The classical guitar, also known as the Spanish guitar, is a plucked string instrument that has a long and rich history, spanning from the Renaissance to the present day. It is one of the most popular and versatile instruments in the world, used for solo and ensemble music, as well as for accompaniment of songs and dances. It is also a prominent instrument in the musical traditions of South America, where it has been adapted and transformed by various composers and performers, creating a distinctive and diverse repertoire.
The Origins and Development of the Classical Guitar
The classical guitar is the descendant of several ancient stringed instruments, such as the Greek kithara, the Persian barbat, the Arabic oud, and the European lute. However, the direct ancestor of the classical guitar is the vihuela, a six-course (double-stringed) instrument that was popular in Spain and Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. The vihuela had a similar shape and tuning to the modern guitar, but with a flat back and a vaulted top. It was used for both secular and sacred music, and it had a rich and sophisticated repertoire, written by composers such as Luis de Milán, Alonso Mudarra, and Enriquez de Valderrábano.
The vihuela gradually gave way to the baroque guitar, a five-course instrument that emerged in the late 16th century. The baroque guitar had a smaller and more curved body, and it was strung with gut strings. It was mainly used for accompaniment of songs and dances, and it had a simple and expressive style, based on strumming and plucking patterns, called rasgueado and punteado. The baroque guitar also had a varied and colorful repertoire, written by composers such as Gaspar Sanz, Robert de Visée, and Francesco Corbetta.
The baroque guitar evolved into the early romantic guitar, a six-course instrument that appeared in the late 18th century. The early romantic guitar had a larger and more resonant body, and it was strung with metal-wound strings. It was mainly used for solo and chamber music, and it had a more refined and virtuosic style, based on fingerstyle and arpeggio techniques. The early romantic guitar also had a rich and elegant repertoire, written by composers such as Fernando Sor, Mauro Giuliani, and Dionisio Aguado.
The early romantic guitar reached its peak of development in the 19th century, thanks to the innovations of the Spanish luthier Antonio de Torres. Torres is considered the father of the modern classical guitar, as he established the standard shape, size, and construction of the instrument, which are still used today. Torres increased the body depth, the soundboard area, and the string length of the guitar, and he also introduced the fan-bracing system, which improved the sound quality and projection of the instrument. Torres also experimented with different woods, such as spruce, cedar, rosewood, and maple, and he decorated his guitars with intricate rosettes, purflings, and inlays.
Torres’ guitars were played by some of the greatest guitarists of the 19th century, such as Francisco Tárrega, Miguel Llobet, and Julián Arcas. They also inspired other luthiers, such as Hermann Hauser, Manuel Ramirez, and José Ramirez, who continued to refine and improve the design and sound of the classical guitar in the 20th century. Some of the most famous guitars of this period are the 1937 Hauser I, played by Andrés Segovia, the 1912 Ramirez I, played by Emilio Pujol, and the 1969 Ramirez II, played by Narciso Yepes.
The Role of the Classical Guitar in South American Music
The classical guitar was introduced to South America by the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century, and it soon became a popular and widespread instrument in the region. The classical guitar was used for various musical genres and styles, such as the criollo, the vals, the zamba, the cueca, the milonga, the choro, the samba, and the bossa nova. The classical guitar was also influenced by the indigenous and African musical traditions, such as the charango, the quena, the marimba, and the cajón.
The classical guitar also became a vehicle for artistic expression and cultural identity in South America, especially in the 20th century, when many composers and performers used the instrument to create original and innovative works, inspired by the folkloric and classical music of their countries. Some of the most prominent figures of this movement are:
- Heitor Villa-Lobos (Brazil, 1887-1959): Villa-Lobos is the most famous and influential South American composer of the 20th century, and he wrote extensively for the classical guitar. His works for the instrument include the Choros series, the Bachianas Brasileiras series, the Preludes, the Etudes, and the Concerto. Villa-Lobos blended the elements of Brazilian folk music, such as the modinha, the maxixe, and the sertanejo, with the elements of European classical music, such as the polyphony, the harmony, and the form. His style is characterized by rhythmic vitality, melodic inventiveness, and harmonic richness.
- Agustín Barrios (Paraguay, 1885-1944): Barrios is one of the greatest guitarists and composers of the 20th century, and he wrote more than 300 works for the classical guitar. His works for the instrument include the La Catedral suite, the Danza Paraguaya, the Un Sueño en la Floresta, and the Valses. Barrios was influenced by the music of his native Paraguay, such as the guarania, the polca, and the galopa, as well as by the music of other Latin American countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba. His style is characterized by lyrical beauty, technical virtuosity, and expressive depth.
- Astor Piazzolla (Argentina, 1921-1992): Piazzolla is the most famous and influential South American composer of the 20th century, and he revolutionized the genre of tango music. His works for the classical guitar include the Cinco Piezas, the Tango Suite, the Histoire du Tango, and the Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas. Piazzolla fused the elements of traditional tango music, such as the bandoneon, the milonga, and the habanera, with the elements of jazz, classical, and contemporary music, such as the saxophone, the fugue, and the atonality. His style is characterized by rhythmic complexity, harmonic sophistication, and melodic innovation.
The classical guitar is a fascinating and versatile instrument, that has a long and rich history, spanning from the Renaissance to the present day. It is the result of the evolution and development of various stringed instruments, such as the vihuela, the baroque guitar, and the early romantic guitar, and it was perfected by luthiers such as Torres, Hauser, and Ramirez. It is also a prominent instrument in the musical traditions of South America, where it was adapted and transformed by composers and performers such as Villa-Lobos, Barrios, and Piazzolla. The classical guitar is a testament to the creativity and the diversity of the guitar music, and to the universal appeal of the instrument.