Portrait by J. Goubaud,
engraved by M.N.Bate
Photograph by Roger Viollet, Paris
Fernando Sor (1778-1839) was born in Spain, fought in the Napoleonic Wars, then traveled to the major capitals of Europe - Paris, London, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, and St. Petersburg - teaching the guitar, playing concerts, and composing all sorts of music: songs, ballet music, piano music, and of course the guitar compositions for which he is famous. . . . The first thirty-five years of his life he spent in Spain, where he received his musical education, established a career and a reputation, and composed many works.
It was a significant period in his life for its length, for his musical formation, and for his material and artistic achievement . . . From this period we have an opera, a cantata, a motet, Spanish patriotic songs, and pieces for solo guitar, as well as a number of Spanish seguidillas for voice and guitar or piano which have only recently come to light. The symphonies and string quartets, which we know he composed at this time, have unfortunately disappeared. Those works that survive show a man who was well aware of the Spanish native tradition and contributed to it above all in his seguidillas, but who also looked outwards, to Italian opera, to Mozart and to Hayden. They are confident and talented works, and they show a character of their own when compared with Sor's later music composed outside Spain. The early guitar pieces have vigor, the later ones delicacy; the early seguidillas clearly stand within a living tradition, while the later boleros show the disintegration of exile.... Although Sor never returned to Spain, he retained a strong emotional attachment for his country all his life, and we may almost assume from a letter he sent to King Fernando VII of Spain (accompanied by a manuscript copy of his overture to Hercule et Omphale) (probably between 1826 and 1828) that he wished to return. Presumably no reply was sent; none is known, and Sor remained an exile, living in Paris and mixing more and more with the Spaniards who lived there. At the end of his life, it was Spaniards who supported him, were at his side when he died on July 10, 1839, and provided his tomb in the Cemetery of Montmartre, where it can be seen today.