19th-Century Guitar Methods Anyone?

19th-Century Guitar Methods Anyone?

I’m in the middle of writing the second volume of the Mel Bay Classical Guitar Method—the first volume has been out for six months and I’m sure some students will have gotten through it already. Ideally, the entire series should have been published at the same time, but we don’t live in an ideal world…

I’ve been scouring my collection of 19th-century guitar methods for attractive, usable material (working on the first volume I wasn’t able to find any usable preexisting material – everything seemed to me far too difficult for the beginning stages of learning a new instrument).  Wading through these old volumes again, it occurs to me that the primary purpose of many of these publications was not so much effective instrumental instruction as effective recruitment and retention — of recreational adult students and patrons.

Of the many dozens of guitar methods from the time, only a few are still around. Carcassi, Sor and Aguado are about it and, of these, two are of interest as historical-philosophical documents rather than as practical instruction books. Of course, as we all know, the Sor Methode isn’t a method book at all (in the sense of being something someone could learn to play the guitar from). But neither is Aguado’s Nueovo Metodo, despite the fact that it has all the appearances of being one (in reality, it’s an exhaustive exposition of Aguado’s guitaristic philosophy which, for my money, contains little of genuine use to a beginning guitarist).

The Carcassi Methode op. 59, on the other hand, is a book that could be used to teach a beginner (or near-beginner), though I’m sure most teachers today would agree that it has pedagogical gaps, especially for non-adult students. Of course, this is a book that has remained in print (in one form or another) for well over 150 years. And rightly so. It’s filled with attractive music and is organized in a no nonsense way with none of the “discussion” that characterizes the methods of Sor and Aguado.

Another early 19th-century didactic work, which although widely available is rarely thought of as a method, is Giuliani’s four-part Studio per la Chitarra Op.1. Here we are presented with what was surely the foundation of the great virtuoso’s approach to the instrument: 120 arpeggio patterns, 16 grueling interval studies for the left hand and a collection of short pieces (including a section dealing with ornamentation) which are fully fingered for both hands. There’s hardly any instructional text, but what we have here are the fingering systems employed by the most formidable guitarist-performer of his time.

What of the remaining “many dozens” of 19th-century guitar methods? There’s a bit of gold here.

The first crop were published toward the end of the 18th-century, for the five-string guitar; among them, Porro, Doisy, LeMoine, Moretti, LaBarre, Bailleux, Merchi, Pollet, Carpentier and others. The main point of business in all of these is right-hand arpeggio technique (and usually very little else). Some interesting techniques are presented which, although avoiding the right-hand ring finger, include interesting patterns that involve dragging (”glissing”) one or more of the remaining fingers across multiple strings. The musical portions of most of these methods present an almost endless series of variations on ubiquitous chord progressions such as the Folies d’Espana which cycle through a catalogue of right-hand arpeggio patterns. Nothing too inspiring for today’s beginning student however.

A real gem among these early methods is Charles Doisy’s Principes Generaux, published in 1801 with a dedication to no less a figure than Madame Bonaparte (later “Empress Josaphine” and a supporter of Giuliani). This is a most lavish volume which must have cost a small fortune to produce (paid for by its dedicatee?) and is a forerunner to the analytically enlightened methods of Sor and Aguado. While Doisy’s Principes is available from Minkoff Reprints in a modern facsimile reprint, what isn’t available is the large “Supplement” and “Second Part” that contain the actual music to be studied! The musical content of these sections far exceeds the interest level of other guitar methods of its time, and includes what seems to be the first appearance in the guitar literature of named “etudes” for the guitar. These consist of fairly extended fantasie-type study pieces whose multiple sections move through a quite extended range of modulations. The specific organizational scheme of the etudes by key area is also interesting:

No. 1 in c-minor
No. 2 in C-major
No. 3 in d-minor
No. 4 in D-major
No. 5 in e-minor
No. 6 in E-major

And so on through F-mi/maj, G-mi/maj, A-mi/maj and B-mi/maj.

Moving more fully into the 19th-century, we encounter a figure who must surely have been one of the most successful guitar teachers of his or any other time: Ferdinando Carulli. His Methode Complete Op. 27, published around 1811 is an enjoyable book to play through, containing very little text but lots of attractive pieces (the ones that tend to crop up in student repertoire books today, including my own). Things get involved quite quickly though—by p.48 Carulli has presented his “Rondo that exercises all the positions,” all 120 measures of it. Still, Op 27 has much to commend it, even beyond the attractiveness of the pieces, especially the somewhat innovative inclusion of the 25 very playable “Student-Master” duets that  comprise part three of the method. And to finish: a “Grande Etude: modular arpeggio for all the keys and positions” —  c.250 measures of surreal arpeggio and modulation hell (that I’d love to perform sometime!).

And there’s more Carulli to be mined. Much more. For example, “Second Suite” Op. 71 (a supplement to the Methode Complete consisting of extended arpeggio, slur and interval studies); “The First Year of Guitar Study” Op 192 (another supplement to the Methode Complete which includes an etude in octaves cast in a fully-developed sonata-allegro form); Op 241 (a remake of the Methode Complete in polyphonic notation in which Carulli has rethought his approach to right-hand fingering); “25 Useful and Agreeable Preludes” Op. 114 (great title!); “25 Pieces” Op 121, and the several large “Recueils” of student pieces.

The Carcassi we all know and love should probably appear next in this survey, but I’d like instead to mention two methods by Francois Molino: Grand Methode Complete, Op. 33 and Nouvelle Methode. The first of these is an elaborate effort, quite lavishly produced and includes numerous attractive pieces in the form of easy to play quasi-concert miniatures replete with miniature cadenzas. The Nouvelle Methode simplifies things further but without ever sacrificing musical attractiveness. Molino, being a violinist and Capellmeister, was one of the more musically adept of the early 19th-century guitarists and it’s a pity that his concert works for the guitar are relatively few. There’s real quality here.

Moving into the later part of the century, Mertz’ Guitarre Schule is a bit of a let down, especially in light of the musical attractiveness of the easy pieces in such collections as Bardenklange and the large recreational panoramic set of 136 “popular songs from diverse countries,” published as KuKuk (”Cuckoo”). The right-hand alternation exercises are interesting though. Legnani’s method is equally disappointing—it contains hardly any music (though we do at least have his high-quality etudes, published as 36 Capricci, Op 20). Napolean Coste’s revision of the Sor method, on the other hand, is a clever and practical effort. The approach to left-hand fingering and shifting presented by Coste is particularly interesting and the music itself is unvaryingly attractive. Was all of it written by his teacher, Sor? I rather doubt it.

Moving on to the end of the century, I’d like to mention two methods that are stacked with attractive music: those by the blind Spanish/Argentine guitarist Antonio Gimenez Manjon and the British vaudvillian Ernest Shand. And, why not, the large scale method of American Justin Holland (although it is largely a collection of studies by Carulli and others).

Once out of the 19th century things change. The 3-volume method of Pascual Roch and the 4-volume method of Emilio Pujol, both based first-hand on the technical and pedagogical systems of their teacher Francisco Tarrega, present something that is intended not for recreational use but for mastery. The process employed is clinical, consisting of months, even years, of abstract finger training. Almost all of the music is advanced, even virtuosic.

In contrast, Argentine Julio Sagreras’ multi-volume method, also dedicated (though second-hand) to the “School of Tarrega,” reminds us of the methods of Carulli and Carcassi with it’s endless procession of attractive pieces. But we’re all familiar with the Sagreras method.

Not all of the methods I’ve touched upon here are easy to get hold of. Some of them can be downloaded from the digital libraries in Sweden (Boije) and Copenhagen (RIBs). Others can be ordered from IGRA (International Guitar Research Archive) at Northridge State University. All three volumes of Roch’s interesting exposé of the “Tarrega method” can be downloaded from the Eastman School of Music digital library. Most are worth a look and many are deserving of a modern edition, at least of their musical content.

Where does all this leave me and book 2 of the Mel Bay Classical Guitar Method? Still writing most of it myself I’m afraid…


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