The Spanish Guitar (1536-1836)
The two discs are collectively titled ‘The Spanish Guitar (1536-1918)’ and thus cover the evolution of the modern instrument from its ancestors to the present. In its current form, the ‘classic(al)’ guitar has existed for just over two centuries, and the earliest known instruments are from Central Europe, not Spain – but a little poetic licence may be forgiven, for Spain is the only country in which the guitar has always been an integral part of the musical culture. Guitars of various kinds (whether so-described or not) have existed throughout Europe from the earliest times and before 1536; the four-course guitar was used primarily in accompanimental roles, though some ‘serious’ solo music was written for it. It was in Spain that the vihuela appeared in the 16th century, with a guitar-shaped body and six courses (pairs of strings) tuned with the pitch-spacing of the lute, and it was (rightly) said that if one took away the highest and lowest courses one had a four-course guitar! The date of the earliest known tutor by Gaspar Sanz was 1536, but the vihuela must have been in use before then, and after 1578 when the last surviving book of music for it was published by Antonio de Cabezon.
Why the vihuela came into existence and why its life was so short are matters for conjecture. A fifth course was later added in Spain, producing the ‘baroque’ guitar, which spread to the rest of Europe. While all the composers for the vihuela were Spanish, those for the baroque guitar were not; indeed, the Spaniards were in a minority.
Finally a sixth course of single strings was added, tuned like those of the modern guitar, and the morphology of the instrument now heralded that of today’s instrument. The anthology ends with the era of ‘classico-romanticism’, to which Fernando Sor belongs. However, neither Sor, nor his most distinguished contemporaries and successors wrote much ‘Spanish’ music – the order of the day was Viennese classical music! Johann Kaspar Mertz (Volume 2) was not even Spanish. Four more volumes are announced, but none advances the cut-off date beyond 1918.
So much for the scenario, now the performances. In his brief preface to Volume 1, Moreno points to the difficulty of playing three different (in size, tuning and technique) instruments in one recording session; it is even harder to do it well, as he does. He plays the later music so well, in fact, that one feels romanticism to be in his blood, and it is no less helpful in the earlier music, to which he imparts a stylistically appropriate degree of flexibility. I am, however, always surprised to find (not only here) no trace of the inequalities (later inegalites) detailed by Tomas de Santa Maria. This small quibble aside, I commend these finely performed, excellently recorded and annotated discs to anyone concerned with or interested in the guitar and its antecedents.'