Tárrega, Paco de Lucia & History of the Guitar

Francisco Tárrega

Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) was the influential Spanish composer and guitarist of the romantic era. Back in those days, not everybody believed in the potentials of the guitar and it was more common to compose for instruments like piano and violin. Francisco Tárrega has greatly influenced the development of the “classical” guitar by the etudes, studies and solo works that he has written for the guitar, some of which are still among the most performed and appreciated pieces of the classical guitar repertoire.

Alhambra palace, Granada

It seems that he was fascinated by the architecture and perhaps the culture of the Muslims in Spain whom built great palaces, Mosques and buildings in cities like Granada and Cordoba, in around the 13th century. As we consider his compositions, the title of numerous pieces refer to the Islamic culture and history such as “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” or the “Remembrance of Alhambra” which is a beautiful palace in Granada built by Muslims and “Capriccio Arabe”. But when we listen to these pieces we don’t hear any Arabic musical element in these pieces. The reason seems to be that he just wanted to pay a tribute to the history, culture and civilization. A culture that brought the instrument similar to what we now know as guitar to Spain and influenced the Flamenco (traditional Spanish music) remarkably.

Although the History of guitar has different versions, the name of the instrument (Guitar) is very similar to some Persian instrument names like Tar and Setar. Guitar (English), Gitarre (German), Guitare (French) were all derived from Guitarra (Spanish) which itself comes from the Andalusian Arabic “قیثاره”. The Andalusian Arabic word come from  the Latin word “cithara” that is probably related to the Ancient Greek word “κιθάρα kithara”. Ultimately, this Greek word comes (directly or indirectly) from the Persian word ” سه تار” (Setar/Sihtar). 1

Some believe Romans brought the “Greek Assyrian Cithara” to Spain and some believe that a Persian singer, Oud player, composer, poet and teacher called Ziryab (789–857 ) took the instrument to Andalusia, whom later on opened a music school there as well. The legendary Francisco Gustavo Sánchez Gómez known as “Paco de Lucia” (1947-2014) had also composed a piece called Ziryab in the last years of his life which could also be interpreted as Paco’s belief in this version of the history and a tribute to Ziryab.

“Classical” guitar has gone through a long journey, both in terms of shape/construction and repertoire to get to the point where it is now. Even today, modern luthiers are trying to make guitars with better projection and tone that are possibly easier to play as well. On the other hand, guitarists have developed more virtuosic techniques in the recent years that have opened new doors. This is unlike instruments like piano, violin or cello that are almost perfect the way they have been built and played, therefore neither the luthiers nor the players felt the urge to change or innovate in comparison with the guitar).


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