One of the most beloved pieces in the classical guitar repertoire is the tremolo standard, Reverie, Op.19, by Giulio Regondi (1823-1872). I have mentioned him a bit in previous posts, where I talked about the first tremolo piece and Madame Sidney Pratten. With much delay, I have finally decided to collect my thoughts and write a short post about this wonderful musician.
A few commonly known information about Regondi (at least to guitarists): a child prodigy guitarist with golden hair, settled in London when he was 8, Fernando Sor’s dedicated his op. 46 Fantasia “Souvenir d’ Amitie” to Regondi when the latter was 9, picked up the concertina later in life, toured Europe with both instruments, and now being remembered as one of the best guitarists and concertinists (is this a real word?) of 19th century England.
Giulio Regondi in Ireland by Thomas Lawrence is a wonderful document that discusses Regondi’s tour with his foster father A. Regondi in Ireland from 1834 – 1835. Not only are there many previews/reviews of Regondi’s concerts and repertoire at the time (the concertina is part of his concert at this time), but it also showed a glimpse of his fine character:
“While Giulio was in Brighton preparing for the next season, his father absconded with their amassed fortune of £2,000…”
“… after waiting until his pecuniary resources were exhausted [five pounds that he had been given for his trip to Brighton] and without receiving any reply to many letters he had addressed to his father, the poor boy drooped and would have died from starvation but for the care and thoughtfulness of his hostess…
“… Giulio ironically received a letter from his foster-father, the older Regondi, saying that he was dying and needed money. The compassionate Giulio responded accordingly and brought him to London where he tended to his father’s needs for the remainder of his life.”
One particular concert mentioned was interesting: Regondi performed on both guitar and concertina, and a Mr. Holland presented his “Achromatic Oxy-Hydrogen New Ionian Microscope”. The first google search results will show an article from the Magic Lantern Gazette, with many amazing pictures of microscopes.
Guitar Review also had a three-part article series, “Giulio Regondi – Guitarist, Concertinist or Melophonist?” by Douglas Rogers (from issue #91, 92, and 97). These articles included a lot of Regondi’s concert reviews, and a few things that strike me include:
- a review from The Musical World (June 26, 1852) mentioned “… just before the conclusion, for a heavy thumderstorm occurred at the time, and one of the strings of the guitar broke, which was rather impropos to the talented artist.”
- Regondi played a melophone: “invented in Paris by a watchmaker named Leclerc and could be described as a free reed hurdy-gurdy”. A picture shows a hybrid instrument of guitar and concertina… makes sense as Regondi’s weapon of choice, right? Later in the article, it refuted the possibility of Regondi playing the melophone.
- Regondi played a “melophonic guitar”: “an improvement upon the common Spanish Guitar. This instrument certainly deserves every encomium, for effecting that which no other guitar was ever made to achieve, namely, a sustained, even tone, not only on the metallic strings, but also on the higher ones…”
The end of the third articles says “The name “Melophonic guitar” did live on, however, and underneath “(To be continued)”, but I am not aware of a follow up article…? A google search brought me to www.harpguitars.net, which included a melophonic guitar with a description:
“The brothers D.& A. Roudhloff were prolific makers in London who copied both the styles of Panormo and Lacôte with equal success. The “improved Melophonic Guitar” was a popular model offering two extra strings in the bass, a short playing string length of 599mm, and was built either with the traditional rosewood back and sides or in solid pine for the belly, back and sides. -Ian Watchorn”
The melophonic guitar made by the Roudhloff brothers in 1841 (see pictures 1 and 2) is an instrument with two extra unfretted bass strings, hence being listed on Harpguitar.net. This echoes Regondi’s entry on Grove Music Online written by Thomas Heck:
“…Here he also met the Polish guitar virtuoso Marek Sokołowski, whose seven-string instrument may have prompted him to go a step further and take up the eight-string guitar.“
Theguitarmuseum.com shows a 6-string Roudhloff guitar with an X-bracing. Was the X-bracing the improvement to the traditional guitar? When did Regondi switch to an 8-string guitar (there’s a review from the Guitar Review article saying he performed on a 6-string guitar)?
As usual, the more I dig into things, the more questions I have. Aside from what these articles have discussed, two things regarding Regondi perplexed me. One of them is shown in the portriat of Regondi above: what was that thing he wears on his pinky? Sor would anchor his pinky on the soundboard, just like Regondi did in the picture. That’ is kind of alright, as earlier in the 19th century, the right hand ring finger was not a main part of the guitar technique. From today’s perspective, that is counterintuitive, as the pinky-anchoring would restrict movement of the ring finger. Even though the guitarist might not anchor his/her little finger through a performance, wouldn’t this pinky support slip? Did other 19th century guitarists also wear a pinky support? Was Regondi born with different hands from others that gave him extra flexibility, such that he can wear a piece of “bling-bling”? To stand out from other guitarists? To show off his flexibility?
And there’s the second question: why did Regondi pick up the concertina?
(continue to Jules, Why? – 2)