#28 Berlioz, La guitare

(The Berlioz picture looks a bit like this Schumann picture?)

In my previous post, I wrote about the French music critic François-Joseph Fétis disliked the guitar as an instrument. As a contemporary to Fétis, Hector Berlioz also wrote about the guitar in his Treatise on Instrumentation and Modern Orchestration (1843-1844). There was bad blood between this pair of French music critics (see their disputes on Wikipedia), and it’s interesting to see Fétis and Berlioz held different views even on the guitar (I don’t think that’s actually a point of their argument). As a guitarist himself (see this article with conflicting accounts of Berlioz’s guitar chops), Berlioz gave a fair presentation of the guitar in his treatise.

(I was reading the 1882 English edition by Novello, Ewer & Co., and the guitar section begins on p.66 of the PDF. The table of content is at the end of the book).

Berlioz’s entry on the guitar is not unlike an abridged-method that explains the basics of the guitar without any exercises: tunings, basic right hand pattern, simple chord progressions, arpeggio patterns, thirds, repeated notes, and harmonics. The guitar entry begins with:

Berlioz tells the reader upfront what the guitar does best. Maybe Mahler read Berlioz’s entry and incorporated the guitar and mandolin for some “figuring” in his 7th Symphony? I certainly wish Mozart had included an actual guitar in his aria Voi che sapete from the Marriage of Figaro, instead of having someone lip-synching to the “guitar accompaniment” performed by the pizzacato strings.

The entry continues to the tuning of the guitar:

It was really curious to see Berlioz mentioned about the open E tuning as a possible tuning. Open tunings on the guitar seem to carry an association with the Hawaiian slack key tradition, folk music, and blues, but I have encountered quite a few pieces and methods that mentioned and employed opening tunings – open D, open E, open G, open A, and open C – in the classical guitar literature. For instance, from an advertisement (see the last page of this PDF), Madame Sidney Pratten apparently had An Instruction for the Guitar Tuned in E major, along with an long list of compositions for open E tuning. But… I digress. More on open tunings for classical guitar in a few future posts.

On right hand position for accompaniment:

“…the little finger resting on upon the body of the instrument” – the Sor/Carcassi/lute approach which was common in the 19th century.

The entry continues with keys and progressions that does not require “the use of barrage” (what a nice word). These key choices and chord voicings revealed a few things:

C major: later in the entry, Berlioz mentioned the it is difficult for non-guitarist to compose for the guitar, and suggested one to study pieces of celebrated guitarists, included those of Sor. Berlioz might not have studied Sor though, as Sor would not have allowed the parallel octaves to happen (even if the parallels are in the inner voices?). Also, many of these chord voicings seem a bit thick – chords with a minimum of 5 notes? Did Berlioz really use the voicing circled in green?

D major: was Berlioz a “Carullist” who would use his left hand thumb for the D chords (circled in green)? Also, what Berlioz marked “difficult” are indeed not the most convenient for the fingers.

A major: I actually liked the ii6/5 voicing. I am surprised he didn’t add a low A to this chord to make it sound thinker. The vi chord circled in blue is another possible “Carullist” voicing. And did Berlioz really mean to end this progression with a first inversion chord?

E major: this progression seems to make most sense. The pedal point in the opening is a nice touch.

F major: more “Carullist” chords (in green)? The “difficult” chord doubled chordal 7th and in turn led to parallel octaves. And toward the end, Berlioz ceased to use the thick voicings – due to the barrage?

And this is also interesting:

I like how Berlioz suggested adding the low open A to the E diminished 7th chord (circled in red) to comply with his principle of not skipping the “second” string (did they refer to the fifth string as the second string back then?). Let’s just add a non-chord tone (A) to the E fully diminished 7th chord – easier to play, more tension!

Berlioz continues to discuss avoiding close position dominant 7th chords, except for the F#7 (circled in red):

Did Berlioz have the famous Sor etude (Segovia’s #5) in mind?

After discussing common right hand arpeggios, Berlioz talks about scales:

“Twos and twos” – maybe Berlioz played with nails, and the slurs made scales less “clicky”?

In regards to “reiterations (roulements)”:

The lack of right hand ring finger usage is in line with the practice of the time – the little finger rests upon the soundboard, so the movement of the ring finger is restricted, especially for playing rapid repeated notes. It shows a p-i-m-i tremolo pattern – not the p-a-m-i pattern used today (see my post on tremolo.)

Berlioz mentioned a few celebrated players of the time (1843-44): “Zanni [sic] de Ferranti, Huerta, Sor, & c.”. Compare that to guitarists mentioned by Fétis in his Music Explained to the World: Or, How to Understand Music and Enjoy Its Performance from 1830: Carulli, Sor, Carcassi, Huerta, and Aguado. We can see that Carulli was gone, with Ferranti making the list, and the poor Aguado became “&c.” by playing duets with Sor.

Berlioz concluded his entry of guitar with two remarks. The first of which is:

I have heard guitarists said that the 19th century guitar repertoire was not in line with the 19th century music repertoire – no significant composers wrote for the guitar, and our best works, say, a Sor sonata, lack the depth of, say, a Beethoven piano sonata. Maybe Berlioz’s remarks here makes a good defense for the guitar? Each instrument is unique, and no other instrument can replace the charm of the guitar. And maybe we have more guitar virtuos than ever who can literally perform ANY piece on the face of the earth?

Berlioz last remarks in the guitar entry of the treatise:

How did Berlioz find out about this? Were there guitar orchestras back then? Maybe Berlioz taught some after-school group guitar class…? I must admit a guitar ensemble does not appeal to me. Guitar duos and guitar trios, on the contrary, are very efficient mediums. Duos/trios that are really in sync would sound like only one instrument is being played, with the full spectrum of frequencies being utilized in the same composition – maybe resembling a “four-hand” or “six-hand-one guitar”?

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