#29 Pasquale Taraffo

In the process of figuring out who was the “Paganin of the guitar“, I came across the Italian guitarist Pasquale Taraffo (1887-1937). I am always skeptical of what were the criteria for a guitarist to be called the Paganini of the guitar. Apart from his virtuosity, Taraffo shared at least two more things with Paganini – both of them were scorpios born in the city of Genoa (Paganini was born on 10/27, and Taraffo on 11/14).

There is a section dedicated Taraffo on harpguitars.net, with many pictures of Taraffo and his 14-string harp guitar. On Youtube, there is a video of Taraffo playing his own composition, Stefania. There is also a fascinating documentary that illustrates the life and techniques of Taraffo.

The pictures/images show Taraffo rested his harp guitar on a pedestal as he played. This reminded me of Aguado’s tripodison, which is “a device intended to maintain the guitar in a fixed position for easy playing, and for increasing its volume as far as possible” (From Aguado’s New Guitar Method, p.6). In the Secrets of Taraffo, Greg Minor mentioned the pedestal allows the back of the guitar to resonate freely, which is the same reason Aguado advocated the use the tripodison. Minor also mentioned the hollow pedestal might act as a resonator.

Aguado with his guitar on the tripodison.

Taraffo’s pedestal does look a lot “safer” to use – once placed on the pedestal, the harp guitar is secured and can stand without any support. I always wonder if the guitar would stand on Aguado’s tripodison on its own – the angle looks pretty steep…? At least, Aguado’s tripodison can be easily transported – “these three legs and the entire device when taken apart can be folded up and put in the same case as the guitar” (Aguado, New Guitar Method, p.7, footnote 4).

And speaking of instrument support, I can’t help to mention what I saw from a new score I bought – a support for the mandolin:

These pictures were taken from the newly published Miguel Llobet – Works, volume 15, with works arranged and composed for Lira Orfeo, a pluck string ensemble in Barcelona between 1898-1907, with Francisco Tárrega as the honorary president, and Miguel Llobet the de facto president, arranger, and conductor. More on this in a later post.

The combination of a harp guitar on a hollow pedestal also reminded me of the harpolyre: an instrument from the 19th century, with 21-string instrument and 3 necks.

The above is the cover of The Lost Music of Fernando Sor, which contains Sor’s output for the harpolyre (6 Petites pièces progressives, a funeral march, and Trois Pieces) transcribed for guitar by John Doan. The harpolyre was an invention by Jean François Salomon in 1829, in an attempt to create a loud guitar. In addition to having a bigger body and extra strings for sympathetic vibration, there are also two metal rods connecting the instrument to an amplifier podium…!

Apart from Sor, François de Fossa wrote music for the instrument (6 Divertissements for harpolyre op.21), and Carcassi was supposed to have composed music for it too. The Harmonicon from December 1829 gave a detailed description of the construction of the harpolyre). Sadly, Salomon ran out of funds in 1831, died in the same year, and the harpolyre was forgotten. (See Salomon’s entry in François-Joseph Fétis’sBiographie universelle des musiciens here.)

For more information on the harpolyre, check out The Lost Music of Fernando Sor – Complete Works for Harpolyre Transcribed for Guitar, theharpguitars.net, and earlyromanticguitar.com.

Back to Taraffo… What fascinates me the most about Taraffo was his tremolo techniques, which were all explained in the documentary on Youtube. Apart from the standard p-a-m-i tremolo, he would use the

1) “ring finger as a plecture”

2) “quardruplet tremolo with chords”

3) “sextuplet tremolo with chords”

Another cool technique Taraffo used was the “rasgueado on two or more strings”. Unlike the rasgueado used in the flamenco tradition, where the player would strum multiple strings with the back of their nails, Taraffo would maintain the normal plucking motion, but pluck through the top two or three strings at the same time:

This last rasqueado technique allows for a very controlled and less aggressive strumming sound compared to the flamenco rasqueado. Taraffo’s Stefania is the first guitar piece I know that utilized this technique, even though I have seen this technique being discussed by my friend Daniel Nistico – he saw it from a 19th century source – it is one of the 150 exercises presented by Ferdinand Pelzer (father of Madame Sidney Pratten) in 1836:

three dots = a finger, two dots = m, one dot = i. this exericse does not involve the a finger.

Check out this video of Daniel going through this exercise, and his site for an introduction of the 150 exercises by Pelzer.

Wikipedia included the known repertoire of Taraffo, which contained (only) two classical guitar pieces – Capricho Arabe by Francisco Tarrega, and Fantasia Capriccio by José Viñas. His repertoire also included many original compositions (I can’t wait to go check out the CD from Sibley Music Library) and arrangements from operas. I will end with a video recommend to me by my friend Orphée Russell – Taraffo’s arrangement of Cavalleria Rusticana, transcribed by Christian Saggese, from Taraffo’s recording.

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