a position of respectability culminated in the work of Andres Segovia (1893 -1987).
Tarrega studied harmony and composition at the Conservatory inMadrid, and followed a successful concert career throughout Europe, but his mostsignificant contributions were in the development of technique, composition, and therefinement of the art of transcription, the arrangement of other music for the guitar. Inthe mid-nineteenth century the construction of the guitar was modified by the luthierAntonio de Torres (1817 -92), strengthening its projection. Tarrega's revision of playingtechnique enabled advantage to be taken of this. Like Sor, Tarrega played without the useof his right-hand nails, but though later generations have rejected this feature in favourof Aguadoism Tarrega's technique formed the basis on which they built. Hepublished no method but his principles were transmitted by his students. These changescreated no pressing need for new technical study pieces, but Tarrega wrote 28 variousEstudios and four more so subtitled - The Estudiobrillante, not one of these, is an arrangement of a piano piece by Jean-DelphinAlard (1815 -88). Most of his original compositions were salon pieces, in which hedisplayed a strong gift of melody and cultured harmony, great charm and an occasionaltouch of humour.
Most of Tarrega's dances were those which were popular in theballrooms of the day (polka, mazurka and waltz), but Maria was born of the then-curren