Yenra : Music : Classical Guitar

Classical Guitar

From the French guitarre, the German Guitarre, the Italian chitarra, and the Spanish guitarra, the guitar is a musical instrument strung with gut strings twanged by the fingers, having a body with a flat back and graceful incurvations in complete contrast to the members of the family of lute, whose back is vaulted. The construction of the instrument is of paramount importance in assigning to the guitar its true position in the history of musical instruments, midway between the cithara and the violin. The medieval stringed instruments with neck fall into two classes, characterized mainly by the construction of the body: (1) Those which, like their archetype the cithara, had a body composed of a flat or delicately arched back and soundboard joined by ribs. (2) Those which, like the lyre, had a body consisting of a vaulted back over which was glued a flat soundboard without the intermediary of ribs; this method of construction predominates among Oriental Instruments and is greatly inferior to the first. A striking proof of this inferiority is afforded by the fact that instruments with vaulted backs, such as the rehab or rebec, although extensively represented during the middle ages in all parts of Europe by numerous types, have shown but little or no development during the course of some twelve centuries, and have dropped out one by one from the realm of practical music without leaving a single survivor. The guitar must be referred to the first of these classes.

The back and ribs of the guitar are of maple, ash or cherrywood, frequently inlaid with rose-wood, mother-of-pearl, tortoise-shell, &c., while the soundboard is of pine and has one large ornamental rose sound hole. The bridge, to which the strings are fastened, is of ebony with an ivory nut which determines the one end of the vibrating strings, while the nut at the end of the fingerboard determines the other. The neck and fingerboard are made of hard wood, such as ebony, beech or pear. The head, bent back from the neck at an obtuse angle contains two parallel barrels or long holes through which the pegs or metal screws pass, three on each side of the head. The correct positions for stopping the intervals are marked on the fingerboard by little metal ridges called frets. The modern guitar has six strings, three of gut and three of silk covered with silver wire. To the thumb are assigned the three deepest strings, while the first, second and third fingers are used to twang the highest strings. It is generally stated that the sixth or lowest string was added in 17oo by Jacob August Otto of Jena, who was the first in Germany to take up the construction of guitars after their introduction from Italy in 1788 by the duchess Amalie of Weimar. Otto 1 states that it was Capellmeister Naumann of Dresden who requested him to make him a guitar with six strings by adding the low E, a spun wire string. The original guitar brought from Italy by the duchess Amalie had five strings,2 the lowest A being the only one covered with wire. Otto also covered the D in order to increase the fulness of the tone. In Spain six-stringed guitars and vihuelas were known in the 16th century; they are described by Juan Bermudo 3 and others.' The lowest string was tuned to G. Other' Spanish guitars of the same period had four, five or seven strings or courses of strings in pairs of unisons. They were always twanged by the fingers.

The guitar is derived from the cithara both structurally and etymologically. It is usually asserted that the guitar was introduced into Spain by the Arabs, but this statement is open to the gravest doubts. There is no trace among the instruments of the Arabs known to us of any similar to the guitar in construction or shape, although a guitar (fig. 2) with slight incurvations was known to the ancient Egyptians.' There is also extant a fine example of the guitar, with ribs and incurvations and a long neck provided with numerous frets, on a Hittite bas-relief on the dromos at Euyuk (c. iooo n.c.) in Cappadocia.' Unless other monuments of much later date should come to light showing guitars with ribs, we shall be justified in assuming that the instrument, which required skill in construction, died out in Egypt and in Asia before the days of classic Greece, and had to be evolved anew from the cithara by the Greeks of Asia Minor. That the evolution should take place within the Byzantine Empire or in Syria would be quite consistent with the traditions of the Greeks and their veneration for the cithara, which would lead them to adapt the neck and other improvements to it, rather than adopt the rebab, the tanbur or the barbiton from the Persians or Arabians. This is, in fact, what seems to have taken place. It is true that in the 14th century in an enumeration of musical instruments by the Archipreste de Hita, a guitarra morisca is mentioned and unfavourably compared with the guitarsa latina; moreover, the Arabs of the present day still use an instrument called kuitra (which in N.Af rica would be guithara), but it has a vaulted back, the body being like half a pear with a long neck; the strings are twanged by means of a quill. The Arab instrument therefore belongs to a different class, and to admit the instrument as the ancestor of the Spanish guitar would be tantamount to deriving the guitar from the lute."

By piecing together various indications given by Spanish writers, we obtain a clue to the identity of the medieval instruments, which, in the absence of absolute proof, is entitled to serious consideration. From Bermudo's work, quoted above, we learn that the guitar and the vihuela da mano were practically identical, differing only in accordance and occasionally in the number of strings.' Three kinds of vihuelas were known in Spain during the middle ages, distinguished by the qualifying phrases da arco(with bow), damano (by hand), da penola (with quill). Spanish scholars" who have inquired into this question of identity state that the guitarra latinawas afterwards known as the vihuela da mano, a statement fully supported by other evidence. As the Arab kuitra was known to be played by means of a quill, we shall not be far wrong in identifying it with the vihuela da penola. The word vihuela or vigola is connected with the Latin fidicula or fides, a stringed instrument mentioned by Cicero 1 as being made from the wood of the plane-tree and having many strings. The remaining link in the chain of identification is afforded by St Isidore, bishop of Seville in the 7th century, who states that fidicula was another name for cithara, " Veteres aut citharas fidicula vel fidice nominaverunt." 2 The fidicula therefore was the cithara, either in its original classical form or in one of the transitions which transformed it into the guitar. The existence of a superior guitarra latina side by side with the guitarra morisca is thus explained. It was derived directly from the classical cithara introduced by the Romans into Spain, the archetype of the structural beauty which formed the basis of the perfect proportions and delicate structure. of the violin. In an inventory 3 made by Philip van Wilder of the musical instruments which had belonged to Henry VIII. is the following item bearing on the question: " foure gitterons with iiii. cases they are called Spanishe Vialles." Vial or viol was the English equivalent of vihuela. The transitions whereby the cithara acquired a neck and became a guitarare shown in the miniatures (fig. 3) of a single 1145., the celebrated Utrecht Psalter, which gave rise to so many discussions. The Utrecht Psalter was executed in the diocese of Reims in the 9th century, and the miniatures, drawn by an AngloSaxon artist attached to the Reims school, are unique, and illustrate the Psalter, psalm by psalm. It is evident that the Anglo-Saxon artist, while endowed with extraordinary talent and vivid imagination, drew his inspiration from an older Greek illustrated Psalter from the Christian East,' where the evolution of the guitar took place.

One of the earliest representations of a guitar in Western Europe occurs in a Passionale from Zwifalten A.D. 118o, now in the Royal Library at Stuttgart.s St Pelagia seated on an ass holds a rotta, or cithara in transition, while one of the men-servants leading her ass holds her guitar. Both instruments have three strings and the characteristic guitar outline with incurvations, the rotta differing in having no neck. Mersenne a writing early in the 17th century describes and figures two Spanish guitars, one with four, the other with five strings; the former had a cittern head, the latter the straight head bent back at an obtuse angle from the neck, as in the modern instrument; he gives the Italian, French and Spanish tablatures which would seem to show that the guitar already enjoyed a certain vogue in France and Italy as well as in Spain. Mersenne states that the proportions of the guitar demand that the length of the neck from shoulder to nut shall be equal to the length of the body from the centre of the rose to the tail end. From this time until the middle of the 19th century the guitar enjoyed great popularity on the continent, and became the fashionable instrument in England after the Peninsular War, mainly through the virtuosity of Ferdinand Sor, who also wrote compositions for it. This popularity of the guitar was due less, to its merits as. a solo instrument than to the ease with which it could be mastered sufficiently to accompany the voice. The advent of the Spanish guitar in England led to the wane in the popularity of the cittern, also known at that time in contradistinction as the English or wire-strung guitar, although the two instruments differed in many particulars. As further evidence of the great popularity of the guitar all over Europe may be instanced the extraordinary number of books extant on the instrument, giving instructions how to play the guitar and read the tablature.