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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Guitar Styles and Methods

An Annotated Bibliography of Guitar Methods, 1760-1860: An Annotated Bibliography by Erik Stenstadvold, General Editor: Ardal Powell (Organologia: Instruments and Performance Practice Series, No. 4: Pendragon Press)

In 1825, the French guitarist Charles de Marescot wrote in the introduction to his Methode de Guitare that "there is perhaps no other instrument for which there have been published so many methods as for the guitar". Marescot's observation appears to be correct: the present bibliography lists more than 300 different tutors by some 200 authors, published during approximately one hundred years, c.17601860; if re-issues and new editions are counted, the number of methods exceeds 400. This is a considerably larger number of tutors than for the piano or violin, and a surprising record for an instrument often considered second-rate by the musical establishment.

The period 1760-1860 is not arbitrarily chosen. The middle of the eighteenth century represents an important break in the history of the guitar in that staff notation was introduced in place of tablature. Accordingly, this survey begins with the very first guitar methods in staff notation, published in Paris in the late 1750s. Although the end point, 1860, does not represent a similar milestone, a termination date had to be set, and one hundred years is in itself a well-defined period. Equally important, however, is that from the middle of the nineteenth century the guitar fell more and more into oblivion as a serious instrument: it became mostly associated with popular songs and light music. Most of the relatively few tutors that were published after 1860 reflect that sad state of affairs. With their limited scope, they are generally of less interest to guitarists and guitar historians of today. from the book

This comprehensive bibliographical study describes more than 300 different methods for guitar by some 200 authors. A large number of publications are recorded in An Annotated Bibliography of Guitar Methods, 1760-1860 for the first time. The book is the result of extensive research visits to numerous libraries in Europe and the US, as well as many important private collections.
The bibliography covers a period of about a hundred years, beginning with the earliest guitar methods written in staff notation and published in Paris shortly before 1760. During the following century, above all in France, more instruction books were written for the guitar than for any other instrument. In addition to the works of well-known guitarists such as Aguado, Carcassi, Carulli, Giuliani, and Sor, methods by a great number of lesser-known (or completely unknown) authors are included. For several of those guitarists the writer has provided new information about their life and work.
The catalogue provides complete transcripts of the original title page, thus enabling the reader to make comparisons with other existing exemplars. All known variants (later issues, and later authorized as well as pirated editions) are described, and all known locations listed. An important subentry to each record discusses the dating of the publication; this makes the book particularly valuable. In addition, there is a brief description of the contents of each method, and of how it relates to other works by the same author, or to those by other authors. Further bibliographical details such as the identification of publisher, printing technique, etc. are also presented.

This bibliography lists instruction manuals for instruments normally classified as Spanish guitar or variants thereof; that is, instruments with five or six strings (or courses), sometimes with extra basses, in normal guitar tuning. Tutors for the differently-tuned, seven-string Russian guitar are thus omitted. For practical reasons, Stenstadvold limits his research to methods published in Europe and North America, and to publications using the Latin alphabet.

Tutors for instruments within the cittern family, such as the English guitar and the Portuguese guitar, are excluded, although frequently referred to as just Guitar at the time. (One will, for instance, search in vain for the Estudo de Guitarra by Antonio da Silva Leite, published in Portugal in 1796.) Another cittern instrument was the French cistre (or cytre), sometimes called guitare allemande (German guitar) in France. A few cistern tutors are nevertheless listed due to their inclusion of brief supplements for the Spanish guitar.

Stenstadvold in An Annotated Bibliography of Guitar Methods, 1760-1860 includes tutors for some unique and short-lived hybrid instruments related to the guitar: the two-necked guitar invented and described by Le Francois in 1785, the ten-string decacorde by F. Carulli, from 1826, and the three-necked harpolyre, constructed and described by J. F. Salomon in 1830. Tutors for the guitar-harp (also called harp-lute), an instrument more related to the cittern than to the guitar, are excluded, with one exception: a method by F. Chabran (1803) is listed in order to make a complete picture of his total output of instruction books.

All methods specifying the lyre (most of them actually state for lyre or guitar) are included: the lyre guitar was much a la mode for one or two decades after the turn of the century, particularly in France, With a shape resembling the Greek lyre, it was nevertheless a fretted instrument, stringed and tuned like the six-string guitar with which it also shared its musical repertory.

For obvious historical reasons, the guitar's popularity rose later in the United States than in Europe. Thus the first methods did not appear until sometime shortly before 1820. On the other hand, the instrument retained its popularity well into the second half of the century; in fact, American instruction manuals for the guitar increased in number from the 1850s, but publications after 1860 fall outside the scope of this study. Prior to that date, about twenty-four original methods had been authored by guitarists active on this side of the Atlantic. The total number of publications was, however, a great deal higher: many American guitarists and publishers made adaptations of European methods, not least Carcassi's. In addition, many U.S. publishers cooperated so that the same edition could appear under different imprints in different cities.

An Annotated Bibliography of Guitar Methods, 1760-1860 is an invaluable resource not only to the historically-interested guitarist, but also to a wide audience of music librarians, bibliographers, musicologists and others engaged in the study of music printing and publishing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.



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