Kenneth Angus Hartdegen
In February 1820 Fernando Sor revealed his guitar works to be the product of a “system”, which he explained in his Méthode pour la Guitare in 1830, also announcing his treatise On Harmony Applied to the Guitar. Sor’s “system” may be imagined as an infinitely extensible grammar for guitar, based on the alfabeto principle subjected to thoroughbass conventions. His exploration of the harmonic resources and scordature of the new six-string guitar began in 1796, generating exemplars that he continued to develop in his later works. The application of thoroughbass conventions to alfabeto chords by Santiago de Murcia in his 1714 Resumen de Acompañar la Parte Con La Guitarra, was a precedent for Sor’s “system”. Bordones on the fourth and fifth courses are a defining characteristic of the Spanish guitar, traceable to the vihuela de cinco ordenes of Miguel de Fuenllana in 1554 and continued by Murcia to satisfy the ‘rigorous’ polyphonic style of the Spanish harp, organ and vihuela continuo.
After 1750, the exclusion of the harp from the church led to the development of a seven-course continuo guitar (later the six-course guitar) as the Spanish concomitant of the archlute in Italian opera, which used Murcia’s treatise for its grammar. Unaware of this tradition, Sor composed many works for six-string guitar in Spain, including his Grande Sonata [Op. 22], first advertised in June 1807. When the war in Spain drove him into exile, performing and publishing became his profession. Notation in Sor’s “system” is critically important, as voice leading and note durations are sophisticated indications of his intentions and fingering. The textual authority of Sor’s editions increases when his authorial control over publication is likely, therefore biographical information about his proximity to engravers must be correlated with bibliographical data and an analytical study of his notational principles. Italians like Carulli, Giuliani, and others operated a paradigm using the guitar’s three bass strings as harp-like diatonic basses, which they combined with violin scales and arpeggios. When Sor introduced his Spanish chord-based paradigm into Paris and London he caused a conflict that would only be resolved in the following generation.
Fernando Sor’s Theory of Harmony Applied to the Guitar: History, Bibliography and Context