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 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.


Prelude #6 by Manuel Ponce

Prelude No. 6 is the last prelude to be analyzed in this six part series on Manuel Ponce’s Preludes. It is my favorite of Ponce’s first 6 Preludes because of its beautiful melody, intriguing musical structure, and cohesive sound despite not being written in a song form. Like Prelude No. 5, Prelude No. 6 is in 2/4, combines modern music, Mexican folk music, and impressionist influences to create a sublime musical whole. The piece primarily uses an 8th note texture and utilizes auxiliary components (a simple introduction from mm 1-3 and a Coda from mm 34-40) but does not follow any traditional song form. Instead, the form of the piece is suggested by the melodic contour of each phrase. The entire composition seems to be derived from the first phrase (mm 4-8) after the introduction, as each subsequent phrase possesses a similar (and at times identical) melodic contour as the first phrase. In addition, this piece is the only one of the 6 Preludes to feature bitonality. The accompaniment is in the tonal center of A major, but the melody is in the key of D minor.

An A pedal tone is present throughout, and the accompaniment acts as a drone that supports the melody, although colorful impressionist harmonies are also present. A change of voice occurs in mm 21-24, in which the melody is played in the bass and middle voices, and a tone color change occurs in mm 29-33, in which the right hand plucks the strings towards the bridge of the instrument, creating a ponticello effect. The Coda consists of cadential material derived from the last two measures of the final phrase before the coda begins, and the piece both begins and ends on the same voicing of an A major chord.


Overview of 6 Preludes and Conclusion

Manuel Ponce and Andres Segovia’s 6 Preludes reflect the wide reaching influences of their composer, making use of elements from Mexican and Spanish folk music, 20th century music, the impressionist music of Debussy and Ravel, and the unique characteristics of the guitar. The irregular phrases that occur throughout the work and the relatively small pitch range and lyricism of the melodies are elements from Mexican and Spanish folk music. The 20th century music influence can be seen most clearly in Prelude No. 3 and Prelude No. 6, neither of which ascribe to a traditional song form. In addition, Prelude No. 3 uses pantonality and Prelude No. 6 uses bitonality, two primarily 20th century harmonic concepts. The impressionist influence can be seen throughout the work in the often unusual and extended harmonies chosen for the accompaniment. The profound dynamic and tone color changes in Preludes 1, 2, 4, and 6, the change of voice in the melodies of Preludes No. 1 and No. 6, the use of harmonics in Prelude No. 2, and the use of open strings in Preludes 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are all notable examples of Ponce and Segovia’s exploitation of the musical potential of the guitar. This extraordinary synthesis of styles and compositional approaches demonstrates Segovia and Ponce’s virtuosic skills, creativity, and commitment to musical excellence.

Some Cool Resources

Hope you enjoyed this mini-series on Ponce’s 6 Preludes! If you would like to learn more about Ponce, Segovia, the 6 Preludes, or any related topics, I highly recommend checking out the following resources:

“A History of Western Music” (somewhat pricy but an excellent and comprehensive resource for any music-related research) http://books.wwnorton.com/books/webad.aspx?id=4294977603

“The Influence of Folk Music in Guitar Compositions by Manuel Ponce” by Arnoldo Garcia Santos. Absolutely fascinating dissertation on how folk music influenced Ponce’s compositional style!

“The Classical Guitar in Paris: Composers and Performers c. 1920-1960” by Duncan Robert Gardiner. Excellent thesis on the leading guitarists and composers in Paris working during the mid 20th century!

“Preludes (24) for Guitar” by Blair Johnston. Brief yet very informative overview of Ponce and Segovia’s Preludes. https://www.allmusic.com/composition/preludes-24-for-guitar-mc0002462700

“The Segovia-Ponce Letters” by Andres Segovia and Manuel Ponce. Fascinating book that is a great window into Segovia’s collaboration with many notable composers, including Manuel Ponce. https://www.amazon.com/Segovia-Ponce-Letters-English-Spanish/dp/0936186291