In order to explore the various standard types of repertoire for classical guitar, we need to categorize the repertoire into two holistic categories as pieces which are originally written and pieces that are arranged/ adapted for the classical guitar (from piano, violin, etc.). It is also important to consider the changes the the guitar and its repertoire has gone through and the composers, musicians and guitarists who have affected this process.
The pieces originally written for the guitar and the guitar’s predecessors (e.g. lute, vihuela) can be divided into categories according to their style, time- period, nationality, texture, technical and compositional matters. Basically, due to the difficulty of composing music for the guitar which is not possible without either proficiency in the instrument or close collaboration with a guitarist, there have always been fewer guitar composers compare to piano, violin, etc. The early guitars had great limitations. Therefore, pieces written for the guitar at the time featured less technical difficulty. The guitar world began to see some changes in the baroque era, when more well-known composers to be exact as Gasper Sanz (1640-1710), Johan Pachelbel (1653-1706), and Antonia Vivaldi (1678-1741) started to write solos, duets and concertos for the guitar which was a turning point for the repertoire of classical guitar.
The fundamental standard of guitar’s repertoire was defined in the 18th and 19th century by few remarkable guitarist such as Ferdinando Carulli (1770-1841), Fernando Sor, (1778-1839) and Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909). During this time, which is also known as the golden age of classical guitar, significant methods, studies and etudes have been written for the classical guitar (e.g. 24 studies for guitar op.48 by Giuliani, complete guitar method by Sor and Coste). These standards were developed through the next eras, along with other musical aspects.
In 20th century a well-known guitarist called Andres Segovia encouraged a lot of composers such as Manuel Ponce (1882 – 1948), Joaquín Turina (1882 –1949) and many others (who were not guitar composers) to write music for the classical guitar. Even though Segovia tried to edit and somehow adapt these pieces according to the classical guitar standards, these pieces ended up having unusual fingering compare to previous eras. Similarly, guitar composers such as Barrios mangoré (1885-1944), H. Villa Lobos (1887-1959) couldn’t express themselves within the “standard” limitations either and have written pieces that are very much harder to perform on the instrument. Correspondingly, the musicianship aspect of this era is more complicated and requires more analysis. It all encouraged guitarists and composers like Heitor Villa Lobos to write new etudes for the classical guitar. His 12 etudes for classical guitar are still played today and are one of the most popular and famous etudes among classical guitarist, thought they are not very easy to play.
It’s noteworthy to name some popular repertoire for the guitar, these pieces can show an overview of the standard types of classical guitar in the history of the instrument. By thinking of/ listening to the following piece, we can clearly see the huge changes that have happened throughout the years:
Green Sleeves by anon. – Remembrance of-Alhambra by F. Tarrega – Invocation y Danza by Joaquin Rodrigo).
Technically, depending on the nationality of a piece, especially from the 20th Century on, each piece features certain standards, characters and some unique techniques. For instance, Spanish composers would like to use ‘rasguado’ technique in their compositions while one never hears a ‘rasguado’ in a say Russian piece.
Time has played a great role for the guitar to develop and be recognized. Similarly, standard types of repertoire have always been changing.
Ex. 1: A renaissance standard piece by Alonso de Mudarra (1510 – 1580), Fantasia no.10
Ex. 2: A 19th century standard piece by Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909), Capricho Arabe.
Secondly, there are arranged/adapted pieces which are a big part of the classical guitar repertoire. Arranged pieces had a great role in the technical development of the instrument. Sometimes, they played the role model by some means for some guitar composers. They have also been a rich source of technical ideas that could be performed on guitar as well. Yet, arranging pieces for the guitar can be a quite challenging task, since one has to be aware of all the limitations and boundlessness of the instrument, as playing certain passages is not possible on the guitar. On the other hand, certain figures and passages such as “rasguado” can only be played on the guitar. Sometimes arrangers need to tune 6th and 5th or other strings to other pitches (e.g. it is common to change the 6th string from E to D, and 5th string’s A to G). At times, more than five arranged versions of the same piece are available but what makes a standard arrangement is the arranger’s ability to avoid the unusual fingerings while having all important notes presented. Some arrangers manage to add some extra notes as well. For instance, the two arrangements of Albeniz’s Asturias by Segovia and Konard Ragossnig both have these three standards. Relatively, the quality of arrangements have also been improved during the time.
Ex. 3: The arrangement of Albeniz’s Asturias by Konrad Ragossnig from piano for guitar.
(Asturias is one of the most famous and popular pieces of classical guitar repertoire).
Ex. 4: The most varied arrangements are made of J.S. Bach works. The second one by Vincent Maurice has got higher standards.
Thus, an important part of classical guitar’s repertoire is made by arranged/ adapted pieces. Many original guitar compositions are inspired by pieces that are written for other instruments. Also, many popular repertoire of classical guitar are the arranged/ adapted ones. Not all arrangements necessarily have good standards for the classical guitar. Importantly, a standard arrangement is the one which uses the full capability of the instrument and avoids the limitations. It has been great to see that the quality of the arrangements for the classical guitar has also improved during the time.
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I wish I could play classical guitar!