Brief History of the Guitar

Classic GuitarThe history of the classical guitar begins with early forms of the instrument consisting of a body (sound box with incurved sides and a neck with frets) appearing as stone reliefs as far back as 1350 BC. It was not depicted or described by the Greeks or the Romans, but may have survived in the Near East until it eventually appeared in Europe during the medieval period. From this beginning, the story winds through the fifth to the seventh centuries AD. From Egypt the instrument merged into the "Roman period" and then later with the Coptic period.

During the 8th to 16th century when Europe was evolving into an economic power, the instrument developed into a 4 and 6 string instrument, which became popular in the 12th to 15th century AD primarily in Spain, Italy and France. The single 6-string guitar probably evolved in Italy in the middle of the 18th century. Once developed into the 6-string form, the instrument became the most widely accepted form of the guitar.

The role of the classical guitar is more than an instrument to be plucked and strummed. The generic guitar was the favourite musical accompaniment to Western, country and folk singers and balladeers. Hence, it was in those earlier times relegated to a subservient status. However, through the dedicated effort of maestros of the guitar, principally Segovia, the classical guitar has been raised to the level of a concert instrument and today has become a popular medium of expression and is featured increasingly in recitals, ensembles and CD’s as a solo instrument. It behoves us to mention the role Segovia has played in bringing the classic guitar to its present state.

Andres Segovia, 1935Andrés Segovia, 1935

Andrés Segovia, 93-old master of the classical said "When I disappear, I would like my pupils to take the guitar to the world." Clare Callahan, professor of Classical Guitar, at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (CCM) possesses the same sentiments when she sends her pupils out to the world.

Segovia’s career spans the 20th century. It began in 1909 when Segovia gave his first public recital in Granada, Spain. He was a self-taught musician from a humble Andalusia village. His concept of the guitar was that of a small orchestra. It is polyphonic, every string is a different color, a different voice. At that time the classical style was scorned in music circles. His task was to rescue the guitar from folklore.

The composers of stature of that day, Beethoven and Chopin, did not write for the guitar. Segovia played their works anyway—as transcriptions. In this way he built up his confidence to ask them to write for him. Eventually, Segovia persuaded such composers as Heitor Villa-Lobos of Brazil, Federico Moreno-Torrobo of Spain, Manuel Ponce of Mexico, and others to compose original works for the guitar.

Segovia also mastered the art of recording. In the early 1920s recording was done with the primitive technology of cutting grooves in wax rolls with a stylus. As of 1986 Segovia has recorded 300 works on 120 recordings.

Segovia has committed his lifetime to helping young performers. Among Segovia’s students were the brilliant guitarists, John Williams, Christopher Parkening, Oscar Ghiglia and others. Until the guitar’s popularity in the ‘60s, no American conservatory included the guitar in its curriculum. A master class with Segovia was the only opening for most gifted young performers, but at the knee of the master they were apprentices again. The students were amazed at his acuity and attention. He insisted that each student play with feeling and expression. The students never knew when he would say something dry, kind, touching or angry, which kept them alert. Very seldom could a student play a piece from beginning to end without being interrupted.

Oscar GhigliaOscar Ghiglia

Aficionados of the guitar know the name of Oscar Ghiglia well. Since 1974, he has been coming to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (CCM), University of Cincinnati, annually to give concerts and master classes. As a protégé of Segovia, he is one of its most sensitive and distinguished performers. He is the major and perhaps the most persuasive exponent of Segovia-inspired European guitar playing.

Born in 1938 in Livorno, Italy, Ghiglia grew up in an artistic environment; his mother a pianist, his father a painter. While attending Rome’s Santa Cecilia Conservatory, he participated in Segovia’s summer master classes in Siena and Santiago de Compostela. His graduation from the Conservatory in 1962 was followed by several important awards: First Prize in the Orense Guitar Competition; First Prize in the Santiago de Compostela Guitar Competition; and First Prize in the Radio France International Guitar Competition. In 1964, Segovia invited Ghiglia to be his assistant in master classes in California. Since then, Oscar Ghiglia has given concerts and master classes throughout the world. In addition to appearing extensively in all parts of North and South America and Europe, he is a frequent performer in the Far East, Israel, Argentina, New Zealand and the South Pacific, and has recorded for Angel and Nonesuch Records.

While being active as a concert artist, Ghiglia has always favoured teaching as a sister-profession. Very well known guitarists today have at one time or another been in his classes and profited from his lessons. Oscar Ghiglia is now professor of guitar at the Basel Music-Akademie where he teaches post-graduate students and gives summer courses in Europe, America, and the Middle East.

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