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John Patykula is the Assistant Chair and head of the Guitar Program in the Department of Music at Virginia Commonwealth University" and can be reached at

  • The Baroque Guitar Before Sanz
  • Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710)
  • The Music of Sanz
  • Baroque Guitar Tunings
  • The Alfabeto System
  • The Music of Gaspar Sanz in the 20th Century
  • Conclusion
  • Sources

    Beginning in the late sixteenth century and into the eighteenth century, the appeal of the five-course Baroque guitar to the general public was due to several factors. The lute, which had reached its height of virtuosity through the music of geniuses like John Dowland (1563-1626) of England and Denis Gaultier (c.1603-1672) of France, posed many problems for the amateur and beginning student. The complexity of the music of the lute was enough to make a beginning student shy away from the instrument. The French lutenists, in particular, used so much ornamentation that just to read the music became a great challenge. Adding to the problem was the tendency of the lutenists to use extra strings; some of John Dowland's music, for example, was written for a seven-course lute with three additional basses. In addition, the prohibitive cost of a good lute with the necessary strings (which often needed replacing), frets, and pegs drove one critic to complain that in Paris it cost as much to own a lute as it did to keep a horse.

    The Baroque guitar of Spain offered simplicity. With limited instruction, one could at least provide a simple accompaniment to a popular song or dance of the day through the use of the rasqueado ("strumming") technique. Thus, the lute and the noble vihuela, a Spanish plucked instrument of the sixteenth century, were discarded for the more popular Baroque guitar. The lack of interest in the vihuela prompted one writer from that time to bemoan its loss "?.now the guitar is no more than a cowbell, so easy to play, especially rasqueado, there is not a stable lad who is not a musician on the guitar." In short, the highbrow music of the lutenists and vihuelists gave way to the popular songs and dances of the common man.

    During the years of the rise of the Baroque guitar, Dr. Juan Amat published his important treatise Guitarra Español de cinco ordenes (1596) ("Spanish Guitar of five courses") which became quite popular and appeared in reprints until 1784. This was the first guitar method and was written in response to the impatient Spanish guitar students, "since their music teachers become exhausted with trying to teach them this art of guitar-playing in the three days the pupils demand." Dr. Amat's treatise provides the beginner with the basis instruction on how to play the Baroque guitar rasqueado style. Amat discusses such topics as tuning, the formation and the fingering of chords, and how to accompany popular dances in any key. The rasqueado style is presented in great detail in this treatise, thus satisfying the demands of the public for the simple, popular accompaniment.

    Amat, an amateur musician, wrote his little treatise at the same time that the Florentine Camerata was stressing the need for simplicity in music. Based on their theories of ancient Greek drama and music, the members of the Camerata did away with polyphony in favor of monody. The amateur musicians who made up the Camerata needed the genius of Claudio Monteverdi (1562-1643) to bring their theories to the ideal manifestation. Amat's method, limited in scope, provided the foundation for the work of a genius who was to appear years later---Gaspar Sanz, one of the first Spanish guitar virtuosi.

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    GASPAR SANZ (1640-1710)

    Gaspar Sanz has been called "the outstanding man of the guitar in seventeenth century Spain." In spite of this praise, surprisingly little is known about his life. What is known about this great artist and his travels offers insights into his development as a guitarist and composer.

    Sanz was born in 1640 to a prosperous family in Calanda in the province of Aragòn, a region of Spain that is known for its folk dances. He attended the University of Salamanca where he studied theology, philosophy, and music. He graduated with a Bachelor of Theology degree and later became a Professor of Music there. Sanz traveled to Italy where he studied organ and theory with G. C. Carissimi and guitar with Lelio Colista. For several years, Sanz was organist of the Spanish Viceroy in Naples, a city whose popular dances would later inspire some of his guitar works. Just as the popular music of Naples aroused the creativity of the Spaniard Sanz for his guitar compositions, the popular music of Spain and, in particular, the sound of the guitar would inspire the Neapolitan Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757) for his harpsichord sonatas some years later.

    Sanz later traveled to Rome where he became acquainted with the music of the great Italian guitarists Foscarini, Granata, and Corbetta, whom he called "the best of all." (It is interesting to note that, although Sanz thought highly of the Italian guitarists and learned from them, it is his music that is played frequently today while the Italians' guitar music is rarely heard.) It was probably from this period that Sanz adopted the re-entrant tuning, which was used by most of the Italian guitarists, and the alfabeto chord system, which originated in Italy. Besides the new techniques learned by Sanz in Italy, the popular music of Italy would exert considerable influence on him as a composer.

    Sanz returned to Spain and was appointed instructor of guitar to Don Juan, the natural son of King Philip IV and Maria Calderon, a noted actress of the day. It was for Don Juan that Sanz wrote his first book, Instrucciòn de Mùsica sobre la Guitarra Española, first published in 1674 in Saragossa. A second book entitled Libro Segundo de cifras sobre la guitarra española was printed in Caragoza in 1675. A third book, Libro tercero de mùsica de cifras sobre la guitarra española, was added to the first and second books, and all three were published together under the title of the first book in 1697. It is his masterpiece and, at the same time, his only known contribution to the repertory of the guitar. Yet from these inspired pages, songs and dances of three hundred years ago remain favorites with classical guitarists and audiences alike.

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    Instrucciòn de Mùsica sobre la Guitarra Española by Gaspar Sanz is a complete instruction book covering all the aspects pertaining to the Baroque guitar. It provides the player with a wide selection of pieces in both punteado ("plucked") style and rasqueado ("strummed") style. This is not a book for the simple strumming of chords-it is a serious contribution by a well-trained virtuoso who desires to impart his knowledge and love of music and the Baroque guitar. Sanz's book is for those who wish to excel in this art.

    The majority of the pieces are dances in the punteado style. The stately Pavanas and Galliardas are reminiscent of sixteenth century Spanish court music and the aristocratic vihuelists. The Españoleta, one of Spain's most beautiful melodies, is treated in variation form, a form that the Spanish composers excelled in; this haunting melody inspired many Baroque guitarists to compose their own versions. The Canarios, perhaps the most popular of all of Sanz's works, is a musical portrait of the lively, syncopated dance from the Canary Islands. Other dances like the Villano or "village dance" and Jacaras, inspired by the songs of the ox-cart drivers, offer attractive musical snapshots of Spanish life of that time. Sanz projects a strong nationalistic trait through these selections.

    While the Spanish flavor dominates, Sanz's book also presents a "cosmopolitan" view of musical life in the Baroque era. Baile de Mantua, La Tarantela, and Saltaren are inspired by the music of Italy, while La Minina de Portugal, Zarabanda francesa, and Jiga inglesa musically represent other European countries. And while the popular elements govern the majority of the selections, an explanation of figured bass realization for the Baroque guitar raises the level of musical sophistication of this book over the other tablature books of the time. Sanz even includes a brief section on the rules of fugal writing, demonstrating their use through an actual sketch of a fugue composed specifically for the Baroque guitar. These important aspects suggest that Sanz was writing for a more musically advanced segment of the Baroque guitar population and, perhaps, was encouraging further serious study of all the aspects of the theory of music.

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    The tuning of the Baroque guitar in the music of Gaspar Sanz is often viewed as unique, even surprising, to modern guitarists. In the evolution of the guitar, it is worth noting how the tuning has changed over the centuries and why the tuning of Sanz is so novel.

    Starting with the sixteenth century vihuela, its tuning has much in common with the modern guitar. The vihuela was an instrument of six double strings, or courses, and had intervalic tuning identical to that of the modern guitar with the exception of the third course, which was tuned to F sharp.

    Example 1. Tuning for the Vihuela

    One can easily understand why the music of the vihuelists such as Luys Milan and Luys Narvaez is so easily transcribed for the modern guitar.

    At the close of the sixteenth century, Amat's treatise for the popular Baroque guitar appears and shows a distinct change in tuning. The Baroque guitar has only five courses with the third course now tuned to G and bourdons (octaves) on the fourth and fifth courses. The sixth course is eliminated.

    Example 2. Tuning of Amat's Baroque Guitar

    The transmission of this popular style of tuning can be seen even today with the twelve-string guitar, which is mostly used for song accompaniment. Notice the use of the bourdons (octaves) on the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth strings.

    Example 3. Tuning of the Modern Twelve-String Guitar

    Some seventy-five years after Amat's first publication, the transformation in tuning continues with the music of Sanz and other Baroque guitarists of his day. The Baroque guitar evolves into a treble instrument with its peculiar re-entrant tuning.

    Example 4. Re-entrant Tuning used by Sanz

    Note how the fourth and fifth courses are no longer the basses they once used to be. Instead they are now in the treble range. This curious tuning was used by the Baroque guitarists to create the campanellas effect, which was very popular in Italy. The campanellas ("little bells") effect was created by using as many open strings as possible. "The notes of the scale passages are allowed to ring on, one note melting into the next in the manner of harps or bells," creating a "charming confusion of tones."

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    An interesting characteristic of Baroque guitar tablature, particularly in the music of Gaspar Sanz, is the use of the alfabeto (or abecedario) chord system, which was a type of shorthand notation used with the rasqueado style of playing. This system, which was devised by the Italian guitarists, used capital letters to indicate the common chords. These letters, however, had nothing to do with the particular harmony of the chords. For example, the letter "C" indicated the D Major chord, while the letter "A" indicated the G Major chord.

    Example 5. Excerpt of the Italian Alfabeto System
    Example 6. Transcription of the above exerpt

    In Amat's treatise, the chord system is presented in two ways. Besides the alfabeto system, he uses numbers to indicate the various chords. When using this number system, the letters "n" and "o" are used to designate the major and minor chords respectively. This suggests that the alfabeto system of the Italians was still new to the Spanish guitarists and had not become the standard notation.

    Sanz presents the alfabeto system in the same clear Italian style as the above example. Absent are Amat's numbers. Both Amat and Sanz provide engravings which show the correct placement of the fingers on the guitar to form each chord. However, in Amat's treatise there are no musical selections for use of these chords. Sanz, on the other hand, provides several pieces for the guitarists, utilizing songs of the day such as Españoleta and Canarios in the popular rasqueado style. Several of the songs are also presented in punteado ("plucked") style, thus requiring the guitarist to play in both styles. This is a sophisticated and creative approach to guitar playing made enjoyable through the use of the popular songs and dances.

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    The music of the Spanish Baroque guitarists and the sixteenth century vihuelists attracted the attention of the Spanish musicologist Felipe Pedrell (1841-1922). Pedrell, a proponent of the Spanish nationalistic movement, influenced composers like Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909), Enrique Granados (1867-1916), and Manuel de Falla (1876-1946) to write works inspired by the folk music and the great musical heritage of Spain.

    For the guitar, the work of Emilio Pujol (1886-1980) is especially noteworthy. His numerous editions of the old masters, like Sanz, transcribed for the modern guitar, have been popular for decades. Pujol, who was regarded as an authority on vihuela and Baroque guitar music, followed the principles for transcribing music established in 1909 by the International Congress on Musicology in Vienna. Through his scholarly and artistic work, the music of Sanz has become a staple of the modern classical guitar repertory.

    The music of Sanz inspired the great Spanish composer Joaquìn Rodrigo (1901-1999) to create a unique work for the repertory of the classical guitar. Rodrigo's Fantasìa para un Gentilhombre, composed in 1954 for the Spanish virtuoso Andrès Segovia (1893-1987), is one of the most popular and colorful works for guitar and orchestra. The composer stated:

    "I thought that the only thing worthy of Segovia would be to place him together with another great guitarist and composer, born in the XVII century, a gentleman in the court of Philip IV, Gaspar Sanz. I consulted Segovia himself, who approved the plan, but not without first warning me of the difficulties of its realization, saying that I would have to work with themes which were very short. Right away, Victoria, my wife, selected for me from the book of Gaspar Sanz a short number of themes which we judged appropriate to form a sort of suite-fantasia and which we very soon decided to call Fantasìa para un Gentilhombre, playing thus on the names of these two nobles of the guitar: Gaspar Sanz and Andrès Segovia, in his turn Gentleman of the Guitar of our days.

    "All of the thematic material, except for certain brief episodes in the last movement, is derived, as is no small part of the harmonic texture, from the work of Gaspar Sanz, who was employed by Philip IV of Spain, and more especially by his son, John of Austria.

    "Musical taste had greatly changed in the years that passed between the reigns of Philip II and Philip IV. Unlike poetry, music had too faithfully followed the pull of the people, and had been extensively popularized. To the noble grace of pavanes and galliards there succeeded the lighter style of marzipanos, villanos, españoletas, canarios, and so on, which were more appropriate to the hurly- burly of the popular theatre than the palace balls. The dances which Gaspar Sanz wrote on these and other tunes?? faithfully reflect these tastes and manners, and are, for the most part, short, simple and light."

    Through the creative energies of Rodrigo, the music of Sanz was reborn and clothed in modern harmonies. The Fantasìa para un Gentilhombre is one of those rare works which has helped to secure the place of the classical guitar in the concerto repertory of most orchestras.

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    Throughout the history of the guitar, four important Spanish masters have emerged who, through their artistry and work, have propelled the guitar's existence and popularity to the present day. The earliest maestro was Gaspar Sanz, who was followed much later by Fernando Sor (1780-1839), Francisco Tàrrega (1852-1909), and, in modern times, Andrès Segovia. Segovia's legacy also included inspiring important composers to write works for the classical guitar, as well as teaching the next generation of performers. One such disciple of Segovia was the Mexican guitarist Jesùs Silva (1914-1996) who was world-renowned as a performer and, perhaps more importantly, as a teacher. Silva often included works by Sanz in his recitals. Silva's thoughts about Sanz form a fitting tribute to this great historical figure in the history of the guitar:

    "It was a fortunate happening that the great Spanish guitarist and composer Gaspar Sanz -from Aragòn-was employed by Philip IV of Spain and became guitar teacher of Philip's son, Prince John of Austria. This was after Sanz came back from Italy, where he studied under the famous Roman organist G.C. Carissimi and other great Italian musicians and guitarists.

    "It is possible that Gaspar Sanz, when being the musician of Philip IV, was inspired to write his Instrucciòn Musical Sobre la Guitarra Española in which he dedicated to his illustrious disciple. The work contains important theories and, especially, a good collection of dances of Sanz's time.

    "As it is well known, the Spanish composer Joaquìn Rodrigo used some of those dances in his Fantasìa Para un Gentilhombre (Fantasy for a Gentleman) dedicated to Andrès Segovia, the Gentleman, who played it very beautifully. Rodrigo himself said: 'The Fantasy retains the spirit of the 17th Century Spanish atmosphere evoked by the themes of the Spanish Baroque guitarist Gaspar Sanz."

    "Sanz was a magnificent composer. He knew well the art and science of composition. His music is beautiful, and in it one can feel the nobility of his spirit.

    "Surely Rodrigo knew that Sanz was another "Gentilhombre." Perhaps Sanz's ecclesiastical studies at the University of Salamanca, where he he also studied Music, contributed to the nobility of his spirit and his music."

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    Amat, Juan Carlos. Guitarra Española. Gerona: Joseph Bro, circa 1761. Facsimile reprint, Monaco: Editions Chanterelle S.A., 1980, 56pp.

    Bukovzer, Manfred F. Music of the Baroque. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Co., 1947. 489pp.

    Chase, Gilbert. The Music of Spain. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1959 (second edition). 383pp.

    Hamilton, Mary Neal. Music in Eighteenth Century Spain. Urbanna: The University of Illinois at Urbanna, 1937. 283pp.

    Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd edition., Willi Apel, editor. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1972. 935pp.

    Larousse Encyclopedia of Music, The. Geoffrey Hindley, editor. New York: Crescent Books, 1987. 576pp.

    Livermore, Anne. A Short History of Spanish Music. New York: Vienna House, 1972. 262pp.

    Turnbull, Harvey. The Guitar from the Renaissance to the Present Day. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1974. 168pp.

    Tyler, James. The Early Guitar. London: Oxford University Press, 1980. 176pp.

    Wade, Graham. Traditions of the Classical Guitar. London: John Calder, 1980. 270pp.


    Jenson, Richard and Rowe, Don. "Baroque Guitar for the Modern Performer," in Guitar Review. Vladimir Bobri, editor. Vol. 49 (Fall 1981), pp. 22-25.

    Jacket Notes

    Jacket notes from Ponce: Concierto del Sur. Rodrigo: Fantasìa Para Un Gentilhombre. Andrès Segovia, guitar. (Decca Records DL 10027).


    Calvi, Carlo. Intavolatura Di Chitarra E Chitarriglia. Bologna: Giacomo Monti, 1646. Facsimile reprint, Firenze: Studio Per Edizione Scelte, 1980. 33pp.

    Noad, Frederick. The Baroque Guitar. New York, London, and Sydney: Amsco Publications, 1974. 127pp.

    Pujol, Emilio. Hispanae Citharae Ars Viva. Mainz, London, New York and Tokyo: Schott, 1956. 16pp.

    Sanz, Gaspar. Instrucciòn De Mùsica Sobre La Guitarra Española. Zaragoza: Los Herederos de Diego Dormer, 1697. Reprint facsimile, Geneva: Minkoff Reprint, 1976.

    Sanz, Gaspar. Collection. Transcribed by Alexander Bellow. New York: Franco Columbo, Inc., 1967. 10pp.


    Silva, Jesùs. Personal letter to John Patykula. 1990.