Episode 1.

Fernando Sor: A Pivotal Figure in Classical Guitar History


Fernando Sor (1778-1839), born in Barcelona, Spain, was a prolific composer, virtuoso guitarist, and an influential figure in the world of classical guitar music. His compositions and contributions to the guitar repertoire transformed the instrument’s role from an accompaniment instrument to a solo instrument capable of expressing a wide range of emotions.

Fernando Sor displayed an early aptitude for music, beginning his musical studies at a young age. He initially learned to play the cello and later took up the guitar. He was born in a well-to-do-family or career soldiers, and it seemed he would be destined to also be a professional in the military. 

However, his love of music, notably opera, overtook him and by the agree of 12 he was enrolled in music studies at the school at the Barcelona Cathedral. His formal education included studying at the renowned monastery of Montserrat, where he received instruction in music theory and composition. Sor’s talent as a guitarist quickly became evident, and he gained recognition for his technical prowess and musical sensitivity.

Sor’s career as a guitarist and composer flourished during a time when the guitar was transitioning from a supporting instrument to a prominent solo instrument. He composed an extensive body of work, including solo pieces, chamber music, and concertos, showcasing the guitar’s versatility and expressive capabilities. Sor’s compositions embraced various musical styles, including classical, romantic, and Spanish folk music, revealing his ability to blend technical virtuosity with musical depth.

Sor’s most notable contributions can be found in his didactic works for the guitar. His “Méthode pour la guitare” (Method for the Guitar), published in 1830, remains an essential pedagogical resource for guitarists to this day. Sor’s method revolutionized guitar instruction, emphasizing the importance of proper technique, fingerings, and musical interpretation. It laid the groundwork for future guitar methods and greatly influenced subsequent generations of guitarists and educators.

Sor’s compositions embody a distinctive blend of technical brilliance and melodic lyricism. His musical style demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of form, harmony, and counterpoint, infused with Spanish influences. Sor’s ability to create beautiful melodies within complex musical structures is evident in works such as his “Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart” and “Grand Solo in D Major.” These compositions showcase his mastery of thematic development and provide ample opportunities for the guitarist to display technical virtuosity.

Sor’s music often exhibits a refined elegance and sensitivity, reflecting the influence of the Classical period. His compositions embody the characteristics of the era, with clear melodies, balanced structures, and meticulous attention to detail. However, Sor’s music also foreshadows the Romantic era, with its emphasis on expressiveness and emotional depth. This amalgamation of Classical and Romantic elements contributes to the enduring appeal of his compositions.

Fernando Sor’s impact on the classical guitar cannot be overstated. He played a crucial role in elevating the guitar’s status as a solo instrument within the realm of classical music. Prior to Sor’s contributions, the guitar was primarily associated with accompanying singers or as a part of small ensembles. Sor’s compositions showcased the guitar’s potential as a solo instrument, inspiring future generations of composers and guitarists to explore its capabilities further.

Sor’s influence extends beyond his compositions. His pedagogical contributions continue to shape guitar education. His emphasis on proper technique, musicianship, and interpretation laid the foundation for contemporary guitar instruction methods. Guitarists worldwide owe a debt of gratitude to Sor for his systematic approach to teaching the instrument, which has guided countless students on their path to mastery.

Moreover, Sor’s compositions have remained popular and frequently performed throughout the years. His works continue to be studied and recorded by guitarists of all levels. Many of his pieces, such as the “Variations on a Theme by Mozart” and the “Grand Solo in D Major,” have become staples of the classical guitar repertoire, delighting audiences and challenging performers.

In the Suzuki Books we first encounter his work in Book 4, with ‘Lesson’,  followed right after by ‘Etude’. Then we meet up with Sor again in Book 5 with Minuet and Trio, then Book 6, with not one but two Rondo’s. Definitely one of the most returned-to composers in the Suzuki Books, and for good reason. The aforementioned “Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart” shows up in Book 9, and is one of the capstone pieces of the Suzuki Guitar books, along with Francisco Tarrega’s “Capricho Arabe”, “Recuerdo’s de La Alhambra” and of course “Asturias” by Isaac Albeniz. 

Fernando Sor stands as a towering figure in the history of classical guitar music. His virtuosity, compositional genius, and pedagogical contributions have left an indelible mark on the guitar world. Sor’s music showcases the guitar’s potential for both technical brilliance and emotional expression. His innovative approach to guitar composition and teaching transformed the guitar from a mere accompaniment instrument to a solo instrument of the highest order. The legacy of Fernando Sor continues to resonate through his compositions, pedagogical works, and the profound influence he has had on generations of guitarists, solidifying his status as a pivotal figure in classical guitar history.