Classical guitar and early plucked instruments
THE GUITAR IN SPAIN BETWEEN THE 17th. AND 18th. CENTURIES
SANTIAGO DE MURZIA AND THE SALDÍVAR CODEX
The guitar was one of the most popular instruments in the Iberian Peninsula during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Covarrubias, in his well-known Tesoro de la lengua castellana of 1611, states that “the guitar has no more musical value than a cowbell. It is so
easy to play, especially if the player just strums at the instrument, that every stablehand now considers himself a guitarist.” A forceful statement indeed, but it is true that guitar tutors such as that written by the Catalan, Joan Carles i Amat, with more than ten editions between 1626 and 1800, served to give the instrument great popularity among the common people.
Typical of the repertoire performed during this period are the works of Santiago de Murzia. We know very little about the composer, but it seems he was a pupil of Francisco Guerau, and was a musician and guitar teacher in the service of Queen María Luísa of Savoy, Philip V’s first wife. Murzia was certainly the most international of Spanish baroque guitarists.
While Murzia’s early works show thorough knowledge of punteado (plucking) technique, for instance in his Resumen de acompañar la parte con la guitarra, published in 1717, he is better known for another source – the Saldívar Codex no. 4, a manuscript in tablature for 5-course guitar. It is generally accepted that this manuscript is the first part of a much larger collection of guitar music whose second volume written in the same hand and in the same format, is the Passacalles y obras, dated 1732, whose index bears the title “segundo tomo” (second volume).
The first volume is the more interesting work, and contains a representative collection of music in a more popular style than that of the Passacalles y obras. It was purchased from a Mexican bookseller in the 1940s by the respected musicologist, Gabriel Saldívar, after whom it is named.
Thanks to the more popular character of the music, we can obtain a good idea of what would have been performed at a musical gathering in Spain or South America around 1700, with the guitar as the central instrument. We will not here discuss the question of whether the manuscript is of Spanish or South American origin, but it is clear that the music it contains has its roots in Spanish tradition.
CODEX, the CD
The works recorded on this disc have been chosen by David Murgadas from the Saldívar Codex to give an overview of how the simpler music of the period was played, incorporating the dance rhythms that were in fashion at the time. The fandango, romanesca, folias, jácaras, tarantelas and other forms constitute a rich and varied sound world.
The fact that the music has a strong popular character does not necessarily imply that the pieces are easy to perform. Some of the works on this disc demand considerable technical skill from the musician.
We have used the sound of popular instruments such as the hurdy-gurdy, castanets and the skirl of the bagpipe to give extra colour to the music. These instruments and, others considered more élitist such as the violin, add a sense of improvisation and a degree of timbral variety.
We have thus tried to obtain a different result from the usual, more academic versions of this repertoire – a new, fresher approach, probably less “courtly”, but much more natural for a musical genre which has been little explored even today.
(Art historian and violinist, specialising in music of the 17th and 18th centuries)