On Graduating with a Masters in Music Theory

The final assignment is submitted. The grades are posted. The degree has been conferred. It’s official: I now have a Master of Arts degree in Music Theory!!! That being said, I don’t feel like a master of anything—instead, I have more questions than answers, and perhaps an even greater awareness of the infinitude of music.

We can never get to the bottom of it: why do these notes, rhythms, harmonies, time signatures, forms, and structures do what we sense them doing, and how can we describe them? How can we talk about them? How can we understand them? In one sense, it’s a futile pursuit; these (admittedly incomplete, artificial, and simplistic) categories would take multiple lifetimes to fully comprehend, and often overlap and intertwine and act in dialogue with one another to such an extent that words and speech and years of dedicated study cannot even begin to comprehend their nature, function, and larger significance.

On the other hand, knowing even just a tiny microcosm of what has been discovered about these qualities of music and building upon these discoveries can completely change how we hear, listen to, perceive, perform, study, write about, and read about music. It can, in a very real sense, be a life’s work. Being able to understand some of the compositional devices in a given piece can do wonders for the creativity and depth of our interpretations. Knowing how a given composer or musician’s work is situated within the larger story of music deepens our appreciation and ability to learn, perform, study, write about, and listen to the piece in ways that are cognizant of its performance practice, cultural context, historical precedent, and contemporary influence.

This interconnectedness of music with its broader contexts was a recurring theme throughout my graduate studies at Hunter College, and something that I greatly appreciate. Although my major was music theory, I also attended courses in a broad variety of musical disciplines, including musicology, ethnomusicology, orchestration, musicianship, style criticism, philosophies of musical identity, and research techniques. Of course, I preferred some of these topics over others, and there were times when these studies definitely pushed my musical comfort zones. However, studying these topics did lead me to acquire a wider perspective of music than I had before beginning my graduate studies, and also gave me more clarity about which topics I would (and would not) like to continue pursuing in my research.

Through writing, defending, and completing my thesis, I learned how to plan, structure, and finish a large-scale research project, something that I will continue to learn from going forward. I also learned several valuable lessons in the process:

(1) Front load the research portion of the project. Although I officially was working on the thesis during my final semester, I found and refined a topic, perused, gathered, and took notes on sources, and wrote an outline of the thesis several semesters earlier. This gave me the much needed time and space to really dig deep into my topic without the pressure of delivering measurable progress right away.

(2) Find a great mentor. I had the great fortune of having a wonderful thesis sponsor who guided me every step of the way, met with me every week, read numerous drafts of each chapter, and gave me invaluable advice in shaping the thesis from a vague outline to a finished project. Without his assistance and teaching, it would have been much more difficult to work on and finish my thesis in the timeline that I aspired to (and achieved).

(3) Research widely, deeply, and comprehensively, but be slow to come to definitive conclusions. For instance, my thesis compared and contrasted the Anna Magdalena Bach Manuscript of BWV 1009 with John W. Duarte’s arrangement for guitar of the same work. It was (and, to the best of my knowledge, is) the only study of its kind that specifically contrasts these two derivations of BWV 1009. However, while I initially thought that my conclusions regarding the Duarte arrangement’s idiomatic and historically informed approach were exciting, new, and groundbreaking, taking a deeper dive into the literature made this assertion laughable! There are, indeed, many existing (and fascinating) studies of other arrangements for guitar which make similar conclusions. While mine is the first to explore these two derivations of BWV 1009, it is by no means the only study to conclude that a given arrangement is idiomatic and considerate of historical performance practices.

Graduating with a masters feels strangely anticlimactic. It’s done. It’s over. Now on to the next project, the next job, the next thing. In many ways, it feels more like a beginning than an ending. Perhaps the start of a new beginning. I am deeply and profoundly grateful for everyone who has been a part of this journey, and so look forward to seeing what the future holds. Onward!

Sonata Concertata for Guitar and Violin by Niccolò Paganini (Movement 1: Allegro Spiritoso)

Niccolò Paganini (1782 – 1840) composed his three-movement Sonata Concertata for Guitar and Violin in 1804 during his time in Lucca, Italy, dedicating the piece to Signora Emilia di Negri, the wife of the Marchese Giancarlo di Negri, who was a loyal patron. While most widely known for his virtuosic violin technique, compositional abilities and charismatic personality, Paganini was also a skilled guitarist, composing roughly 140 pieces for solo guitar, 28 violin and guitar duets, as well as many trios and quartets that incorporate the guitar in some capacity. This work was the first sonata that Paganini composed for violin and guitar. Classical period influences can be heard in the balanced musical structure of the piece and the interplay between the two instruments. The first movement consists primarily of harmonies that are reminiscent of the time period, though an unusual modulation from the key of A major to the key of C major occurs in the middle of the piece before modulating back to the original key at the beginning of the final section. Despite Paganini’s prodigious and well-documented violin expertise, the first movement of this sonata features a relatively even distribution of the melody, with the guitar sometimes imitating and taking turns with the violin as opposed to strictly playing an accompaniment part throughout the piece. The violin and guitar also engage in some call and response, simultaneously showcasing the unique expressive qualities of both instruments and demonstrating Paganini’s prodigious capabilities as a composer.

Resources:

Neill, Edward. “Paganini, Nicolò.” Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root. Accessed 23 January 2021. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000040008.

Paganini, Niccolo. Sonata Concertata, MS 2. IMSLP. https://imslp.org/wiki/Sonata_concertata%2C_MS_2_(Paganini%2C_Niccol%C3%B2).

Moore, Edward. “Sonata concertata, for guitar & violin in A major, Op. 61, MS 2.” AllMusic, n.d. https://www.allmusic.com/composition/sonata-concertata-for-guitar-violin-in-a-major-op-61-ms-2-mc0002365793.

Sonata in A Major, L.238/K. 208: Adagio e Cantabile by Domenico Scarlatti

This piece was composed around 1755 and is one of approximately 555 “sonatas” written by the Italian baroque period composer and harpsichordist Domenico Scarlatti (1685–1757). I write the word “sonata” in quotation marks here because these works are not exactly what we would think of today as sonata form. Instead, many of Scarlatti’s “sonatas” can be described as being in what we think of today as binary form (two main sections, either or both of which are repeated) and typically feature the presentation and elaboration of a specific musical idea. For instance, K. 208 utilizes the anticipatory beat, often by means of suspensions or embellishing tones placed on the last eighth note of a measure, which are then (usually) resolved on the downbeat of the next measure.

As suggested by the tempo indication (Adagio e Cantabile), the melody is highly expressive and lyrical, primarily based on triads, scalar passages and embellishing tones. It is also in binary form, and both sections are repeated, typically with additional ornamentation on the repeat of each section. The first section starts in the tonic key of A major before going to the dominant key (E), briefly straying to E minor, and returning to the dominant, ending the section conclusively with an embellished perfect authentic cadence. The second section begins in the key of the supertonic (B minor), cycles through D minor and E major by means of secondary dominant and secondary leading tone harmonies, before returning to the home key of A major. The second section ends similarly to the first section, with an embellished perfect authentic cadence, this time in the tonic key.

Although K. 208 was originally written for harpsichord, its thin musical texture and relatively compact pitch range lend itself nicely to guitar. Also, although Scarlatti was born in Italy, he spent much of his career in Spain, which perhaps influenced the “guitaristic” sound of his works for harpsichord. As a result, many of Scarlatti’s sonatas have become an important part of the classical guitar repertory, and have been performed by luminaries such as Andrés Segovia, John Williams and David Russell, as well as more contemporary artists including Manuel Barrueco, Ana Vidovic, Scott Tennant, Simon Powis, Drew Henderson and SoloDuo.

Resources:

AllMusic. 2020. “Domenico Scarlatti: Keyboard Sonata in A Major, K. 208 (L. 238). https://www.allmusic.com/composition/keyboard-sonata-in-a-major-k-208-l-238-mc0002365123.

Brown, Jeffrey Arlo. 2020. “Every Scarlatti Sonata, Ranked.” VAN Magazine, June 25, 2020. https://van-us.atavist.com/scarlatti-ranked.

IMSLP. 2019. “Keyboard Sonata in A Major, K. 208.” Last Modified January 20, 2019. https://imslp.org/wiki/Keyboard_Sonata_in_A_major%2C_K.208_(Scarlatti%2C_Domenico).

Powis, Simon. 2019. “Graded Repertoire for Classical Guitar.” New York, NY: CGC Publishing. https://cgcpublishing.com/collections/print-books/products/graded-repertoire-for-classical-guitar-spiral-bound-print-edition.

Werner, Bradford. n.d. “Domenico Scarlatti.” This Is Classical Guitar. https://www.thisisclassicalguitar.com/tag/domenico-scarlatti/.

Zbikowski, Lawrence M. 2010. “Music, Emotion, Analysis.” Music Analysis 29, no. 1–3 (March–October): 37–60. http://zbikowski.uchicago.edu/pdfs/Zbikowski_Music_Emotion_Analysis_2011.pdf.

Last Post of 2020

2020 has been without a doubt the strangest year in recent memory. So much loss, pain, distress, and uncomfortableness, yet also a forced reimagining of some of our most fundamental assumptions about work, education, justice, governance, and, well, life. Prior to the pandemic, although some people worked from home, it was generally the accepted convention that adults went to a place other than home to work and children went to a place other than home to go to school. This basic underlying assumption got completely and totally disrupted this year (maybe for ever). Now, most work is at least partially remote, and perhaps more importantly, more people are open to this possibility than ever before. School moved online or to a hybrid format in many cases, and is in some of these cases continuing to do so. Some people even pulled their children out of school to homeschool them or embark upon other forms of self-directed education.

The pandemic also exacerbated the demographic and economic gaps in our society, showing us loud and clear that the system is not only broken; it’s also doing what it’s designed to do: give outsize profits, preferential care and preferential treatment to the economically, socially, and politically dominant and punishing those who do not fit within these categories by denying, degrading or depriving them of many of the most basic necessities necessary for survival and dignity. In short, 2020 showed us that all is not well with our current models of work, education, governance, and society as a whole. It hasn’t been well during the pandemic, it wasn’t well before the pandemic, but now, hopefully, we are starting to wake up and make meaningful efforts at positive change.

In writing this, I will admit something that might sound controversial, and it is this: personally speaking, I had a great year. I am so grateful for the continued health of myself and my family, being able to continue to work and attend graduate school remotely, and having more time for the things that I really enjoy, such as playing guitar, teaching music, composing music, writing, researching, taking walks, staying home, and living life at something a little bit slower than breakneck speed. You see, I’m an introvert, a self-starter, and thrive when I can work independently in an efficient and focused manner. Not having to commute to work or graduate school for most of the year freed up literally months of my life that I was able to dedicate to numerous exciting and fulfilling projects, some of which may be discussed here in the near future. In addition, working and going to school from home was not new to me, as I was homeschooled for the entirety of my grade school years. My first day of school was my first day of college, and my mom worked and attended college at least partially from home throughout my childhood. In some ways, it’s actually quite nice to go back to that rhythm of working on primarily self-directed projects throughout the day without having to commute anywhere. Yes, there were challenges and unexpected transitions, and I had to act, think, and plan even more resourcefully then in the before times, but all in all, it was (again, on a personal level) a great year for me.

I realize, empathize, and acknowledge all who have had an awful year filled with unimaginable loss and horror and despair and hopelessness, and I am not in any way attempting to minimize or dismiss the suffering that has happened this year. Like most of us, I hope that 2021 will be a better year, filled with health, joy, love, hope and abundance, and that the pandemic will end. I hope that the better angels of our nature will prevail, that things will get better for all of us, and that we will prioritize goodness, honesty, integrity, justice, fairness, peace, intelligence and skill over short term external motivators such as greed, envy, hatred, division, and the root of all of these: fear. It is my hope that with love, courage, hard work and a positive spirit, we can both build on the positive aspects of our collective knowledge and reimagine our future in ways that will benefit all of us. I hope that we practice gratitude, and cultivate empathy, compassion, creativity, and all that is true and beautiful and good. If you’ve made it to the end of this post, please know that I am grateful for you, and grateful that you have taken the time to read the ramblings of a very possibly unrealistically idealistic musician, educator, student and writer. Finally, I would like to wish you all a wonderful New Year filled with health, joy, peace, and plenty of music!

Thank you for reading, and for your continued support, encouragement, and inspiration,

Ben

Capricho árabe by Francisco Tárrega

Capricho árabe is another very well-known work by Francisco Tárrega, and a personal favorite of mine on several different levels. It is the rare piece that I equally enjoy playing, performing, analyzing, and listening to. I love how the theme transports the player and listener into a dreamy, sensuous world filled with musical color and emotion. The variations on the theme branch out in creative ways while remaining cohesive to the musical whole, and the piece sounds simultaneously improvised and meticulously composed. From a performing point of view, there is something about playing a work written for guitar by an incredible guitarist that is hard to describe yet deeply satisfying. Fellow guitarists might know what I mean; there is an intrinsic logic to Tárrega’s clearly exceptional understanding of the unique timbres and capabilities of the guitar that just intuitively feels and sounds right. Capricho árabe is guitaristic without devolving into an intellectual exercise or a technical showcase. It is music written for guitar, but not confined to limiting notions of what music for guitar may be expected to sound like.

The title of the piece translates roughly as “Arabic capriccio,” indicating a possible homage to the Moorish roots of the guitar, as well as describing the free and lively character of this work. The piece is in the key of D minor, uses theme and variations form, a possible nod to both folk and classical musical cultures, and starts with a short introduction. The opening measures of the introduction feature a dyad played in harmonics followed by a descending passage starting high up on the neck, at the fifteenth fret of the high E string:

Capricho Arabe, introduction (first 4 measures)

After the introduction and a two-measure transition, the theme first appears in the tonic key of D minor, complete with an accompaniment and bass line. Rest strokes are often used to accentuate prominent notes in the theme, such as where the accent indications are placed in this excerpt of the first two measures of the theme:

Capricho Arabe, main theme (first 2 measures)

The theme later modulates to the relative major and parallel major keys, and utilizes the middle and upper positions of the fretboard (as per Tárrega’s fingering indications), before returning to the tonic key and ending on a short cadential passage. Interestingly, all of the phrases except for the last phrase end on a half cadence. This unusual pattern of cadences gives the piece an unresolved feeling until the very last measure, which tonicizes the original key of D minor by means of a dyad played in harmonics (consisting of the root and fifth in the tonic key), followed by a high, resonant D minor chord that finally resolves the piece on a perfect authentic cadence.

Lágrima by Francisco Tárrega

Lágrima is one of Tárrega’s best-known compositions, and is a favorite among classical guitarists, students, and audiences alike. Only 16 measures long, the piece was originally intended as an etude for Tárrega’s students, and is a short, melodious work in ternary form. Although the exact date of composition is not definitively known, there is a general consensus that it was most likely written in the 1890’s. The title of the piece translates as “teardrop,” and is rumored to have been written while Tárrega was touring in England and experiencing homesickness for his native country, Spain. The A section is in E major, has a lyrical melody, and follows a typical antecedent – consequent phrase structure. The B section is of contrasting character in both content and key. It is in E minor, the parallel minor of E major, and the melody travels into the higher positions of the fretboard. However, it also follows the antecedent – consequent phrase structure of the A section. After the conclusion of the B section, the A section is repeated to end the piece.                                     

Lágrima, A section (measures 1 – 4):

Lágrima, B section (measures 9 – 12):

The short length and lyrical melody of this piece illustrates the influence of Spanish musical culture, and the clear phrases and consistent antecedent – consequent phrase structure shows Tárrega’s understanding of classical music conventions. His use of same-string shifts to the higher positions of the fretboard creates a warmer and more resonant sound, which was made possible by the revolutionary innovations of Spanish luthier, Antonio de Torres. In addition, the evocative title and alleged backstory of a homesick Tárrega pining for the customs of his home country shows the influence of program music, a popular musical trend throughout the nineteenth century. As can be seen in Lágrima, Tárrega viewed the guitar much like a piano, performing the melody, accompaniment, and inner voices simultaneously.


Resources for further information on Lágrima, Tárrega, and his music:

Heck, Thomas F. “Tárrega (y Eixea), Francisco.” Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root. Accessed Accessed 26 July, 2020.  https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.

Pujol, Emilio, Patrick Burns, ed. The Biography of Francisco Tarrega. Translated by Jessica Burns. New Mexico: Chilitones Music Publishing, 2009.

Ribiero Alves, Júlio. “The History of the Guitar: Its Origins and Evolution.” Marshall Digital Scholar (Fall 2015): 1-169.

Tárrega, Francisco. Lagrima – Preludio by Tarrega. Prepared from the autographs and earliest printed sources by Bradford Werner. Rev. Ed. Victoria, BC: Werner Guitar Editions, 2017. https://www.thisisclassicalguitar.com/lagrima-by-tarrega-free-pdf/

Wade, Graham. Traditions of the Classical Guitar. Richmond, UK: Overture Publishing, 2012.

Fernando Sor Mini-Series Part 5: Sor’s Music and Legacy

This post will be the last in my five part mini-series on Fernando Sor. In previous posts, I have discussed Sor’s contributions to furthering the status of the classical guitar, his compositional style, perceptions of his music during his lifetime, and his approach to pedagogy. In this post, I will attempt to summarize these aspects of Sor’s musical career and illustrate why Sor’s music, pedagogy, and musical philosophy are still important to consider today.

Sor combined his approach to part-writing, pedagogy, and musical philosophy to craft music that challenged stereotypes about his instrument and led the classical music world to take the guitar more seriously as a concert instrument, thus raising its status. Sor’s music uses a deft combination of counterpoint, harmony, classical forms, and clear phrases, illustrating the assimilation of a broad array of styles, ranging from classical composers such as Mozart and Haydn to fellow guitarist-composers Padre Basilio and Federico Moretti. Although Sor is perhaps most famous for his guitar music, he also composed operas, ballets, art songs, and other works, which likely contributed to his synthesis of disparate approaches in his compositions for guitar. Today, his works for guitar are standard repertoire for students and professionals alike. They are taught in private studios and university programs, and performed in concert halls around the world. His music and pedagogy combines classical sophistication, past and contemporary traditions of part writing, and an emphasis on logic and reason, all of which are just as relevant today as they were during the early nineteenth century.

Resources for further information on Fernando Sor’s life and career as a guitarist, composer, and music educator:

Hartdegen, Kenneth. “Fernando Sor’s Theory of Harmony Applied to the Guitar: History, Bibliography, and Context.” PhD diss., University of Auckland, 2011.

Jeffery, Brian. “Sor [Sors], (Joseph) Fernando.” Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root. Accessed 9 October, 2019. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.

Page, Christopher. “New light on the London years of Fernando Sor (1815–1822).” Early Music 41, no. 4 (November 2013): 557-569.

Rhodes Draayer, Suzanne. Art Song Composers of Spain: An Encyclopedia. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009.

Ribiero Alves, Júlio. “The History of the Guitar: Its Origins and Evolution.” Marshall Digital Scholar (Fall 2015): 1-169.

Sor, Fernando. Method for the Spanish Guitar. London, UK: Robert Cocks & Co., n.d. (ca. 1832). http://ks.imslp.net/files/imglnks/usimg/2/2b/IMSLP260517-PMLP58779-sor_method_merrick.pdf.

Wade, Graham. Traditions of the Classical Guitar. Richmond, UK: Overture Publishing, 2012.

 

 

 

Fernando Sor Mini-Series Part 4: Sor’s Pedagogical Methods and Musical Philosophy

Fernando Sor was by no means unique in writing a method book or espousing his musical philosophy in written form. As Graham Wade states in his discussion of the guitar during the early nineteenth century, “the great teachers of the age developed the techniques, methods of study and theoretical bases of the instrument in a manner appropriate to the manner of Czerny and Paganini.” Contemporaries of Sor such as Mauro Giuliani, Ferdinando Carulli, Matteo Carcassi, and Dionisio Aguado also wrote influential method books that made valuable contributions to the technical, pedagogical, and performance aspects of the instrument. However, Sor’s method is significant in three ways: it focuses on the application of reason and critical thinking, outlines his views on the role of the guitar and the system for left hand fingerings that he created to facilitate that role, and emphasizes the teaching of musicianship as well as technical fluency.

Sor’s method utilizes an unusual approach: instead of mainly discussing the techniques needed to play an instrument skillfully, his method places as much emphasis on demonstrating why a student would benefit from learning the techniques taught as it does in teaching these techniques. As a result, this method provides an exposition of Sor’s musical philosophy as well as his pedagogical approach. Perhaps not surprisingly, his method is quite text-heavy, featuring more text then musical examples (fifty pages of text and forty-two pages of musical examples, which are located in the back of the book). This focus on favoring the use of reason and critical thinking over following the dogmatic dictates of those who claim to be experts is a central component of his method, and appears to derive from the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment. As Sor states in the introduction to his method, “music, reasoning, and the preference which I give in general to results before a display of difficulty, constitute my whole secret.”

Sor also outlines his views on the role and perception of the guitar in his day. In particular, Sor addresses the perception of the guitar as an accompaniment instrument. In Sor’s view, people tend to think of the guitar as an accompaniment instrument but treat it as a melody instrument by excessively emphasizing scales, and using all of the left-hand fingers for the scale fingerings instead of leaving some of the fingers to play harmony parts. By contrast, Sor’s fingering system is based on the maxim that the fingering used for the melody should be based on the fingering needed for the harmony parts. In this system, all fingerings are based on finding logical fingerings for harmonic and melodic intervals of thirds and sixths that avoid excessive shifting and transitions to another string by using the same finger. According to Sor, once this fingering system is mastered, correct fingerings organically emerge for any chords that the player may encounter. Ultimately, Sor views the role of the guitar “as an instrument of harmony.”

Lastly, Sor advocates that guitarists become knowledgeable musicians in addition to gaining technical proficiency on the instrument. Sor makes this clear by stating “I make a great distinction between a musician and a note-player.” Sor defines a musician as one who adopts a holistic perspective on music, studies harmony and music theory, and sees music as a language conveyed by notes and indications on the score. By contrast, a note-player is fixated on the names of the notes and how to play them on their instrument without regard for the broader musical whole. Overall, Sor’s pedagogical approach seeks to create well-rounded musicians who possess a high level of both technical proficiency and musical knowledge.

 

Resources for further information on Fernando Sor’s pedagogical methods and musical philosophy:

Ribiero Alves, Júlio. “The History of the Guitar: Its Origins and Evolution.” Marshall Digital Scholar (Fall 2015): 1-169.

Sor, Fernando. Method for the Spanish Guitar. London, UK: Robert Cocks & Co., n.d. (ca. 1832). http://ks.imslp.net/files/imglnks/usimg/2/2b/IMSLP260517-PMLP58779-sor_method_merrick.pdf.

Sor, Fernando. Prepared from the autographs and earliest printed sources by Bradford Werner. Rev. Ed. Victoria, BC: Werner Guitar Editions, 2019. https://www.thisisclassicalguitar.com/fernando-sor-studies-free-sheet-music-pdfs/.

Wade, Graham. Traditions of the Classical Guitar. Richmond, UK: Overture Publishing, 2012.

 

Fernando Sor Mini-Series Part 3: Perceptions of Fernando Sor’s guitar music during his lifetime

Reviews of Fernando Sor’s music generally acknowledge his musical talent while sometimes questioning the musical potential of the guitar. For example, a review of one of Sor’s concerts in an 1832 issue of the French magazine the Revue Musicale states that “on hearing M. Sor one recognizes a superior artist; but, I repeat, why does he play the guitar?” Echoing this sentiment but arriving at a significantly different conclusion, a review of Sor’s first concert in London in 1815 published by The Giulianiad states that “there was a sort of suppressed laughter when he first came forth before the audience, which, however, soon changed into the most unbounded admiration when he began to display his talents.” As these passages illustrate, the musical ability of Sor was generally praised. However, perceptions of the guitar by the classical music world tended to view it as an inferior instrument. This can be evidenced by questioning why Sor plays the guitar and the mention of “a sort of suppressed laughter” when he arrives on stage with this instrument. It should also be noted that The Giulianiad was a publication rooted in the musical ideas of prominent guitarist-composer Mauro Giuliani, which may explain this more complimentary view of the guitar. That being said, the mention of the audience trying not to laugh at Sor playing a guitar in a publication which possessed a core readership of guitarists may be a further indication of the somewhat derogatory role of the guitar at that time. However, upon his arrival in England in 1815, Sor is praised in a concert announcement by the Morning Post as “the most celebrated performer in Europe on the Spanish Guitar” pointing toward him being known as a renowned guitarist in England and probably elsewhere. Furthermore, in an 1817 description by the Morning Post of Lady Langham’s Divertisement, &c., an event in which Sor performed, he is described as “an artist of unrivalled excellence on that instrument.”

Resources for further information on perceptions of Fernando Sor’s music for guitar:

Hartdegen, Kenneth. “Fernando Sor’s Theory of Harmony Applied to the Guitar: History, Bibliography, and Context.” PhD diss., University of Auckland, 2011.

Page, Christopher. “New light on the London years of Fernando Sor (1815–1822).” Early Music 41, no. 4 (November 2013): 557-569.

Stenstadvold, Erik. “‘We hate the guitar’: prejudice and polemic in the music press in early 19th-century Europe.” Early Music 41, no. 4 (November 2013): 595-604.

 

Fernando Sor Mini-Series Part 2: Notable aspects of Sor’s compositions for guitar

Although Sor composed numerous pieces for the guitar, I will limit my focus to two of them, each of which showcases notable aspects of Sor’s compositional style. Because Sor composed in a wide range of forms both large and small, including studies, waltzes, theme and variations, divertimentos, and sonatas, I have chosen to briefly analyze one of his studies and one of his works that uses a larger form. For the former, I will discuss his Study No. 8, Op. 6, focusing on its use of multiple voices, suspensions, and part-writing. For the latter, I will explore his Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9, with emphasis on its virtuosity, connection to Mozart, and role in elevating the status of the guitar.

The music of Sor is typically introduced to guitar students through the many studies that Sor composed. These studies have stood the test of time for their technical and musical appeal, and, along with the pedagogical works of Carcassi, Carulli, Giuliani, and Aguado, make up a large portion of today’s typical classical guitar curriculum as taught in private lessons and university courses. Sor’s Study No. 8, Op. 6 is among his most popular studies, and showcases his part-writing ability, as well as his use of both vertical and horizontal compositional styles. This study was first published in 1815 in London, and is dedicated to his pupils, further evidence that it was intended as a pedagogical work. Despite its short length of thirty-nine measures, the study features three independent voices, suspensions, grace notes, and several key changes. It is comprised of five short sections (referred to by Stanley Yates as “episodes”) and is through-composed. Each voice has an independent part, illustrating Sor’s polyphonic approach to composing for guitar, as well as his deft use of suspensions, which can be seen in the following excerpt of the first four measures:

Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 10.18.21 AM.png

By contrast, his Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9 is a significantly longer and more technically demanding piece. The theme is based on the melody of “O Cara Armonia” a theme from The Magic Flute, one of Mozart’s most famous operas. There are several stylistic similarities in the music of Sor and Mozart, including the use of forms common during the classical period, and their penchant for clear phrases and lyrical melodies. In addition, the use of a theme by Mozart appears to imply Sor’s acknowledgement of his influence.

This piece also showcases the prodigious capabilities of the guitar, especially in the variations, which incorporate great technical skill and musical imagination, both of which assisted in raising the status of the guitar. As Graham Wade notes in his book Traditions of the Classical Guitar: “there are no precedents in guitar literature for this tour de force in which all the technical devices of the guitar are developed with such gusto.” It was first published in Paris by A. Meissonnier in 1821, and achieved a renaissance in popularity in the mid-twentieth century when Andrés Segovia chose this piece as the first work by Sor that he recorded and performed. Segovia’s popularization of this piece led to its current reputation as a rite of passage for aspiring classical guitarists. Its form consists of a short introduction, which is followed by the theme, five variations, and a coda. Each variation utilizes different variation techniques, including change of key, change of mode, embellishment of melody, change of harmony, and unique rhythmic figure, as well as many passages featuring rapidly played scales and arpeggios. In my brief discussion of these variations, I will show the first two measures of the theme and each variation, noting some of the variation techniques that I have discovered in my analysis of this work:

Theme:

Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 8.28.08 PM

Variation 1 (slurs, 32nd notes, and scale run embellish the theme):

Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 9.22.33 PM

Variation 2 (Change of mode (parallel minor) and change of harmony):

Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 9.05.41 PM

Variation 3 (Rhythmic variation: straight sixteenth notes and arpeggio in measure 1 of this variation):Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 9.07.23 PM

Variation 4 (Unique rhythmic figure, arpeggiated chords):

Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 9.08.56 PM

Variation 5 (Different unique rhythmic figure and sequences):

Screen Shot 2020-02-02 at 9.10.12 PM

 

Resources for further information on Sor’s compositional style:

Jeffery, Brian. “Sor [Sors], (Joseph) Fernando.” Grove Music Online. Edited by Deane Root. Accessed 9 October, 2019. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com.

Ribiero Alves, Júlio. “The History of the Guitar: Its Origins and Evolution.” Marshall Digital Scholar (Fall 2015): 1-169.

Sor, Fernando. Sor Study No. 8, Op. 6. Prepared from the autographs and earliest printed sources by Bradford Werner. Rev. Ed. Victoria, BC: Werner Guitar Editions, 2017.

Sor, Fernando. Variations over a theme from the Magic Flute by Mozart Op. 9. Prepared from the autographs and earliest printed sources by Eythor Thorlaksson. Rev. ed. Iceland: The Guitar School, 2001.

Wade, Graham. Traditions of the Classical Guitar. Richmond, UK: Overture Publishing, 2012.

Yates, Stanley. Classical Guitar Study Guides: Intermediate Repertoire Series. Self-Published, Classical Guitar Study Guides, 2009.