"This comprehensive bibliographical study describes more than 300 different methods for guitar by some 200 authors. A large number of publications are recorded here for the first time. The book is the result of extensive research visits to numerous libraries in Europe and the USA as well as many important private collections.
December 7, 2011
This is the fourth volume in the Organologia: Musical Instruments and Performance Practice
series from Pendragon Press. While all three previous volumes have dealt with the flute and specific aspects of flute playing, this fourth volume concentrates on guitar method books from roughly 1760 to 1860. The middle range of this period, from around 1800 to 1840, comprises the core of the classical guitar repertoire, with composers found frequently on any modern guitar recital such as Dionisio Aguado (1784–1849), Matteo Carcassi (1792–1853), Ferdinando Carulli (1770–1841), Mauro Giuliani (1781–1829), and Fernando Sor (1778–1839). That all of these virtuosi produced method books— often several editions of method books—is surprising. In fact, the sheer quantity of pedagogical works for guitar during this period will surprise many: Stenstadvold counts over 300 tutors by some 200 authors; reissues and later editions bring the total to over 400 from the period. A large number (over 250) of these sources are French, and the author postulates that this number indicates not only the popularity of the guitar in Paris during the period in question, but also the fact that it was never accepted into the Conservatoire and thus lacked an authorized manual. So the guitar was at once enormously popular and, even at this early date, somewhat neglected by the musical mainstream. While many readers may be primarily interested in the tutors of the major guitar composers mentioned above, the bibliography contains information on sources going back into the late eighteenth century, a period that has only recently come under scrutiny in the guitar world. Music for four- and five-course guitar has been studied in some depth from its origins in the sixteenth century to its gradual fall from favor in the late baroque. But the key transitional period where the five-course guitar becomes the six-course and the six-string or modern classical guitar has been relatively little-studied. In addition, the period from the 1830s to the 1850s, when the guitar’s popularity as a salon instrument was on the wane, has also been neglected. So the bibliography serves to frame the core of the classical guitar repertoire from the early nineteenth century with preceding and succeeding eras rarely visited by modern scholars and performers.
Stenstadvold had some important decisions to make at the outset here and anyone approaching this text needs to know his parameters. By “guitar” he means primarily the six-string instrument usually tuned in fourths with a third (E-A-d-g-b-e_) or its direct predecessors, the five- and six-course guitars. All were often called in the period under question the “Spanish guitar.” Instruments with similar names but dissimilar origins, most notably the wirestrung cittern common in England and North America called the “English guitar,” are not included here. Nor are other instruments often confused with the modern guitar such as the Russian seven-string guitar, various Portuguese guitars, or the “guitare allemande,” all of which stem from different organological backgrounds. He does include variants of the modern instrument that have music in an identical style and were often played by the same performers, such as the ten-string guitar, the harpolyre guitar with three necks, the guitar-harp, harp-lute, and the lyre (basically a lyre-shaped guitar), all of which were popular for brief periods in the early nineteenth century. None of these instruments, even the six-string one, is exactly like a modern classical guitar, being smaller and softer than modern concert models. But the similarities in tuning and technique mean that they are as interchangeable as, for example, a modern concert grand piano and an early nineteenth-century salon piano. So the focus is on gut-strung instruments that lead to the modern guitar family, and these comprise the musical sources that are most relevant to modern performers.
Not only was the guitar undergoing drastic changes during the late eighteenth century, the notation used for it changed as well. Early guitar music was written in variations of lute tablature and/or chordal short hands such as the alfabeto system. By the 1750s, guitarists were moving inexorably towards standard musical notation—although cluttering it with fingering to sometimes alarming degrees—and it is here that Stenstadvold draws his beginning line for his study: he is interested only in method books using primarily modern notation, not tablature. Thus he includes the earliest two guitar tutors in standard notation from the 1750s, both anonymous, but uses 1760 as a more convenient date for the title of the book. He has also limited himself to printed works, not manuscripts, which is perfectly understandable, although possibly giving a skewed picture of Spanish and Latin American sources. As for the end date, it appears to coincide roughly with the creation of guitars with recognizably modern bracing and form by Torres, as well as an even one hundred years from his starting date.
Reading through the citations, it is obvious that Stenstadvold spent a good bit of time traveling and doing primary research. The main portion of the book (pp. 13–198) is an alphabetical listing by author of the tutors. Within each author’s section, the books are arranged chronologically, giving a quick view of the pedagogical work by any particular guitarist and the relation of successive editions. Each entry cites the complete title page, including publisher’s address and other information, and even the pricing, all of which can be useful for dating an item. Dating is particularly problematic with these sources, as it is for all musical sources from the period, but copyright registrations and contemporary advertising can often supply a reasonably accurate date. Stenstadvold includes his justification for particular dates, as well as information about the collation and modern location (with RISM sigla) of each tutor. The entries conclude with a sentence or two of general remarks about the source: the type of guitar intended, level and types of instruction, and other notes. All of this gives a clear indication that the author has usually gained first-hand knowledge of the sources. The bibliography (pp. 201–4) is a bit brief and dated, however. It surprisingly lacks what would appear to be an important source or at least a source with which any English reader on the subject would be familiar: The Guitar and Its Music: From the Renaissance to the Classical Era by James Tyler and Paul Sparks (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). While this work is not without its bibliographic problems, the section by Sparks on the guitar in the late eighteenth century would appear to be central to Stenstadvold’s work.
The large majority of these sources is not generally available in modern facsimiles or even microfilm copies; indeed, many of the names and titles will be unfamiliar to even researchers, much less performers. But even performers or teachers wishing to explore the pedagogical writings of a major figure like Aguado or Carulli will find a quick overview of the works and how they relate. The performer will of course want the actual contents of the tutors, not just an annotated summary, but Stenstadvold’s book will point them in the direction of the most important sources. It also serves surprisingly well as an outline of the changes in guitar technique and construction during the period. As for more obscure works, these may remain so in the future, but there is also much here that calls for further examination from both scholars and performers. It is to be hoped that the present work will form the basis of a future monograph on guitar tutors and/or technique that draws together the main sources cited here into a readable and wider ranging narrative. We would then begin to get a picture not only of the “golden age” of the classical guitar, but the relatively unknown periods before and after it. Recommended for all collections with an active guitar program.
Gary R. Boye (Appalachian State University)
Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association