#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.

#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”?

#27 Fétis, from Paris without love

For many years, I have learned that Fernando Sor was called “the Beethoven of the guitar”. I was always perplexed as to what is the connection between the two composers. Who made that claim?

Quite a few websites mentioned it was François-Joseph Fétis, a famous 19th century music critic, who made such a claim. No one really pointed out in which publication did Fétis make this reference though. So I started looking up writings of Fétis, and came across a translation of his book, Music Explained to the World: Or, How to Understand Music and Enjoy Its Performance from 1830 (the translation published in 1844).

Fétis’s book discussed a lot of instruments, and I went straight to the sections regarding the plucked string instruments: the lute (p.110), the archilute and the theorbo (p.111), the mandore and pandore (p.111-112), the mandolin (and its obscure relative calascione, on p.112), and the guitar (p.113-114). He wrote:

“The guitar appears to have originated in Spain, though it is found in some parts of Africa. It has been known in France since the eleventh century, at which time it had the name of guiterne. It is almost the only one of all the stringed instruments played by snapping, and with fingerboards, which remains in use. The body of the guitar is flat on both sides, it is furnished with six strings, and its fingerboard is divided by frets for the placing of the fingers. In France, Germay, and England, the art of playing upon the guitar is carried to a very high point of perfection. In these later times, Sor Aguado, Huerta, and Carcassi, have made it a concerto instrument, and have succeeded in executing upon it very complicated music, in several parts; but, in Spain, the native country of this instrument, it is used only to accompany the boleros, tirannas, and the other national airs, and the performers play upon it instinctively, by striking the strings, or rattling them with the back of the hand.” (p.113)

Pretty cool to see Fétis mentioning the superstars of the Paris scene around 1830s? Also, the use of rasgueado seemed to be getting a bad rep early on in the 19th century.

In a later section of the book, Fétis wrote:

“The limited resources of the guitar are well known. It seems calculated only to sustain the voice lightly in little vocal pieces, such as romances, couplets, boleros, etc. Some artists, however, have not limited themselves to this small merit, but have sought to overcome the disadvantages of a meagre tone, the difficulties of the finering, and the narrow compass of this instrument. Mr. Carulli was the first who undertook to perform difficult music on the guitar, and succeeded in it to such a degree as to excite astonishment. Sor, Carcassi, Huerta, and Aguado, have carried the art to a higher degree of perfection; and if it were possible for the guitar to take a place in music, properly so called, these artists would, doubtless, have effected that miracle; but to such a metamorphosis the obstacles are invincible.” (p.234)

Even though Fétis held Carulli in high regards and acknowledged Carulli as the “grandfather of the guitar” in the 1830s Paris scene, he bashed the guitar relentelessly…!

In the biography, Fernando Sor: Composer and Guitarist by Brian Jeffery, there are many accounts of how Fétis thought Sor had chosen the wrong instrument. For instance:

p.105, Fernando Sor- Composer and Guitarist, Brian Jeffery

The missing word there should be “instrument” (is it just my copy that missed the last word(s) of the paragraph?)

As usual, my original task was not solved, and the process opened many unexpected doors. Fétis’s account of the guitar reminded me of a similar entry by another French music critic, Heitor Berlioz (to be continued).

#26 First tremolo piece for classical guitar? – #2

My quest to look for the first guitar tremolo piece was not easy – I looked at a lot of scores and method books, but could draw no conclusion. I decided to examine a few guitar history books I own to see if any of them discussed about tremolo on the guitar, and sure enough I found exactly what I needed.

During my years in Indiana, I began taking private guitar lessons from Professor Julio Ribeiro Alves. It was Julio along with my parents who supported me to pursue a degree in guitar. Julio has written his own textbook on the history of guitar, and it is from his book that I found out about Antonio Cano (1811-1897):

“He was a pupil of Aguado, and his main addition to the guitar world was his Método de Guitarra, written in 1852. The method was reissued sixteen years later with an added harmony treatise adapted for the guitar. Although there is no real documentation, it is believed that he taught some lessons to Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) and was influential in the development of the tremolo technique.”

Cano’s method from 1852 does not cover the tremolo, but the very last piece from his Método Abreviado from 1892 is a tremolo study, with clear right hand fingering of p-a-m-i:

Tárrega composed Recuerdos de la Alhambra in 1896, so a method book from 1892 at least shows that the tremolo technique was established by late 19th century. If Cano’s methods from 1852 did not discuss no tremolo, so maybe we can assume the tremolo technique was established between 1852 to 1892?

Examining Cano’s method also made me realized that all the previous musical scores and methods I have examined, with the exception of Sor’s, were by non-Spanish guitarists – Carcassi, Giuliani, Legnani, Regondi, Mertz, Coste, and Pratten. So maybe the standard tremolo technique as we know now stemmed from a Spanish guitar tradition?

With some new directions, I focused on looking through music and method books by 19th century Spanish guitarists. It turns out that Cano has a tremolo piece – El Delirio – that is very close to the modern tremolo, except a p-m-i tremolo was used. But, looking up recordings of this piece, many modern guitarists would just play the p-a-m-i tremolo anyways.

Exploring the connection between Cano and Tárrega, I came across a site dedicated to Tárrega, and it mentions Tomas Damas (ca.1817-1880), who wrote a tremolo piece called El Gran Tremolo (1872, score, video) – looks a bit like Cano’s El Delirio?

El Tremolo, as in a lot of other pieces, does not include right hand fingering. Damas’s Método completo y progresivo de guitarra (1867) does not discuss tremolo technique in particular, but the etude that closes the book (just like Cano’s Método Abreviado) has passage that looks like modern tremolo. But the problem remains – no right hand fingering. Damas’s Método de guitarra por cifra compaseada (1869), on the other hand, provides the answer I have been looking for – indicating a right-hand p-a-m-i fingering for an “exercise of repeated notes”:

Wait… this method is printed in tablature…? In addition, it’s not the modern tab – it is printed like Italian lute tablature, with the bottom line of the tab as the first string of the guitar.

(The year of publication of Tomas Damas’s works are taken from a recent Jstor article about the life and works Tomas Damas, with a complete catalog of Damas’s works. The only problem is that… I don’t read Spanish. It’s going to be a project to “read” the article through Google Translate…)

In search of more 19th century Spanish guitarists and music, I came across two volumes of 19th century Spanish guitar works, published in Berlin in 1926, as pointed out by my friend, a 19th century guitar buff, and fellow Eastman grad, Daniel Nistico. These volumes included quite a few pieces by José Viñas (1823-1888), two of which are tremolo pieces – Fantasie Original from volume 1, and Erinnerungen an Palma from volume 2. These two pieces are the last piece in their respective volumes. And I think I am seeing a pattern here – just like Cano and Damas, where they have included tremolo as the final study of their methods, tremolo is always placed last in a publication, as it is the ultimate technique for a classical guitarist to conquer (a slight pun intended for El Ultimo Tremolo)?

Erinnerungen an Palma is also subtitled “Recuerdos de Palma”. Tremolo and memories… did Tárrega know this piece? Well:

“This is the first collected edition of the guitar works of José Viñas (1823-1888) who was a multitalented musician and equally successful as violinist, pianist and guitarist, but he made most of his living as orchestra conductor. His home in Barcelona was a meeting point for guitarists and travelling virtuosos where Broca and Arcas played. Francisco Tárrega copied parts of Viñas pieces into his own works. Viñas “Fantasie original” has always been present in the guitarist s repertoire and here are many more rewarding works, from simple to demanding.” (taken from carlfischer.com)

“…copied parts of Vinas pieces into his own works”…? And this shed a lot of light on a very interesting discussion…

But I digressed… back to these German publications – they do include right hand tremolo fingersings: the familiar p-a-m-i, but I can’t be sure if they are editorial. In addition, the score of Fantasie Original found on IMSLP also contains right hand fingering, but the year of publication is unknown.

And may I digress again: Fantasie Original is subtitled “Capricho a imitacion de Piano”

Guitarists tried (and are still trying) to mimic and transcribe piano music, adding effects to make these transcriptions more “guitaristic”, but I can’t imagine the reverse – hearing the guitar tremolo on the piano. And apparently it has been done (with a-m-i-p in this video). Doesn’t sound too natural on the piano, does it? What about the violin? Accordion? Mandolin? Harp? Bass?

Anyway, check out Daniel’s excellent rendition of Viñas’s Fantasie Original here.

I don’t seem to be able to find tremolo pieces by José Brocá (1805-1882) and Antonio Jimenez Manjón (1866-1919). Jacque Bosch’s method (1890) contains music with three-finger p-m-i tremolo. The last Spanish guitarist/composer I would like to mention who have employed tremolo in his music is Julián Arcas (1832-1882).

Julián Arcas

As Adrian Rius mentioned in his biography on Tárrega:

“Some time during February and March of 1862, the eminent guitarist from Almeria, Julián Arcas, performed in Castellón. The effect the concert had on Tárrega was so intense he never managed to forget that night, even though he had not yet reached his tenth birthday. After listening to the acclaimed master, his father and various friends asked if this famous arist might listen to the little boy. Surprised at the skills displayed by that youngster, Arcas offered to direct him in his studies, suggesting that Tárrega be sent to Barcelona, where Arcas was living at that time. The idea was accepted by all concerned, with great joy and profound emotion on the part of his father.”

The young Tárrega did move to Barcelona, but ended up taking only a few lessons from Arcas. The p-a-m-i tremolo, however, can be found in Arcas’s Funeral March de Thalberg, Fantasia Sobre La Traviata, and El Delirio (as mentioned, Cano also has a tremolo piece called El Delirio. Tremolo makes people crazy?)

So maybe we can see the tremolo as a classical guitar technique that came from the Spanish tradition? Perhaps the young Tárrega heard tremolo in Arcas’s concert, learned about tremolo thourgh lessons with Arcas, and later Cano? Tárrega also defintely knew of Viñas’s Erinnerungen an Palma. And Tomas Damas included a tremolo study with p-a-m-i fingerings in his method from 1869 – meaning, it was a technique that might be widely used by that time.

There are still many questions to be answered, and I know I am missing a lot of information: for starters, years of publication for works by Arcas, Cano, and Viñas. I have only examined pieces by guitarists/composers I could think of, and I am sure there are many from the 19th century whose works and methods I have not examined. Furthermore, I could only examine scores and methods I owned, or I could found on the internet (mostly through IMSLP and Boije). And I could not speak much of the flamenco tradition, which also uses the tremolo technique (do flamenco guitarists use other tremolo fingerings other than p-i-a-m-i?), due to my lack of knowledge in the subject.

Roland Dyens has a tremolo piece that is wittily titied El Último Recuerdo. I thought to myself, if I were to ever compose a tremolo piece (or a piece at all), mine would be called El Recuerdo Delirio.

#25 The Paganini of guitar

The guitar in the picture: early romantic guitar (Paris around 1830) by Jean-Nicolas Grobert (1794-1869). Instrument top shows signatures of Paganini and Berlioz. The guitar was loaned to Paganini by Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume in 1838 and later given by Vuillaume to Berlioz, who later donated it to the Musée du Conservatoire de musique in 1866. Today the guitar is displayed at the Museum Cité de la Musique in Paris.

– from Wikipedia


I played this Fantasy afterwards for Guillieu of the Paris Conservatory and the first flute soloist of the Grand Opera, who said to me: “Is it possible that you have never had any lessons in composition or guitar playing!”

“Never,” said I.

“In this case.” he declared “you must have some rare musical ‘bump,’ and if you continue at the same rate you will some day become a Paganini of the guitar.”


The above is taken from the The Memoirs of Makaroff, written by the 19th century Russian guitar enthusiast, Nicolai Petrovich Makaroff (1810-1890), of his encounters of many classical guitarists. His story of having the potential to be “a Paganini of the guitar” is a bit… sad – Paganini was so highly esteemed, such that guitarists would be proud and worthy when they became a “Paganini of the guitar”. The guitar was such a lowly instrument in the 19th century (and maybe now?) that its worth had to be defined by another instrument.

To be honest, I am not really upset when a guitarist is labelled as a “Paganini”. All guitarists being called “the Paganini of Guitar” really deserved it. What I found funny is the number of guitarists that were assigned such honor: Mauro Giuliani, Trinidad Francisco Huerta y Caturla, Luigi, Legnani, Giulio Regondi, Antonio Jiménez Manjón, and Pasquale Taraffo. Agustin Barrios called himself “the Paganini of the guitar from the jungles of Paraguay“. There might be more. I just got lazy with the internet search. Everyone needed a marketing claim, and it doesn’t matter that everyone used the same one. It just had to be a good one.

Quite a few discussions on the internet actually mentioned Paganini was the real Paganini of guitar, as he was a fine guitarist himself and the guitar was the constant companion in all his travels. I remember checking out the complete works for solo guitar of Paganini from the Sibley Music Library and playing through the three volumes. I love these pieces – sonatas, ghiribizzi, and a various assortment of pieces. All of them are short, with a few arrangements of opera tunes.

From the intro section of the Complete Works for Solo Guitar: The 43 Ghiribizzis (“whims” or “fancies”) are delightful miniatures in the mould of childrens’ literature… in another letter (January 7, 1824) he writes: “The guitar Ghiribizzi were composed for a little girl in Naples, I did not want to compose but more to scribble; but some of the themes are not unappealing and to pass the time, if you have a copy, you would not do badly to show them to Sig. Botto’s charming daughter”.

(More info on these pieces here)

Paganini’s solo guitar works are very enjoyable. The compositions are quite “straight forward” – they seem easy to play. But the way Pavel Steidl played these “simple” pieces completely changed my world – the way he phrased, the subtlty and drama he portrayed, and all the added ornaments. Maybe he should be called the Paganini of guitar, as he unveiled to me how Paganini conceived his guitar music?

#22 First tremolo piece for classical guitar? – #1

Tremolo on classical guitar is a special technique. It creates a “continuous” sound by repeating a particular right hand fingering pattern:

thumb (p) -> ring finger (a) -> middle finger (m) -> index finger (i).

The thumb arpeggiates notes in the bass register, and the other three fingers repeat on the same note. Recuerdos de la Alhambra (composed in 1896) by Francisco Tarrega (dedicated to Alfred Cottin) is probably the most famous tremolo piece.

I had a discussion once with my teacher Nicholas Goluses about which was the first tremolo guitar piece. He thought Reverie, Op. 19 by Giulio Regondi might be the first one. With some free time on my hand now, I have given this topic another thought. There is a Classical Guitar Delcamp thread on this very topic and provided me with a great starting place. But after much digging around (on the internet), there is still no definite answer, and everything I discuss below are speculations. At least this put my brain in “thinking mode” for a good few days…

Since Tarrega composed Recuerdos de la Alhambra in 1896, and guitar methods after him (such as those by Pascual Roch and Emlio Pujol) contain exercises that drill the p-a-m-i pattern, my goal is to find a tremolo piece prior to 1896.

What is a “tremolo piece”? To me, a tremolo piece should have the following features:

1) an entire piece of music (e.g. Tarrega’s Alhambra), or a piece of music that has (a) devoted section(s) (e.g. Regondi’s Reverie) that utilize the repeating right hand p-a-m-i pattern. Using the tremolo technique intermittently does not count;

2) a “1 + 3” tremolo pattern, in which the thumb plays a bass note, follow by the a, m, i finger playing three repeated notes in a higher register. This would exclude “sextuplet” tremolo, such as those found in Fernando Sor’s Grand Solo (first published 1810);

3) the thumb notes should form an arpeggiation that outlines the underlying harmonies of the music.

Therefore, a piece such as Etude #7 from Carcassi’s op. 60 (first published 1836) would not be a tremolo piece, since measure 2 and 3 would break the p-a-m-i pattern. The “tremolo-looking” pattern of measure 1 occurs only sporadically throughout the etude.

One thing to consider is the usage of right hand fingers in the early to mid 19th century guitar tradition: many guitarists (Sor, Carulli, Carcassi) would play mostly with p, i, and m (makes perfect sense for the Carcassi etude above), and only use the a finger for “chords and arpeggios which contain four, five or six notes” (see the introduction to Carcassi’s Op.60, written by Brian Jeffery). I don’t consider tremolo as a type of arpeggio (although Dr. Goluses did suggest me to conceive of the tremolo as a weird p-a-m-i arpeggiation). When I think of “19th century arpeggios”, the generic patterns come to mind – p-i-m-a, p-a-m-i, and other iterations. Each of the right hand finger would be resposible for playing one string, instead of having a, m, i plucking the same string.

Even though I don’t think of the tremolo as an arpeggio, it seems wrong to not check if the 120 arpeggio studies from Mauro Giuliani’s op.1 (first published 1812) would provide any insights. Sure enough, there are two “tremolo” exercises: Ex. 100 is very close to what I definied as tremolo above, except the right hand arpeggio pattern – a repeating pattern of p-a-m-i-p-i-m-a instead of just p-a-m-i. Ex. 110 does not involve the ring finger at all, conforming to the typical way of playing guitar in the 19th century with only p, i, and m.

the pointy sign = RH thumb, 1 dot = RH index finger, 2 dots = RH middle finger, 3 dots = RH ring finger

But did Giuliani employ “tremolo” in his actual compositions? With much shame, I have to admit I don’t know all of Giuliani’s works. I just quickly check his “big” pieces – Grand Overture, 6 Rossinianas, and 3 Concerti. Two excerpts from Rossiniana #6 reveal the two ways Giuliani employed “tremolo” in his works, both of which don’t fit my definition mentioned earlier: the “sextuplet tremolo” is not a “1+3” pattern and doesn’t use the ring finger, and when a “1+3” pattern is employed, the bass is merely playing the same note an octave lower than the 3 repeated notes that follow. The bass is not forming an arpeggiation that outlines the underlying harmonies.

Some of the early 19th century guitarists also played with a pinky (lightly) anchored on the top of the guitar, which limits the movement of the ring finger. That does seem to make p-a-m-i pattern a technique of a later generation.

In his Treatise on Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration (1844), Berlioz mentioned “reiterated notes, two, three, four, and even six or eight times repeated, are easily done; prolonged reiterations (roulements) on the same note are rarely good excepting on the first string, or at the utmost on the three high strings.” He then provided us with the right hand tremolo fingering: p-i-m-i.

Was there a particular tremolo piece Berlioz had in mind?

The Classical Guitar Delcamp thread also mentioned the usage of tremolo in Mertz’s Potpourri on Verdi’s Ernami (op.8, #14). The musical features do fit the criteria of tremolo defined above – a substantial section that consistently uses a “1+3” pattern, with bass notes arpeggiating the underlying harmonic changes. But Mertz’s method (published 1848) suggests the tremolo to be played with the pattern p-m-i-m:

I checked a few more 19th century guitar methods and didactic works that came to mind: Napoleon Coste edition of Sor’s method (published 1851) and his 25 etudes (published 1873), Luigi Legnani’s method (published 1849), Madame Sidney Pratten’s Guitar School (published 1881) – all of them seem to not have included any p-a-m-i pattern exercises or music.

So I go back to Reverie by Regondi – is it the first tremolo piece? I don’t know. It fits all my criteria of being a tremolo piece, but of all the scores I could find online, none of them included any right hand fingering. And Regondi left us with a Rudimenti del Concertina, a New Method for the Concertina, and the “Golden Exercises“, but not a guitar method.

And then I stumble upon one source, which presented many more questions to be answered…

(to be continued on First Tremolo Piece For Classical Guitar #2)

#19 Stage Fright

After many years of performing, I still can’t get over the nerves. I don’t feel as nervous in a band setting. But it still gets me when I perform solo on classical guitar. In a way, I like it. It gives me a hyper sense of focus. It’s just that my hands shake a bit and my fingers don’t move as swiftly as I was practicing. The lucky part is that I don’t usually show much facial expression, and my friends always told me after my performances that I didn’t look nervous at all.

I miss going to studio class, to play for others and to hear others play, to see how everyone is progressing and building their repertoire. Playing in studio was always the worst though. I got very pressured because I wouldn’t want to suck in front of my fellow guitarists. These days, I am grateful for a few friends who would take their time to listen to my run-throughs for any upcoming performances. A guitarist friend suggested me to do a few push ups before I play a piece, to simulate the kind of adrenaline rush I would get from a performance. It sort of works, but I would get tired too quickly before I can practice more…

At Eastman, guitarists tend to play their degree recitals in Hatch Hall. Hatch is indeed perfect for guitar. I have done that for my masters recital, but I have done all my DMA recitals in Kilbourn. I get distracted so easily, and I felt like I could hear every little sound the audience would make. As a bigger hall, audience in Kilbourn tend to be farther away from the stage, which made me feel more secure. But I hate to admit that I enjoy the separation of performer and audience, as I always liked that the classical guitar is the most intimate of all instrument.

I always dream of playing in a setting just like Tarrega did in the above picture. Everyone up close, paying attention, listening to the nuances. I don’t have to worry about producing volume for a big hall. But I also can’t imagine the pressure with people watching/listening over my shoulders!

(Btw, I don’t play with a foot stool, but I want Tarrega’s foot stool!)

In a similar picture, Llobet was playing (also with an awesome footstool). And Segovia was watching him up close. I wonder if Llobet’s got nervous?

Someday I will fulfill this dream – get a couple friends, all dressed up, and sneak into the 19th century-looking Ranlet Lounge, to recreate the “Tarrega picture” above. I would need get a good looking beard or mustache first though.

#14 Guitar de Mexico – Dona-Dio Quartet

I love this record. The arrangements are amazing. And a quartet versoin of Recuerdos is just epic… But I couldn’t find much info about the quartet. There’s a short writeup of the album from the 1960’s Billboard:

“Low price Latin American”?!

Apparently, records were categorized by genres, and their potential to sell: “very strong sales potential”, “good sales potential”, “moderate sales potential”, “low price classical”, low price popular”, “low price international”. I have never read an issue of Billboard till this one. Do they still do that?

1960. The Sound of Music was #1. I was skimming through the issue, couldn’t see any classical guitar album… a few flamenco albums are mentioned, such as Flamenco Variations on Three Guitars by Sabicas.

I was surprised to fine the following ad – I have a 4-CD compilation of the Persuasive Percussion. Never realized it came out as early as 1960. I remember playing the CD before a music theory final exam as students were settling in.

There are many cool advertisements:

#11 Sheet Music by the Pound

Came across the old magazine for banjo, mandolin, and guitar, the Cadenza, Volume 4, #1, 1897, p.12.

“That’s a jolly idea they have in Berlin of selling sheet music by the pound. You go to one of the shops where music is sold in this way and give them a lot of the pieces you want and they select them and lay them in a pile and weigh them out – so many pounds, so many marks and pfennings. Or, if you can afford, say, three pounds of musicm you can take one pound of sentimental, one pound of dramatic, twelve ounces of comic, and four ounces of devotional, or any other arrangement that suits your fancy. It is a great boom to the musician who is poor-not to speak of the poor musician-because under this system Wagner and Brahms and Dvorak will cost him no more than the insignificant and forgotten Smithkowski and the deluded and soft-hearted Screwleeski. And Wagner for the piano, of course being bought by the pound, can be played by the pound with good grace. The Listener recommends to our local dealers this system of selling music. – Boston Transcript.”