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Renaissance Workshop Company
The foremost manufacturer of early musical instruments worldwide

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History

Instruments similar to what we know as the guitar have been popular for at least 5,000 years. The guitar appears to be derived from earlier instruments known in ancient central Asia as the cithara. Instruments very similar to the guitar appear in ancient carvings and statues recovered from the old Iranian capital of Susa.

During the Middle Ages, guitars with three, four, and five strings existed. The Guitarra Latina had curved sides and is thought to have come to Spain from elsewhere in Europe. The Guitarra Morisca, brought to Spain by the Moors, had an oval soundbox and many sound holes on its soundboard.

The gittern, English for Renaissance guitar, is a musical instrument resembling a small lute or guitar. It is related to but is not a citole, another medieval instrument. The gittern was carved from a single piece of wood with a curved ("sickle-shaped") pegbox. An example has survived from around 1450.

By the fifteenth century, four double-string guitars, similar to lutes, became popular, and by the sixteenth century, a fifth double-string had been added. During this time, composers wrote mostly in tablature notation.

The written history of the classical guitar can be traced back to the early sixteenth century with the development of the vihuela in Spain. While the lute was then becoming popular in other parts of Europe, the Spaniards did not take to it well because of its association with the Moors . They turned instead to the four string guitarra, adding two more strings to give it more range and complexity. In its most developed form, the vihuela was a guitar-like instrument with six double strings made of gut, tuned like a modern classical guitar with the exception of the third string, which was tuned half a step lower.

Italy was the center of guitar world during the 17th century, and the Spanish school of guitar making only began to flourish late in the 18th century after the addition of the sixth string.

During the 19th century, improved communication and transportation enabled performers to travel widely and the guitar became a widely known instrument. Guitar music became especially popular in Spain and Antonio de Torres developed the Spanish guitar in its modern form, with a broadened body, increased waist curve, thinned belly, improved internal bracing, single string courses replacing double courses, and a machined head replacing wooden tuning pegs.

Renaissance guitar

A direct predecessor of the classical guitar, the renaissance guitar was used throughout Europe in the sixteenth century.

It has pairs of strings called courses, like a lute or vihuela, but its unique sound and style are a result of using so few of them.

Having only four courses, the renaissance guitar was used not only for solo fantasias and dances but often formed the basis of many ensemble combinations using flamboyant rasgueado.

A direct predecessor of the classical guitar, the renaissance guitar was used throughout Europe in the sixteenth century.

The renaissance guitar was a four-coursed instrument, although five-coursed guitars existed; the first was single or double and the other three double. Having only four courses its unique sound and style are a result of using so few of them.

Although no historical four-course instruments have survived, it is clear that their dimensions were fairly small, not only because the pictorial sources, but also in the music written for it, some of which requires great stretches of the left hand fingers, extremely difficult to achieve on a larger instrument. This instrument used gut strings and moveable frets. The tuning of the Renaissance guitar was not as standardized as lute tuning was at that time. Usually, the thicker basses were matched with thinner octave strings in order to avoid too dull a sound.

During the Renaissance, the guitar may well have been used as it frequently is today, to provide a simple strummed accompaniment for a singer or a small musical group. However, there were also several significant music collections published during the sixteenth century containing contrapuntal compositions for guitar approaching the complexity, sophistication and breadth of repertory of those appearing in some publications for lute from the same time period.

It should be noted that the use of names for instruments was not very consistent during the sixteenth century, and some occurrences of words that are cognates for the modern English word “guitar”, particularly the Italian “chitarra,” may in fact refer to a small four-course instrument with a body in the shape of a lute.

Baroque guitar

The Baroque guitar is a guitar from the baroque era (c1600-1750), an ancestor of the modern classical guitar. The term is also used for modern instruments made in the same style.

The instrument was smaller than a modern guitar, of lighter construction, and had gut strings. The frets were also usually made of gut, and tied to the neck. A typical instrument had five courses , of which either four or five were double-strung making a total of nine or ten strings.

The conversion of all courses to single strings and the addition of a bass E-string occurred during the era of the early romantic guitar.

At the dawn of the seventeenth century in Spain, a new style of five course guitar playing evolved incorporating punteado (plucked notes) and rasgueado (strumming). It is know as the baroque guitar.

Some pieces employed either plucking or strumming but as baroque music developed - particularly at the height of the French court of Louis XIV - the techniques combined, creating a new complexity in baroque guitar music.

Among the composers who wrote extensively for the instrument were Robert De Visee and Gaspar Sanz.

Romantic guitar

The Romantic guitar is the guitar of the Romantic period of classical music (c.1815-1910). It is the immediate precursor of the modern classical guitar, and was the first significant period of classical guitar repertoire. By this time guitars were standardised as six-string instruments (compared to, for example, the Baroque guitar with nine or ten strings paired to make five courses).

The earliest extant six string guitar was built in 1779 by Gaetano Vinaccia (1759 - after 1831) in Naples, Italy. The Vinaccia family of luthiers is known for developing the mandolin. This guitar has been examined and does not show tell-tale signs of modifications from a double-course guitar. Authenticity of guitars before the 1790's is often in question. This also corresponds to when Moretti's 6-string method appeared, in 1792.

 Classical guitar

The evolution of the classical guitar and its repertoire spans more than four centuries. It has a history that was shaped by contributions from earlier instruments, such as the Renaissance guitar, vihuela, and the baroque guitar.

The classical guitar, also known as the "nylon string guitar" or "Spanish guitar" — a reference to its origin, not repertoire — is a musical instrument from the family of instruments called chordophones.

The classical guitar is characterised by:

  • its shape — modern guitar shape, or historic guitar shapes
  • its strings — traditionally made of gut, but today primarily nylon; the bass-strings additionally being wound with a thin metal thread
  • the instrumental technique — the individual strings are usually plucked with the fingers or the fingernails, as opposed to using a plectrum or pick

 


     
 

 

 

Versions

  


     
 

 

 

Construction

  


     
 

 

 

Tuning

The tuning of the Renaissance guitar was not as standardized as lute tuning was at that time. Some examples are given below. Juan Bermudo (1555, León) provided two tuning schemes for an instrument in “A,” with octaves on the lowest courses. Scipione Cerreto (1601, Naples) utilized a re-entrant tuning scheme for an instrument in “B,” with both strings of the fourth course an octave higher than might be expected.  

 


Sound and technique

  


     
 

 

 

Popularity and repertoire

classical guitar

The popularity of the classical guitar has been sustained over the years by many great players, arrangers, and composers. A very short list might include, Gaspar Sanz (1640-1710), Fernando Sor (1778-1839), Mauro Giuliani (1781-1829), Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909), Agustín Barrios Mangoré (1888-1944), Andrés Segovia (1893-1987), Alirio Diaz (1923), Presti-Lagoya Duo (active from 1955-1967: Ida Presti, Alexandre Lagoya), Julian Bream (1933), and John Williams (1941).

Renaissance guitar

During the Renaissance, the guitar may well have been used as it frequently is today, to provide a simple strummed accompaniment for a singer or a small musical group. However, there were also several significant music collections published during the sixteenth century containing contrapuntal compositions for guitar approaching the complexity, sophistication and breadth of repertory of those appearing in some publications for lute from the same time period. Some important printed sources are listed below

• Tres Libros de Mvsica en Cifras para vihvela. En el primero ay mvsica facil y dificil en fantasias: y ComPosturas: y Gallardas: y AlGunas fantasias pora guitarra. ... – Alonso Mvdarra, pub. Iuan de Leõ, Sevilla, 1546. (Brown, 154614)

• Premier Livre de Tabvlatvre de Gviterre, contenant plusieurs Chansons, Fantasies, Pauanes, Gaillardes, Almandes, Bransles, tant simples qu’autres – Adrian le Roy, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1551. (Brown, 15513) • Brefve et facile instruction pour apprendre la tablature a bien accorder, conduire et disposer la main sur la guiterne – pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1551. (Brown, [1551]4)

• Second Livre de Gviterre, contenant plvsievrs Chansons en forme de voix de ville: nouuellement remises in tabulature – Adrian le Roy, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1552, 1555 [=1556]. (Brown, 15568)

• Tiers Livre de Tabvlatvre de Gviterre, contenant plusieurs Préludes, Chansons, Basse-danses, Tourdions, Pauanes, Gaillards, Almandes, Bransles, tant doubles que simples – Adrian le Roy, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1552. (Brown, 15523)

• Qvart Livre de Tabvlatvre de Gviterre, contenant plusieurs Fantasies, Pseaulmes, & Chansons: auec L’alouette, & la Guerre – Gregoire Brayssing, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1553. (Brown, 15533)

• Cinqiesme Livre de Gviterre, contenant plusieurs Chansons a trois & quatre parties, par bons & excelns Musiciens: Reduites en Tabulature – Adrian le Roy, pub. le Roy & Ballard, Paris, 1554. (Brown, 15544)

• Le Premier Livre de Chansons, Gaillardes, Pavannes, Bransles, Almandes, Fantaisies, reduictz en tabulature de Guiterne – Guillaume de Morlaye, pub. R. Granlon & M. Fezandat, Paris, 1552. (Brown, 15525)

• Le Second Livre de Chansons, Gaillardes, Padvanes, Bransles, Almandes, Fantasies, reduictz en tabulature de Guiterne – Guillaume de Morlaye, pub. Michel Fezandat, Paris, 1553. (Brown, 15534)

• Le Troysieme Livre contenant plvsievrs Dvos, et Trios, auec la bataille de Ianequin a trois, nouuellement mis en tabulature de Guiterne – Simon Gorlier, pub. R. Granlon & M. Fezandat, Paris, 1551. (Brown, 15511)

• Qvatriesme Livre contenant plvsievrs Fantiasies, Chansons, Gaillardes, Paduanes, Bransles, reduictes in Tabulature de Guyterne – Guillaume de Morlaye, pub. Michel Fezandat, Paris, 1552. (Brown, 15526)

• Libro de Mvsica para Vihuela, intitulado Orphenica lyra. En [e]l q[ua]l se cõtienen muchas y diuersas obras. – Miguel de Fuenllana, pub. Seville, 1554. (Brown, 15543)

• Selectissma Elegantissimaque, Gallica, Italica et Latina in Guiterna Ludenda Carmina, quibus adduntur & Fantasie, Passomezzi, Saltarelli, Galliardi, Almandes, Branles & simila, ... – pub. Pierre Phalèse, Louvain, & Jean Bellère, Antwerp, 1570. (Brown, 15704)   


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Last modification: 17 de septiembre de 2010
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