THE HISTORY OF THE GUITAR IN SPAIN

(translated from the original Spanish by the author)

 

            The guitar may be considered the most representative musical instrument of Spain. Throughout the centuries, the modern guitar (with six strings) has evolved principally from three sources: (1) the Arabic lute, (2) the vihuela, and (3) the Renaissance five-string guitar. The three most outstanding personalities involved in the development of the guitar are, in chronological order, Fernando Sor (of the 18th Century), Francisco Tárrega (of the 19th Century), and Andrés Segovia (of the 20th Century). But others deserve mention as well, especially for their mastery on the vihuela, like Alonso de Mudarra, Enríquez de Valderrábano, Luys de Narváez, Miguel de Fuenllana, and Luis Milán, all of Renaissance Spain. This last artist was best known for his repertoire of the pavanas, or stately court dances that were ultimately transcribed for the modern guitar by Emilio Pujol, a student of Segovia, at the dawn of the 20th Century. These true masters of the vihuela became composers as well, having composed their masterworks for the instrument between 1490 and 1570 A.D. Both Milán and Narváez hailed from Villadolid.

 

            The Libro de Apolonio, written in the 13th Century, tells how the Princess Luciana played the vihuela in the regal court:

                       

                        Aguisóssen la duenya, fiziriéndola logar,

                        Tenpró bien la vihuela en un son natural,

                        Dexó caer el manto, paróse en un brial,

                        Començó una laude, omne non vio atal…(Grunfeld 72)

 

            During the same century, the English gittern was rather popular and even competed with the vihuela for a time, but it never became well received in Spain. Unfortunately, the great majority of the compositions for this instrument were lost or perished forever for lack of adequate printing presses and available publishers. Since written musical notation had not yet been developed, the first method book ever published about the vihuela, using cifra or tablature (a system of graphics with pictures showing the hand positions, numbered fingers for the left hand, etc.) was written by Luis Milán: Libro de música de vihuela de mano intitulado El Maestro. This book appeared for the first time in Valencia in 1535. The book served not only as a manual for learning, it was also a collection of works for different levels of difficulty for the beginning student. Luis Milán (c. 1500-1561) was a courtier and poet-musician who served in the court of Queen Germaine de Foix in Valencia. He also composed Il Cortegiano, adding a vignette and eulogy to Orpheo:

 

                        El gran Orfeo, primero inventor

                        Por quien la vihuela paresce en el mundo

                        Por amor a nuestro gran Creador

                        Si él fue el primero, no fue sin segundo…(Grunfeld 81)

 

Later, Narváez followed up with his first book on the vihuela entitled Seys libros del delfín de música, which was published in Villadolid in 1538. The title is an allusion to the Greek legend of Arión, a virtuoso on the lyre from out of antiquity: Arión saved himself through his enchanted music by a dolphin that loved the music he played.

 

            Narváez, who was born in Granada (whose precise dates are unknown) and became a master on the vihuela, employed much counterpoint and many complex techniques on the instrument. He performed in the court of Phillip the Second. He was the very first composer to publish diferencias or "variations" through spontaneous improvisation by creating new musical phrasings in the moment. His most famous composition is Guárdame las vacas,  or “Watch over the cows for me”, which has been transcribed and studied in its totality of four movements by such modern guitarists as Christopher Parkening, Julian Bream, John Williams (not the composer), Andrés Segovia, and by the “Royal Family of the Spanish guitar” the Romeros, from Málaga, Spain. During the lifetime of Narváez, this song spread throughout all the courts of Europe reaching even England as The Sheepheard Carillo his Song in 1540.

 

                        “The instrument, the vihuela, is quite large, having a body length of 58.4 centimeters, and judging from signs of the original bridge position, a vibrating string length of about 80 centimeters.”…(Tyler 20)

 

            In 1546, the third great master of the vihuela, Alonzo de Mudarra of Seville, produced Tres libros de Música en cifras para vihuela. This collection of works that Mudarra published included fantasies, galliards, pavanes, villancicos, Christmas carols, romances, ballads, psalms, and motets. Many of these masterworks were adapted by two contemporary music maestros from Belgium, Josquin de Pres and Adrián Willaert. This music was based on the texts of Ovid and Vigil, and on the sonnets of Petrarch and Sannazaro. Mudarra, in addition to his performing, taught the nobility “how to play with cleanliness and distinction.”

 

            In 1547 in Villadolid, Enríquez de Valderrábano published his Silva de Sirenas. Following close behind in 1552 in Salamanca, Diego Pisador printed his own Libro de Música. Miguel de Fuenllanas then published his Orphénica Lyra in 1554 and Luis Venegas de Henestrosa his Libro nuevo in Álcala de Henares in 1557. And in 1563, Father Tomás de Santa María distributed his Arte de taňer Fantasías in Villadolid as well, while Esteban Daza came out with his El Parnaso in 1567. Such an explosion of artistic creation and composition during two brief decades this was!

 

            One of the most famous villancicos or Christmas tunes by Enríquez de Valderrábano is called De dónde venís, amore?

 

                        De dónde venís, amore?

                        Bien sé yo de donde.

                        Cavallero de mesura

                        do venís la noche oscura?

                        De dónde venís, amore?

                        Bien sé yo de donde….(Grunfeld 86)

 

            In due time, paintings and etching throughout Europe came out revealing somewhat flirtatious women of high society playing the Renaissance five-string guitar. In Spain they were called Las damas de calidad and in France as Les Dames de qualité, jouant de la guitarre, or “women of quality, playing the guitar”.

 

            Now the vihuela looked much like our modern guitar, with the exception of its smaller size. But the instrument was tuned almost exactly as our modern six-string counterpart except for the highest string being F# instead of E Major. Following is an excerpt from Luis Milán’s Introducción to his El Maestro:

 

                        Del presente libro propuse dar inteligencia y aclarar de los ocho tonos que en la música e canto figurándose e son: porque en las reglas obeda en las racciones en los pimapíos de las fantasías que en el libro se conozemos los de tata inteligencia de los quata. …(Milán 4)

 

            By the advent of the 17th Century, the popularity of the vihuela began to diminish, already having reached its peak in popularity. Thus began the age of the “regal guitar”, la guitarra real, or La Guitarre Royal in France, a musical instrument much more similar to our modern guitar, though tuned much differently. This marked the dawning of the Renaissance five-string guitar, as it came to be known in England. With this newer instrument, la danza or music for the dance was becoming popular among the middle classes:

 

            “Dance music was very important for instruments, including the guitar. A favorite dance of the period was the pavane. A slow, stately, processional dance in duple meter, it was generally paired with the galliard, a quick, leaping dance in triple meter.”...(Politoske 106)

 

            It was precisely in Spain where the 5th string was added on to the guitar (since the vihuela had only four strings), raising the musical instrument’s potential to a higher, more universally accessible level in terms of multi-faceted musical options. The Spanish poet and author of the picaresque novel Vida del escudero Marcos de Obregón, Vicente Espinel (1551-1624) created, according to historical musicologists, this remarkable invention! Notwithstanding, it has been said that Juan Bermudo had already written about the Renaissance five-string guitar beforehand.

 

            By the end of the 16th Century, the Renaissance five-string guitar had already reached a level of popularity so much so that the manual Guitarra espaňola y Vándola, which had been published by Carles y Amat in 1596, included a drawing of the instrument.  In this volume of sixty pages, Joan Carles makes reference to la guitarra castellana (the Spanish guitar) for the very first time in Spain. Overseas, the musical instrument was becoming known or recognized as the chitarra spagnuola.

 

            In 1626, Luis de Briceňo published his Método mui facilíssimo para aprender a taňer la Guitarra a lo espaňol in Paris. In his Introduction, he mentions for the first time that the guitar “is like a woman in shape and in temperament: one must play her well to be successful”. Briceňo praised the Spanish guitar, explaining in great detail the advantages that stand out the most with the newer instrument over the lute and the ancient vihuela. He spent the greater part of his life in France and this modern guitar, even more so than the Guitarre Royal, became more popular in France, a country that was beginning to enter its period of the great monarchies. And even the Spanish guitar ended up in les boudoirs of higher powers, becoming accepted as the preferential musical instrument to be played among the kings of France for their courts. King Louis the Fourteenth of France and King Charles the Second of England began practicing the guitar themselves as they gainfully employed professional guitarists in the courts of their respective countries.

 

            Then suddenly, as if by surprise, from out of Italy there came the true master of the Renaissance five-string guitar of the period: Francesco Corbetta (1615-1681), known in France as Francisque Corbette. He lived in Spain for an undetermined amount of time. During his stay there, he discovered the Spanish guitar from some as yet unknown guitar teacher. So Corbetta applied himself dutifully, ultimately popularizing the instrument by taking it to France and to England, playing among the courts in both countries. Then, the Duke of Guise discovered him while playing on the streets of Florence, Italy. Upon listening to him for the very first time, the duke immediately employed Corbetta into his court.

 

            Francesco Corbetta, born in Pavia in 1615, henceforth published his first guitar method book in Bologna in 1639 and another one in Milán in 1643. Very little is known today about any specific facts pertaining to Corbetta’s life. We do know that he played in the court of Mantúa for several years and later, he performed for Leopold Williams, Archduke of Austria. To this archduke he dedicated another book of cifras that later appeared in Brussels, Belgium in 1648. Corbetta lived in Paris in 1655 and later played for Charles the Second of England in London. According to the Grammount Mémoirs, he played quite regularly for King Louis the Fourteenth, who was only 18 years of age at the time. Corbetta then published a collection of his own works for King Charles the Second entitled La Guitarre Royalle. This book was replete with gavottes, gigues, minuets, and pavanes to be danced to the accompaniment of the guitar throughout the courts of Europe. Corbetta had toured Europe with his guitar, having played quite extensively for the royalty in their respective nations. His name and fame had traveled far and wide upon foreign soil, which was quite something considering the pre-Industrial Revolution times in which he lived. Corbetta’s name even became known in places as remote and distant as the courts of exotic Russia.

 

            In 1671, Corbetta returned to Paris and there obtained permission to publish this same collection in English for the very first time, known today as The Courtier’s Guitar. Corbetta then returned to London in 1674 to teach the Spanish guitar to Queen Anne and, perhaps, to the future Mary Queen of Scots. Corbetta’s death in 1681 inspired a tribute or musical homage to him composed by the guitarist du chambre royal, Robert de Visée:

 

                        Cig it l’Amphion de nos jours,

                        Francisque cet homme si rare

                        Qui fit parler a la guitare

                        Le vrai langage des amours…(Wade 68)

 

            Meanwhile, back in Spain, yet another maestro of the five-string guitarra espaňola called Gáspar Sanz (c.1640-1710) published his Instrucción de Música sobre la guitara espaňola in Zaragoza in 1674. Sanz’s eighth edition of this book appeared in 1697. In his book, Sanz states that he became inspired by such musicians as Pellegrini, Kapsberger, Granata, and above all, by Francesco Corbetta, “the best of them all”. Sanz composed espaňoletas, galliards, caprichos (whimsical, rapid-fire pieces), courants, gigues, pavans, and canarios (canary dances) with energetic rhythms and extremely forceful melodies. His music was always based on folkloric elements of Spain intertwined with strong influences from the music of the French courts.

 

            Finally, by the beginning of the 18th Century, the modern six-string guitar appeared, making its entrance into Spanish society through mention of it in Santiago de Murcia’s Resumen de acompaňar la parte con la Guitarra, in 1726. Then another instruction book was published in 1752 by Minguet y Yrol that included Spanish dances to the style of Gaspar Sanz. Sanz also became a strong influence on a great written work by Andrés de Soto: his Arte para aprender con facilidad, y sin maestro, a templar rasgado la Guitarra de cinco órdenes, o cuerdas; y también la de cuatro, o seis órdenes, llamadas Guitarra Espaňola, Bandurria, y Vandola, y también el Tiple. This book first appeared in Madrid in 1764. This quite lengthy title refers to learning how to play with ease, without a teacher, on the four-string bandola, on the Renaissance five-string guitar, or on the six-string (modern) Spanish guitar!

 

            Another outstanding book that came out at the time was Arte de tocar la Guitarra Espaňola (a much shorter title, indeed) by Fernando Ferandière, which was published in 1799. This book explicated various techniques and improvisations available on the guitar of seis órdenes or six strings. And with this work coming out at the close of the century, the stage was set for the upcoming five major masters of the modern six-string guitar: Dionisio Aguado from Spain, Mauro Giulianni, Ferdinando Carulli, Matteo Carcassi from Italy, and Fernando Sor, the great virtuoso, also of Spain. All of these guitar masters introduced the “expressionist school” of the guitar. Sor is considered to be the best guitarist of the Romantic Era.

 

            The son of a Cataluňan merchant, Fernando Sor (1778-1839) was born in Barcelona on February 17, 1778. He received his formal musical education and training at the local monastery of Montserrat. At 18 years of age, he began singing in the local choir and composed his first opera Telemachus en la Isla de Calipso. After the War of 1812, Sor lived in Paris where he gave guitar recitals, then he hit the road giving public performances throughout France and Russia, sometimes playing solo and at other times accompanying other musicians. In 1815, he performed in London for the very first time where a listener in the audience had commented: “The effect was at once magical and surprising.”

 

 

 

Sor was the first guitarist to produce an array of amazing musical effects that had never previously been heard on such a small musical instrument before. He became the first guitarist to have been invited to play with the London Philharmonic Society during its first 100 years of existence! On March 24, 1817, Sor became soloist, performing his very own Concertante of Spanish Guitar and Strings. This marked quite a breakthrough in terms of the modern guitar being accepted as part of, and integrated into, a full orchestra. While in his twenties, Sor traveled throughout Germany and Russia giving concerts. His audiences were amazed that he could perform with equal ease and facility in all twelve musical keys! While in Moscow, Sor composed three ballets and a prolonged funeral march for the death of Tzar Alexander the First in 1825. This kind of intricately extensive and technically demanding music had never been composed for the modern guitar, especially for a musical instrument that had only six strings. In appreciation, Czarina Alexandra gave Fernando Sor some black pearls of extremely high value.

 

 But tragedy did not escape the life of the peerless guitar master: Sor lost both his wife and their only daughter Julia, who had been studying the harp. He died of cancer of the tongue on July 8, 1839. His body was buried in a tomb at the house of a close friend, but nobody had thought to put a name plate above his grave. Because of this, his tomb was never discovered until as late as 1934. Sor today is considered to be the first great master of the six-string guitar, as much as Francesco Corbetta is considered to be the top virtuoso of all time on the Renaissance five-string guitar.

 

“Sor both surprised and delighted his audiences in many countries with his music and left in his wake an enthusiastic following to champion the new six-stringed instrument.”…(Turnball 82)

 

At the turn of the incoming 19th Century, the Torres family of guitar makers began to construct high quality musical instruments that carry their family trademark name. The Ramírez family out of Andalucía, Spain, also began constructing immaculate guitars of the highest sound quality and most advanced resonance. To this day, both family trademarks signify guitars of very high quality and workmanship, along with their hefty price tags on their labels.

 

            Then on a cold, damp and dreary day of November 21st in 1852,  Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) was born in Villareal, Spain. He came to be called “the poet of the guitar” and today is considered among guitarists to be the true “father of the modern guitar of the 20th Century”. It is through Tárrega that our modern system of bar chords and moveable chord patterns came about, for he constructed them. According to a local newspaper article written just after Tárrega had given a guitar recital in Vall de Uxo on November 19, 1904:

           

            La guitarra cuando Tárrega la pulsa, es algo más que el instrumento; es un ser vivo que vibra al compás del sentimiento del músico…es una voz que nos habla directo de la eternidad y del cielo mismo…(Wade 143)

 

TRANSLATION:

            “The guitar, when Tárrega strums it, is something more than the instrument itself; it is a living being in sync with the feeling of the musician…It is a voice that speaks directly to us from out of Eternity and from Heaven itself.”

 

            As a child, Francisco Tárrega studied piano with Eugenio Ruiz and also learned a little guitar from Manuel González, a blind guitarist. In 1862, Tárrega attended a guitar recital given by Julián Arcas, who was playing a Torres guitar. After the recital, Arcas was introduced to the young boy of 10 years of age and played something for him personally. Some years later, Tárrega finally met Torres, the guitar maker and luthier. With already having studied harmony on the piano, Tárrega immediately applied all of the musical complexity of counterpoint and the intricate harmonics he had learned on the piano keyboard to the six-string guitar's fretboard. He then began to compose exercises of extreme technical difficulty for guitar, some being extremely advanced musical works, and for the very first time, he had used intervals on the guitar fretboard with interwoven musical phrasings and arpeggiated scales so advanced that he had actually opened up previously unexplored musical avenues on the instrument for the great composers of the upcoming century: Joaquín Rodrigo, Héctor Berlioz, Modest Mussorsky, and Heitor Villa-Lobos. Both Isaac Albéniz (1860-1909) and Enrique Granados (1867-1916) were considered to be well accomplished composers for both guitar and piano at the turn of the century.

 

            “But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that, although Tárrega’s performances were vital in reëstablishing the guitar as a serious concert instrument, it was his teaching and above all his radical reappraisal of both left-and right-hand technique that singles him out as the greatest innovator in the evolution of the modern guitar.”…(Palmer 49)

 

            In 1879, Francisco Tárrega visited the township of Alicante where he once again met up with Julián Arcas. While there, he met another student of the guitar who had helped him with certain arrangements for guitar and orchestra. Tárrega also had met his future bride, María, in Alicante during another visit. Between 1880 and 1885, the blossoming master of the guitar and musical maestro hit the streets of the small pueblos of Spain, the off-the-beaten-track back roads of les petits villages in France, and the cobble stoned streets of many an English town, but he always preferred performing in Spain, the land true to his heart and his loving patria or homeland. His guitar recitals most always included masterworks by Sor, Aguado, Arcas, Viňas, and Cano. He transcribed from piano to guitar nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin, sonatas by Ludwig von Beethoven, and many an opera by Wagner. Tárrega was the first in completing such a task, thus allowing future guitarists the affordability to perform such world renowned masterpieces that originally had been unavailable to them, for they were composed for other musical instruments. Above all, Francisco Tárrega formed, at least in his own mind, la escuela razonada de la guitarra (the “well-thought-out school for the guitar”) thus clearly illustrating and paving the way for all that he had yet to learn and ultimately to teach to Andrés Segovia, and to all of the as yet unborn guitarists of the up and coming 20th Century.

 

            Francisco Tárrega became notorious for his unique ability to play the guitar with his left hand while smoking a cigar in his right. Throughout his entire life, he gave recitals in Perpignan, Cádiz, Palma de Mallorca, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo, Paris, Granada, Rome, Naples, and in Milán. He enchanted his critics, and they loved it too, by his playing those perlas de notas flotantes or his “pearls of floating notes”. Tárrega, of his own accord, raised the guitar to higher levels in terms of both its repertoire and in left- and right-hand techniques. He also wrote systematic studies intended solely for the instrument.

 

Yet, since his early childhood, Tárrega had suffered from an eye infection, eventually amounting to partial visual impairment as an adult, from some accident he had involving a toxic riverbed. He died in 1909, the exact same year that a young Andrés Segovia gave his first guitar recital in Granada. Segovia was 16 years of age at the time. It is truly an odd quirk of fate that the juvenile Segovia and the elderly Tárrega had never met somewhere in Spain during the short time span when the two of them were contemporaries and both fellow countrymen. Tárrega’s most famous composition is Recuerdos de la Alhambra, in honor of the spectacularly beautiful Moorish walled city and fortress in Granada, Spain.

 

                        On February 18, 1893, Andrés Segovia (1893-1987) was born in Linares, Andalucía. Ever since he was a small child, he had always been enchanted with the deep, mysterious, and yearning tones of the guitar heard all around him. Being such a fundamental aspect of daily life in the Andalusian province, the fiery rhythms of the gitanos (gypsies) and el cante jondo with its flamenco resonances saturated the young Segovia. He dedicated an entire lifetime to the enrichment of the instrument. Although Segovia ended up not caring much at all for the flamenco music of the roaming Andalucian gypsies and hence seldom, if ever, performed it, he did inspire a school of guitarist-composers: Joaquín Rodrigo with his Concierto de Aránjuez, Tórroba, Turina, Manuel Ponce, Roussel, Tansman, Mompou, Duarte, Villa-Lobos, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Miguel Llobet.

 

            “Considered beyond doubt the greatest guitarist who ever lived, he has generally encouraged every promising student who has sought his help. It is safe to say that no major guitarist now exists who has not been profoundly influenced by him.”…(Parkening 79)

 

            Nevertheless, Segovia never composed the seemingly endless output of literature specifically for the guitar as did his predecessor Francisco Tárrega. But the major points to be highlighted about Andrés Segovia are these: (1) he possessed an instinctive awareness regarding the potential of the guitar and, all throughout his musical career, he tried to transform his vision into reality; (2) he not only discovered but also explored the music of his native Spain from centuries past; and (3) he transcribed the music of yesteryear from cifra written for the vihuela by such musician composers as Miguel de Fuenllana and Enríquez de Valderrábano to the modern classical Spanish guitar, with also having transcribed pieces for the lute by Elizabethan John Dowland. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Andrés Segovia, we never would have been able to savor and enjoy any of the masterworks of musical genius from Sor, Corbetta, Narváez, Sanz, nor especially of master guitar composer Francisco Tárrega. Segovia passed away on June 2, 1987. His most personal, favorite guitar has been entombed in a shrine for posterity. The legacy and tradition of Andrés Segovia has been carried forward by his star student and current master of the classical guitar Christopher Parkening (1947-      ). Of note, too, are Àngel and Pepe Romero from Málaga, Spain, of the Royal Family of the Spanish guitar.

           

            By the end of the 19th Century, in Southern Spain and especially in the province of Andalucía, the guitaristic idiom of the gypsies, la música flamenco (quite remotely related in lingüistic terms to the peasants of Flanders) began to sprout. In 1880, the first flamenco guitarist of notable importance was Quiqui Porrorro. To date, there exists a sore lack of historical facts or documentation on the origins of flamenco music, due mainly to its nature of oral transmission through cantes or songs sung aloud to accompany the dance, not to be written down in musical notation to be saved for future generations. Unfortunately, the musical roots of this gypsy-like medium of expression are buried in the sleeping darkness of centuries forever long gone.

 

Flamenco music itself is divided into two basic types: (1) the cante chico (small or lighter in nature): alegrías, bulerías, fandangos, and malagueňas, and (2) the cante jondo (anxious or in anguish): soleares, seguidillas, martinetes, and sevillanas. Generally, this type of quick, yearning, sorrowful, rapid fire music with its haunting resonances goes on accompanied by a ballerina. This male or female dancer can stomp the zapateo (from the Spanish word zapatos or shoes) or the tapateo, while using  castaňuelas in their hands in simultaneous step to the rhythm. One can hear a distinct Moorish flavor or temperament in the flamenco music of the Spanish gypsies. The rhythms of accompaniment are often very complex, requiring spontaneous improvisation on the spot all throughout the dance; the human voice in a morose whining cries out in song. In guitar terms, such techniques as the tremolo or the rasgueado, or strong downward strums with full fingernails, are required too. And when the cantante or singer has reached his highest level of attunement with both the guitar and the music, and both have melted into one essence, then the spirit of the performer is said to evaporate from his or her own physical body, thus attaining duende: a deeply, hypnotic state of altered consciousness.

 

 Such names that deserve mention in the flamenco canon of music are Carlos Montoya, Sabicas, Tomás de San Julián, and Paco de Lucía. But above all, the great composer of flamenco music Manuel de Falla (1876-1946), who composed El sombrero de tres picos (The Three-cornered Hat) in 1922, expanded this musical idiom and style to the fullest. One need only listen to De Falla's The Miller's Dance to feel the deep soul of gypsy Spain ringing from the guitar's vibrant strings. Since the guitar is so much more portable than le grand piano, and due in large part to the highly compatible interrelationship between the guitar and the traveling gypsies because this musical instrument is so compatible with the human voice, it also succeeded in doubling up as a solo instrument with a full symphony orchestra. Perhaps herein lay the secret to the guitar’s unparalleled success: one can simultaneously play both melody and accompaniment, sing along, and use it as a percussion instrument, as is amply displayed in the dark, strong, exotic rhythms which permeate all of  flamenco music:

 

“Turina and Tórroba, as well as Joaquín Rodrigo, whose hefty output of guitar music composed for players other than Segovia, represent a Spanish nationalistic school grounded in the rhythmically vibrant and distinctly modal Iberian folk forms.” (Kozinn 36).

           

            To conclude, whether Andrés Segovia really was “considered beyond doubt”, as Christopher Parkening states, the “greatest guitarist who ever lived” can be somewhat distorting considering that today we have a multitude of recorded material from Segovia out of different professional recording studios, thanks in no small part to the magic of our 20th Century technology. We have no such recordings of Francesco Corbetta nor of Fernando Sor, do we? Classical guitarists of today can indeed interpret the musical literature and pieces of a Corbetta or of a Giulianni, but the unique touch or playing style on the individual musical instruments of either of these two bygone guitar masters has completely perished in time, without ever having been taped, saved, stored, or heard live in our own lifetimes by any one of us. Other than Segovia, we only have some turn-of-the-century scratchy parody of a recording of Francisco Tárrega performing in his living room for some close friends. Thanks to the time in which Tárrega had lived, however, modern music’s 20th Century harmony and counterpoint had become available to him, possibly in sync with the Russians Modèst Mussorgsky (1809-1847) and Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and their departing excursions into avant garde rhythms, alternate realms, and eerie dissonances. Perhaps, too, much like the polyphony and multiple voicing from out of Europe’s early Renaissance was available to Corbetta, this gave the Italian master a similar opportunity to take advantage of the latest state of the art within the musicality of the times in which he lived.

 

 

 

            In terms of the Renaissance five-string guitar, the fact that Francesco Corbetta had toured and played for so many members of royal families, for kings and queens during even remoter times industrially than the Europe witnessed by Sor or Tárrega, no other guitar master had toured that much up until that time with his musical instrument. Among the nations on the continent during the 16th and 17th Centuries, it seems that, from the best of our historical evidence, Francesco Corbetta of Italy had been by far the greatest guitarist in demand during his lifetime. If that would qualify him as being “the greatest guitarist who ever lived,” then it seems to me that during his times, Corbetta was indeed the best guitarist on the planet at the time.

 

           As for just who holds this unique distinction nowadays on the modern six-string guitar (beyond the classical circuit),  mightn't it have been either the Canadian Lenny Breau (1941-1984) or the Americans Chet Atkins (1924-2001) or  Les Paul (1915-2009), inventor of our modern electric guitar? With regards to guitarists still among the living on the popular front, might one consider Eric Clapton (1946-      ) to be a top candidate, or possibly Paul Simon (1941-      )? 

    Yet, this highly contentious issue still remains quite debatable up to this present moment.

                       

 

 Dedicated to the Muehleisen family of Trenton, New Jersey, in honor of their Maury Muehleisen (1949-1973), Jim Croce's one-man band, who dazzled us with his magically lyrical guitar, much like the maestros must have done to their audiences in olden times.            http://www.maurymuehleisen.com/main.html

© 1996

All Rights Reserved   

 

                                                  BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

Grunfeld, Frederic V. The Art and Times of the Guitar.

                   New York: The MacMillan Company, 1969   

 

 

Tyler, James The Early Guitar: A History and a Handbook

                   London: Oxford University Press, 1980

 

Milán, Luis. Ed. Charles Jacobs. El Maestro

                   University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1971

 

Poliotske, Daniel T. Music

                   Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. 1988

 

Wade, Graham Traditions of the Classical Guitar

                   London: John Calder, 1980

 

Turnbull, Harvey The Guitar from Renaissance to the Present Day

                   New York: Charles Scribner’s and Sons, 1974

 

Palmer, Tony Julian Bream: A Life on the Road

                   New York:  Franklin Watts, 1983

 

Parkening, Christopher Guitar Method, Vol. 1

          Chicago: Antigüa Casa Sherry-Brener, Ltd. Of Madrid, 1972

 

Kozinn, Allan The Guitar

                   New York: Quill, 1984

 

 

 

 

                            For more on the History of the Guitar, visit: http://www.classicalguitarmidi.com/history/guitar_history.html

 

To order THE SPANISH SAMPLER:  

Please continue to Lingüistic Sources of Hallowe'en.

Hallowe'en poem: Winds of October

Day of the Dead/Día de los muertos

Origins of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving short story of fantasy: The Ghost of Thanksgiving

Origins of Christmas

Origins of St.Valentine's Day

Origins of Easter

Language Families

The Indo-European Family Of Languages

Indigenous Languages of Alaska and Siberia

Armand A. Gagnon on "UNIVERSATILE" LANGUAGE

Tales of B'rer Rabbit, as Spun by Uncle Remus

California Dreamin'

Chilean Eclipse

About the Author

Methodologies in Foreign Language Teaching

Essay: Is Academia Purely 'Academic'?      

Anti Semantic: What's in a Word?         

     

http://thesilentway.com
for Spanish instruction & translations

 

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