The Guitar in the Baroque Period, 1600-1750

Baroque guitar with new gut strings, detail of bridge. / University of Edingburgh

By Dr. Júlio Ribeiro Alves / 12.2015
Professor of Music Theory and Guitar
Marshall University

A crucial shift in the evolution of the classical guitar occurred during the Baroque period with the establishment of the five-course as the main type of guitar. The amount of repertory for this instrument and the gradual abandonment of repertory for the earlier four- course model confirm this fact. This chapter focuses on the five-course guitar: its repertory, techniques, composers, new tendencies, and innovations that altered the guitar practices of the period.


Miduel Fuenllana and hist Orphenica Lyra

Instruments in a guitar-like shape containing five courses have been confirmed to exist from at least the end of the fifteenth century as can be seen in an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi dating from circa 1510.[51] The earliest source of five-course guitar music is Orphenica Lyra by Miguel Fuenllana. As previously addressed in this paper, most of the music in the publication of 1554 is intended for the six-course vihuela. Nonetheless, Fuenllana included some pieces for what may be understood as a fivecourse guitar, which he calls vihuela de cinco ordenes.[52] The fifth course appeared as a result of the addition of an extra course in the four-course guitar, a procedure mentioned by Bermudo in his Declaracion. Bermudo’s book was published just one year after Fuenllana’s and refers to the instrument as a guitarra de cinco ordenes.

The fact that both books discuss the existence of a five-course instrument contradicts the belief that Spanish poet and writer Vicente Gómez Martínez-Espinel was responsible for the addition of the fifth course on the guitar. Espinel is also credited for having created the modern poetic form of the decimal (named espinela in Spanish, after him), which seems reasonably acceptable. However, since he was born in 1550, he would be only four years old by the time Fuenllana’s book was published and therefore he could not have been the one responsible for the addition of the fifth course. An important aspect of the guitar music of the Baroque was the shift from the intricate contrapuntal style of playing in vogue during the Renaissance to a new one in which the role of the instrument and the demands for playing it became simpler. This fact certainly gave appeal to the instrument, generating a substantial increase of guitar players in the European societies. One important contributor in this transition was the Italian monody, as mentioned in the last chapter.

Both the late sixteenth-century monodies from Italy and Spain, and the forms of the canzonette and villanelle led to the invention of a notational system for the guitar called Alfabeto. The system was one of the major innovations to be employed throughout the Baroque. It utilized letters of the alphabet and symbols to indicate specific chords. Normally, the chord involved all five courses of the guitar. Before discussing the Alfabeto system, we will look at the origins of the five-course guitar, also termed Baroque guitar.

Stradivarius Guitar 1679, the “Sabionari, one of 5 remaining Stradivari guitars. / British Museum, London

The evolution of the instrument is deeply connected to the predominant styles and to the musical practices of Spain, Italy, and France. During the Baroque, elements indigenous to the music of these countries were constantly crossed over in compositions for the five-course guitar. Itinerant life was common to musicians, and many Spanish, Italian, and French composers left their country of origin and spent some time in another country. This cosmopolitan context may be understood by considering Spanish composers
Juan Aranies and Luis de Briçeño, and the Portuguese Nicolao Doizi de Velasco. Aranies’ Libro segundo de tonos e villancicos a una, dos, tres, y quatro voces… con la zifra de la Guitarra Espanola a la usanza Romana, was published, as the title shows, in Rome (in 1624). Briçeño’s Metodo mui facilissimo para aprender tañer la guitarra a lo Español was also published outside of his native country, and represents the first publication for the five-course guitar in France (Paris, 1626). Velasco represents a curious synthesis of this “Babel-like” context. His Nuevo modo de cifra para taner la guitarra (1640) is a Spanish book published in Naples by a composer of Portuguese citizenship.[53]

According to Richard Hudson, in the introduction of his study of the evolution of the forms that originated in music for the Baroque guitar, “A composer, in turn, acts in response to the broad evolving musical attitudes of his age and his own country.”[54] The concept can be expanded if one considers the itinerant character of several composers and performers in the seventeenth century, which resulted in the composers incorporating several musical styles and expressing a blend of various elements in their own styles. To illustrate the trajectory of the five-course guitar in Europe under this picture, it is appropriate to quote Michael Lorimer in his 1987 publication about Santiago de Murcia’s Saldívar Codex:

Spanish composers drew inspiration from the instruments themselves; in the case of the guitar, this produced interesting, unusual colors and harmonies. Spanish music was, as it is to this day, an exotic hybrid- exuberant, idiomatic, direct, sensual, and vital. The Italian style was rooted in song: it was virtuosic, extroverted, expressive, and disposed to straightforward, lively rhythms, drama and contrast. The French style reflected dance: it was restrained, graceful, impressionistic, and inclined to intricate rhythms, elegance, suggesting, nuance, and balance without symmetry. Voicing these natures, the baroque guitar was born in Spain, grew up in Italy, and flourished in France (Italics are mine).[55]

Spain was indeed the place of birth of the Baroque guitar. Not only the earliest publications of music for the instrument appear in that country, but the fact that the instrument was referred to as chitarra spagnuola in both Italy and France reinforce this notion. The publication of music for the five-course guitar in Spain begins with the publication of Juan Carlos Amat’s Guitarra Española de cinco órdenes in 1596. Amat was a doctor by profession and his book a practical tutor on how to play the guitar by strumming a series of chords.

Amat’s book was highly appealing to the general public and went through several publications during the seventeenth century. I believe many people became interested in playing the guitar concluding that if a non-musician could do it, they also probably could. Evidence of the book’s popularity is shown in its various publications until 1800.

It was not uncommon for people involved with music and composition to be also connected to the church. Three of the composers who contributed to the literature of the five-course guitar were also priests. The first one to be discussed was also the most prominent seventeenth-century guitar composer in Spain. His name was Gaspar Sanz. He graduated in Theology at the University of Salamanca prior to traveling to Italy, where he developed his artistry.[56]


Gaspar Sanz and His Instrucción de Música sobre la Guitarra Española

In 1674, Sanz published Instrucción de Música sobre la Guitarra Española, a book that has been considered “the most comprehensive guitar treatise of its time”.[57] It contains music that confirms the fusion of styles already mentioned, such as the Spanish Villanos, Españoleta, Canarios, and Jacaras, to the Italian Tarantela, Saltaren, and Baile de Mantua, and some styles from other Europeans countries, including some dances in the French style. It features both the rasgueado and punteado styles of playing, although it favors the latter.

Sanz included an explanation of figured bass for the five-course guitar and an interesting section about the rules of fugal writing. His second book, Libro Segundo de cifras sobre la Guitarra Española, was published a year later in Zaragoza. Twenty-two years later, another publication included those books and Libro tercero de cifras sobre la Guitarra Española under the title of the first book.

A contemporary of Sanz and also a priest was the Spanish guitarist and composer Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz. Only three years after San’z Instrucción, he wrote Luz y norte musical para caminar por las cifras de la guitarra Española y arpa, tañer, y cantar a compás por canto de órgano; y breve explicación del arte. The book contains basic tutors for the five-course guitar and the two-course harp. The pieces in it are dances in styles such as passacalles, canarios, jácaras, and others. Ribayaz was greatly influenced by Sanz, which can be confirmed by the extensive quotes from Instrucción.


Francesco Guerau and His Poema Harmónico

In Poema Harmónico, by Francesco Guerau, the last of the priests to be mentioned, one can find similar dance types to those contained in Ribayaz’s book. A major part of his book consists of passacales in every key, and settings of popular pieces such as jácaras, marizapolos, and canarios. The book was published in 1694 and did not employ strummed chords in its music, being all notated in the punteado style. Poema Harmónico has another importance to the evolution of the guitar because it provides the first publication to reveal the use of the bar (called cejuela).

During the second decade of the eighteenth century, more precisely in 1714, another important composer, Santiago de Murcia saw his Resumen de Acompañar la Parte con la Guitarra being published. De Murcia, who studied with Guerau between 1690 and 1700, is considered to have composed some of the very best music for the fivecourse guitar. His book was the last one to appear in tablature in Spain. He was highly influenced by the French school, and composed several instrumental suites that often displayed a prelude, allemande, courante, saraband, and gigue, often followed by optional dances such as bourée, gavotte, menuet, passacaille, and chaconne.

At the end of the seventeenth century Antonio de Santa Cruz wrote Libro donde se veran pazacalles de los ocho tonos i de los transportados, a book featuring various types of Spanish dances and a series of passacalles. The book also exemplifies the use of scordatura, and of both the Catalan and Alfabeto systems.

From Pablo Minguet y Yrol’s Reglas, y advertencies generales par taner la guitarra

The last Spanish publications to be mentioned are Reglas, y advertencies generales par taner la guitarra… by Pablo Minguet y Yrol, and Arte Para Aprender con Facilidad, (y sin Maestro, á templar y tañer rasgado) la Guitarra, (de cincon órdenes o cuerdas, y tambien la de quarto o seis órdenes, llamada Guitarra Española, Bandurria y Vandola, y tambien el Tiple… by Andres de Soto. The first one, published in 1752, actually compiles music contained in the books of Sanz, Amat, Ribayaz, and Murcia. The second, published both in 1760 and in 1764, only reproduces the content of Amat’s book published in 1596.

Changing the discussion from Spain to Italy, while the first was the “birth place” the last was indeed the “growth place” for the instrument. It was the place where players experienced the appearance of the alfabeto system first displayed in Nuova Inventione
d’Intavolatura per sonare li balleti sopra la Chitarra Spagnuola, senza numeri e note by Italian composer Girolamo Montesardo in 1606. Montesardo’s book was the first printed publication of music exclusively written for solo guitar, a decade after Amat’s tutor
became available in Spain.

Foriano Pico’s Nuova scelta di sonate per la chitarra spagnola

Another Italian solo guitar publication was Foriano Pico’s Nuova scelta di sonate per la chitarra spagnola, which seems to have been published two years after the publication of Montesardo’s book. Montesardo did not invent the alfabeto notation, which had been in use for at least two decades prior to the publication of his book, but his book provides a thorough explanation of the system, and it is also a pioneer in combining it with the rhythmic indications of the strokes.[58]

An explanation of the alfabeto is necessary. In the system, several chords were assigned a letter, and each letter indicated a particular chord to be strummed when it appeared in the tablature. It is crucial to a modern player not to be misled by falsely correlating the alfabeto with the modern chord symbols common in popular music. In the former, the letters do not indicate the actual harmony by the letter as it happens in the latter, and some of the letters represented the transposed version of a chord under another letter name.

Some alfabeto books simplified the issue by indicating the transposed version of a chord with the letter of the basic one followed by a number representing its position on the fingerboard (an innovation first introduced in Pico’s book already mentioned). The alfabeto was used in conjunction with a style of playing the guitar known as rasgueado, which is equivalent to what we now call strumming, in which the fingers brush the strings of the instrument. The style was easier than the punteado (in Spain) or pizzicato (in Italy), in which the strings were plucked with the fingers.

Strumming patterns were frequently indicated in the following way: short vertical lines above or below a horizontal line would show the direction in which a chord would be played. Pico implemented this system. He also improved the rhythmic notation system found in Montesardo’s book. A further refinement occurred in the year 1620 in the book by Benedetto Sanseverino (Intavolatura facile…), who added meter signs and bar lines to the rhythmic notation system. The alfabeto letters could be placed either under or above the lines. The rhythmic values would usually be placed on the top. Giovanni Paolo Foscarini further developed the system by adding the symbol “+” after the letter, indicating that a dissonance or suspension had altered the shape of a basic chord. His system was called alfabeto dissonante. Carlo Calvi also brought another refinement to the system, which became known as alfabeto falso and presented different arrangement of dissonances. He used the symbol “*” after the basic letter name. Dissonances were also referred to as lettere false and lettere tagliate.

Two different systems of alfabeto notation existed in Spain. They seem to have originated there, and their use was restricted to that country. They were the Castilian and the Catalan systems. In these systems, the chords are called puntos and are indicated by numbers instead of letters. In addition, the Castilian system used the French tablature instead of the Italian tablature.

Giovanni Paolo Foscarini

Returning to Foscarini, he was the first important seventeenth-century Italian composer for the guitar, being also a theorist, and a performer on the guitar, theorbo, and lute. At some point in his life he left Italy to work in Brussels under the patronage of the ruler of the Netherlands, Archduke Albert Erns (who married the daughter of Phillip II of Spain Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia). He also worked as a professional player in Rome, Paris, and Venice.

After the death of Archduke Albert, Foscarini established himself at Ancona, in Italy. There, he became a member of the Accademia dei Caliginosi. His production consists of five guitar books, although the way to look at this number needs some clarification: he first wrote three books for the guitar, and each newer version would bring contents of the earlier one. Then, later on while in Rome, he expanded his third book to five parts.

Foscarini’s first book no longer exists. The second, published in 1629 is titled Intavolatura di chitarra spagnola, libro secondo and displayed only pieces written in the alfabeto style. The third book, published one year later, was more significant because it mixes the alfabeto with the five-line Italian tablature used in pizzicato (plucking) style. His works depict a highly sophisticated music for the period.[59]

Another guitar book relevant to be mentioned is Vero e facil modo… la chitarra spagnola by Pietro Millioni and Lodovico Monte. The book was published only seven years after the publication of Foscarini’s third book, and features the lettere tagliate system already described.

The popularity of the rasgueado style during the first half of the seventeenth century resulted in the development of the chitarra batente, an instrument specifically intended to be played loudly and used in music that emphasized the rhythmic aspect. Although there is no exact information about its origin, it probably appeared as a modification of regular five-course guitars. It had five courses made of steel, which resulted in a louder sound than the gut strings and could hold the tuning better when performed outdoors. The batente used frets made by either metal or bone (to avoid gut frets to get cut by steel strings).

Chitarra batente

The chitarra batente is associated with the Neapolitan mandolin and like it was played with a plectrum. It is believed to have appeared sometime in the 1740’s. The lack of specific repertoire for this type of guitar reinforces the idea that it was really used to accompany music of popular and folk characters.[60]

Returning to the alfabeto system, its use to convey the simplicity of the style of guitar playing focused on strummed chords and the rasgueado technique was at first greatly appealing to those interested in playing the instrument. However, after some decades, the popularity decreased. Guitar publications became full of clichés and the books tended to repeat themselves, leaving the guitar playing to a stagnated stage. A change in the way of playing the instrument became inevitable.

The gradual loss of interest for the style of playing was probably associated with the natural desire for novelty and challenges in life, also true in guitar playing, making the experience of playing always fresh and interesting. Thus, what occurred was most likely analogous to what happens to a modern player who begins to learn the instrument mainly through strumming techniques and later has the necessity to learn more challenging ways of playing it.

The step forward came with the fusion of strumming and plucking techniques, an aspect already pointed to have occurred in the third book by Foscarini. By 1640 the practice of combining tablature/pizzicato and alfabeto/rasgueado became common. The
mixed tablature would depict the letters of the alfabeto system inside of the Italian tablature, and individual notes to be plucked with the fingers would be then written on the lines of the tablature. A chord that did not have a specific representation in the alfabeto would have each of its members indicated in the tablature.

Other indications of the mixed tablatures include the dual function of the note heads to indicate both the rhythmic function and the type of stroke for the right hand. Thus, note-heads above the tablature staff would be interpreted in the standard context of the Italian tablature system, while the ones inside of the tablature would indicate the direction in which a particular chord was to be strummed. Robert de Visée used this type in his tablatures.

To conclude the topic of mixed tablatures, it is worthy to mention that although most chords would involve all the five courses, some others would use less. In that case, a dot would generally be placed on the line or lines that were not to be played. When a dot was not indicated, the decision would be left for the player to make.

Several composers for the guitar had works published during the seventeenth century in Italy. In the same year of the publication of Sanseverino’s book the Milanese publication Intavolatura di chitarra alla spagnuola… was released. It was the first one of four books by Giovanni Ambrosio Colonna. Another collection was authored by Fabricio Costanzo, and comprised pieces for solo, duo, and quartet formation. Other Italian guitar composers include Antonio Carbonchi, Nicolao Doizi de Velasco, Agostino
Trombetti, Stefano Pesori, and Angelo Michelle Bartolotti, Giovanni Battista Granata, and Ludovico Roncali.[61]

Arcangelo Corelli

Extremely influential during the transition of the seventeenth to the eighteenth centuries was Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). The Italian master was not a guitarist, but a violinist. Yet, his music deeply influenced many composers of the period. Corelli’s contribution to the music literature is represented in his solo sonatas, trio sonatas, and concertos. His pupils became famous musicians at the time, and include names such as Geminiani, Somis, and Gasparini, among others. Geminiani, for example, wrote pieces that include the guitar. Corelli also wrote a famous set of variations on the folias. Sets of variations on this Spanish genre are still approached by contemporary composers such as Roberto Sierra (1953).

A name to be included in the list of significant Italian composers of guitar music is Francesco Corbetta, the most prominent guitarist of the Baroque. Corbetta had quite an interesting career as it can be observed in the progression of jobs and places that he worked and lived. Initially a university teacher in Bologna, he became an employee of the Duke of Mantua, Carlo II, later moving to Brussels to work for Archduke Leopold Wilhelm.

After a period in Spain, where he seems to have published Guitarra Española, y sus diferencias de sonos (now lost), he moved to Paris in 1656 brought by Cardinal Mazarin. There, he raised the popularity of the instrument to a high level despite the antagonism of those in favor of the lute.[62] In the 1660’s he worked for Charles II of England. He returned to France in 1671, year of the publication of La Guitarre Royalle (dedicated to the English monarch) and was a guitar tutor to the Dauphin. Three years a second Guitarre Royalle was published in France, and this time was dedicated to Louis XIV.

The second book (published in 1674) was easier than the first in order to make it comfortable for the king to play the instrument. In both Guitarre Royalles, Corbetta did not use the alfabeto notation, indicating the chords in letter tablature.[63] He had a second stay in London in 1675, and finally returned to Paris, where he worked as the guitar teacher of the French monarch, a position he occupied until his death in 1681. The influence of Corbetta in the development of the guitar was affirmed both in France and in his own country through the successful activities of his pupils. One of them, Giovanni Battista Granata, became his rival in Italy and was known as the most prolific guitar composer of the period in that country. The output of Granata’s work comprehends seven publications during a span of thirty-eight years, from 1646 to 1684. His six pieces for the Chitarra Atiorbata found in his fourth book (published on 1659) are the only printed ones for that instrument, a guitar which possessed extended bass strings placed in a similar way of the lutes with long necks found in that period.

Robert de Visée

Another relevant name in the history of the baroque guitar in France is Corbetta’s pupil Robert de Visée. His music is considered the most refined of the period, and his name is said to be the apogee of the guitar in France during his time. In 1719, similar to his teacher, he occupied the post of guitar tutor of the French king (a post which he resigned after the death of his wife in 1721 being replaced by his son François). Information about de Visée’s early life and musical activities is quite limited.

However, it is known that he worked as a theorbist in 1680 and not too long after that date he became a chamber musician at the court of Louis XIV. He was a colleague of prominent musicians such as the harpsichord master François Couperin, and viola da
gamba player Anthoine Forqueray (de Visée himself was also a viola da gamba player). His legacy to the history of the guitar occurred in the form of two books of compositions for the five-course instrument and another one devoted to the lute and the theorbo. The first guitar book by de Visée was Livre de guitare, dedié au Roy, published in 1682. It uses both tablature and music notation in different parts of the book, and employs a scordatura tuning in the pieces of the last key group. As I was gathering
information about de Visee’s books, I crossed with the following citation by Tyler and Sparks:

The music is grouped according to key, but not arranged into formal suites… Visee’s book, like those of many Baroque guitar composers, seems to be offering players the materials from which to form their own suites.[64]

The characteristic mentioned above, of allowing the players to organize their own suites, seems to have been adopted in another source which states that the book “contains 59 pieces, grouped into eight dance suites, with one miscellaneous piece.”[65]

The presence of both types of notation systems is also a feature of his second book Livre de pièces pour la guitare, dedié au Roy, released in 1686. The pieces in this book are easier than those of the first, according to the composer. Again, according to Tyler and Sparks, the pieces are not organized into specific suites, although I found the same discrepancy between them and the other source.[66] The last of de Visée’s publications is the 1716 book titled Pieces de theorbe et de luth mises en partition, dessus et basse, a collection of eighty-six pieces for theorbo and lute, arranged into ten suites. As stated by the title, the pieces were all on two staves, displaying a melody and a figured bass.

François Campion

Also highly regarded guitar composer among the French guitarists was François Campion. In 1705 he published Nouvelles Découvertes Sur la Guitarre, Contenantes plusieurs suittes de Pieces sur huit manieres differentes d’accord, which is compound of several suites in distinct tunings. Campion also played the lute and was given, by Louis XIV, the title of Professor of Théorbo and Guitar at the Royal Academy of Paris in 1703. In the same year of the publication of de Visée’s book for the theorbo and lute, Campion wrote a treatise on accompaniment.

The discussion about composers and publications for the five-course guitar in France can be concluded with the names of other two composers: Anthoine Carré and Rémy Médard. The former wrote two books of guitar tablatures. The first one, published in 1671 under the title “Livre de Guitarre Contenant Plusieurs Pièces…Avec la Manière de Toucher Sur la Partie ou Basse Continue” included both pieces for the solo guitar and a method. The second one, Livre de Pièces de Guitarre de Musique… contains diverse pieces by Corbetta, and also features ten ensemble pieces for two guitars, a melody instrument (“dessus”) and basso continuo.

A pupil of Corbetta, Rémy Médard also left his contribution to the literature of the Baroque guitar in France with his only guitar book, “Pièces de Guitarre”, published in Paris in 1676. The content of the book continues the tradition of the organization of individual pieces into suites. It also contains instructions about ornamentation and rhythm, as well as one guitar duet.

The popularity of the five-course guitar in Spain, Italy, and France led to the dissemination of the instrument to other regions, such as England, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany (and the Austrian Empire), Portugal, and even further to the New World. Guitar practices in these countries were basically related to those in vogue in the main centers. Therefore, the account related to the guitar in each one of these places is limited to a brief overview of the guitar in England, the Netherlands, and Germany. It seems that the Baroque guitar was not in use in Germany until the middle of the seventeenth century, more precisely in 1652. This is the date of the first printed source of guitar music known from that country, a manuscript written in French tablature signed by a certain “Freiherr DE Döremberg.” The manuscript, written by two different scribes, contains music that resembles the style of Corbetta as well as others in the French lute style.[67]

The only Germanic publication including music for the guitar is Jakob’s Kremberg’s Musicalische Gemüths-Ergötzung, a collection of songs published in Dresden in 1689 in which the guitar can function as either as a solo instrument or as a member of an ensemble. In addition to this collection, there are several manuscripts containing guitar pieces notated in French tablature (although the some was notated in Italian alfabeto). From the twenty-three manuscripts mentioned by Tyler and Sparks, only nine were actually written sometime in the seventeenth century.[68]

The Baroque guitar became known in England around 1640. Reinforcing what has been said in the last paragraph, the guitar practices in that country were highly driven by those in France and Italy. The fondness for French styles in England also relates to the nine-year exile of King Charles II at the French court and in The Hague. In the same fashion as Louis XIV, the English king was both an admirer and a practitioner of the guitar. In fact, it is relevant to remember that both monarchs came to study with Francesco Corbetta at different periods of the composer’s life.

In the case of Charles II, that occurred after he replaced the Portuguese musicians (who had arrived in England in 1661 with his new wife Catherine of Braganza, the daughter of John IV of Portugal) by Italians. The royal interest for the instrument led to its inclusion in theatrical productions and court masques. In these events, the guitar occupied a similar role to the one it had in France.[69]

Nicola Matteis

Although guitar publishing was not active in England as it was in the other centers, one outstanding guitar publication appeared in London in 1682. It was written by the Italian musician Nicola Matteis and titled False consonance della musica per toccar la chitarra sopra all partie in breve… The book is an extensive treatise in the art of continuo playing. Two years prior to that publication, another continuo treatise was written by Cesare Morelli, a guitarist born in the Netherlands who worked for Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator and member of the English Parliament known by his diary, in 1674.

There are few documented sources of guitar music from the Low Countries. One is Les Principes de la guitarre, a short didactic work by French guitarist Nicolas Derosier published in Amsterdam in 1689.[70] Derosier published Douze ouvertures pour la guitare…op.5… in The Hague in 1688, but one can only speculate about its content because no copy of the book has been found.

At this point, the focus of the discussion can be directed to another aspect of the five-course guitar: tuning. Looking back at the two mentioned publications for fourcourse guitar that featured music for the five-course one, those by Fuenllana and Bermudo, we find two distinct tunings. Fuenllana’s tuning was the same as the one of a six-course vihuela without the first course, while Bermudo’s was similar to that of the four-course instrument with an added string a perfect fourth higher than the first course. Sanz presented the following two as being the preferred ones in Spain, in which music favored strumming rather than plucking: aa/d’d’/gg/bb/e’ and Aa/dd’/gg/bb/e’[e’]. At this point, the clear connection with the tuning of the modern guitar seems almost impossible not to be observed. The Spanish preference for the presence of the bourdons relates to the fact that chords could be played with a louder and fuller sound, more efficiently fulfilling the role of the instrument in accompanying dances.

A later source regarding the tuning of the Baroque guitar is Pablo Nassare’s Escuela musica (Zaragoza, 1724), a music theory work written in two volumes. In the first volume, Nassare mentions that although the instrument had various tunings, the most commonly depicted the following order of intervals:

The fifth course is a second above the third course, the fourth course a fifth above or a fourth below [the third course], the second a third [above the third course], and the first a fourth above the second course, or a sixth above the third course.[71]

The Italians did not share the Spanish favoritism towards the bourdons. In Italy, the pizzicato technique was well developed, and the contrapuntal character of the pieces in the Italian style did not call for the inclusion of the bourdons. The tuning was then a re-entrant one (aa/dd/gg/bb/e). Corbetta (and also de Visée) used a slightly different form that had a bourdon on the fourth course (aa/Dd/gg/bb/e).

De Visée used the same tuning of Corbetta, which was natural, since he was a pupil of the Italian master. An earlier tuning, G/Cc/E/A/d, found in a drawing by French Jacques Cellier dating from 1585 seems to be a mistake. Tyler defends that the correct
should be GG/Cc/FF/AA/d[d].[72] The latter seems quite reasonable, since it would be a transposition of the tuning presented by Amat and Sanz. Although the Cellier tuning is most likely wrong, the same cannot be said about the one given by Briçeño in his Metodo mui facilissimo… which reveals another type of re-entrant tuning which did not contain any bourdons (AA/dd/GG/BB/e).

Several types of scordatura tunings have been used in guitar music. Campion, for instance, used eight scordatura tunings in his book (Bb/D/G/C/ F; B/D/G/C/F#; Bb/C/G/C/Eb; B/C/G/C/E; B/D/G/C#/F#; C/D/G/C/F; B/D/G/D/G; A/D/G/B/E.). Granata also employed five different tunings (ADFAD, AC#EAC#, ACFAC, AC#F#BE and ADF#AD) in his “Soavi Concenti di Sonate Musicali per la Chitarra Spagnuola . . . Opera Quarta.” Antonio de Santa Cruz was another composer who used scordatura (in a fantasia and a passacalle at the end of his book).

As previously noted, the five-course guitar experienced an enormous growth in popularity during the seventeenth century. The instrument was easier to be learned than the lute. Thus, a music lover who would have to endure a long journey in order to master
the lute could, through the rasgueado technique, accompany dances or songs popular at the time in a much shorter period of practice with the instrument. Also, it was much more expensive to buy a good lute and its several strings than a five-course guitar. The Baroque guitar was favored among the Italian aristocracy. The fondness influenced the art of the guitar makers, resulting in instruments with a high level of craftsmanship. This can be observed through the exoticism of the materials used, such as ivory, ebony, madre pearl, and even gold, and in the intricacy of details found in the rosettes, and ornamented sound holes. Italy was the center of guitar construction in the first decades of the seventeenth century, until the demand for instruments built in France became more common during the 1640’s. By the second half of the century, the instrument was being constructed in several parts of Europe.

The five-course guitar is of great relevance to discuss the four important musical forms that are rooted in music composed for the instrument. They were the folia, the saraband, the chaconne, and the passacaglia. Both Spain and Italy were “cradles” of the four forms, which originated around 1600 in the popular music of these countries. Montesardo’s book of 1606 in Florence was the starting point of the documented evolution of these forms.[73]

Italian composers were particularly fond of the process of variation resulting in a large use of this resource in the folia, in the passacaglia (passacaglio), and in the chaconne (ciaccona). The rasgueado provided a perfect setting for the development of these forms, each displaying a particular chordal framework, and depicting an ostinato repetition of the same four-bar phrase (the folia was the exception). Over a period of thirty to forty years, these forms gained a more elaborate harmonic framework, and also increase in rhythmic complexity.

Contrasting the approach of the other three forms, the exhaustive subjection to variation was not characteristic of the saraband, at least not in Italy. On the other hand, technique was featured in a simple pattern common in Spain. The cultural crossing over among the main European musical centers led to the appearance of a later type of saraband, the zarabanda francese, during the second decade of the seventeenth century. In its evolution, the saraband abandoned its concern with harmonic frameworks in favor of the free sectional structure that we know now, and became typical in French suites. Since the extensive study of the forms is not the main objective of the current paper, a short, yet informative description of each form will be provided beginning with the folia. There were two types of that form, each one with a different framework. Although the harmonic framework of both types occurred within sixteen measures, they differed from each other. The next two examples illustrate the different harmonic frameworks for the folia:

Ex.2a: Harmonic Framework of the Earlier Folia

Ex.2b: Harmonic Framework of the Later Folia

The Saraband can be divided into three types. The first one is the Spanish saraband, which displayed a fast tempo and a melody associated with an ostinato harmonic framework. This type was mostly featured in the first half of the seventeenth century in Spain and in Italy. The second type is the fast French saraband. In spite of the name, this form of saraband was slower than the Spanish one, and had no ostinato, being marked by a distinct rhythmic figure. It entered into Italy around 1615, where it became the prominent type.

The last type was the slow French saraband. It had no ostinato, and it featured the slowest tempo of the three types. It appeared in France around 1631, and gradually resulted in the main French type. The following illustration shows the main rhythmic figures of the two types of French saraband:[74]


[LEFT]: Ex.3a: Rhythmic Figure of the Fast Type of French Saraband
[RIGHT]: Ex.3b: Rhythmic Figure of the Slow Type of French Saraband

Among the four forms in discussion, the passacaglia was the most explored in the guitar books of the Baroque. With few exceptions, the guitar passacaglias before 1640 portray a steady succession of eighth notes performed with a constant pattern of downdown-up strokes. The triads of a passacaglia in the major mode were usually major, while both the tonic and the subdominant triads are minor in the other mode.

Occasionally, the minor subdominant triad would appear in the major mode, or a major subdominant would be used in the minor one. In fact, both types of subdominant chords would eventually occur in the same phrase. Regardless of these alternatives, the most regular harmonic framework of the passacaglia was I-IV-V-I (or i-iv-V-i). The main rhythmic structures used in conjunction with the basic harmonic or bass schemes of the passacaglia are given below:[75]

Ex.4: Examples of Rhythmic Structures for the Bass Scheme or the Passacaglia

The combination of guitar and percussion instruments was used to accompany a text that was sung in the Spanish chaconas. The phrases that compounded the guitar accompaniment were repeated as an ostinato for the individual lines of the text. The variation chacona was particularly important after 1625 in vocal music. After the emergence of the punteado style, the form gradually disappeared in guitar music at the end of the century.

Two main trends resulted in distinct types of chaconnes in France. The earlier type occurred in lute and keyboard music, while the later was an orchestral form. The guitar chaconne (ciaccona) prior to 1640 was always in triple meter, constantly depicting four measures in 3/4. Opposed to the famous chaconne later composed by Bach and so well known to modern guitarists as a result of Andrés Segovia’s transcription, the majority of the early ciacconas for the guitar were written in the major mode. Three distinct but related patterns represented the fundamental harmonic patterns of the ciaconnas. Each one of them would be associated with various rhythmic structures. The next illustrations show each one of the three bass schemes followed by two selected rhythmic structures.[76]

Ex.5a: Chaconne Bass Schemes

Ex.5b: Rhythmic Structures of the Three Chaconne Bass Schemes of Ex.5a


  1. The picture of the engraving can be found in Tyler (p. 19), Wade (p. 15), Turnbull (plate 7).
  2. Tyler, 35.
  3. Francisco Guerau, Poema Harmónico, transc., Thomas Schmitt (Editorial Alpuerto: Madrid, 2000), 19.
  4. Richard Hudson, The Folia, vol.1 of The Folia, the Saraband, the Passacaglia, and the Chaconne: The Historical Evolution of Four Forms that Originated in Music for the Five-Course Spanish Guitar (Stuttgart: Hänssler-Verlag, 1982), xi.
  5. Michael Lorimer, Salvidar Codex No.4, Vol.1: The Manuscripts (Santa Barbara: Michael Lorimer, 1987), vii.
  6. Turnbull mentions that a study by Luis Garcia-Abrines leads to the conclusion that the Gaspar Sanz who studied theology at the University of Salamanca is not the same as the composer. Considering that both Ruiz de Ribayaz and Santiago de Murcia were priests, I disagree with the interpretation and consider that Sanz was also one.
  7. Richard Strizich, “Gaspar Sanz,” in Stanley Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., Vol. 22 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 268.
  8. Tyler and Sparks, 52-54. Tyler and Sparks inform that his real name was Girolamo Melcarne, but he changed the last name adopting the name of his town of birth.
  9. Gary R. Boye, “Giovanni Paolo Foscarini,” in Stanley Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 2nd ed., Vol. 9 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 115.
  10. Bacon, 13.
  11. Graham Wade, A Concise History of the Classic Guitar (Pacific: MO, Mel Bay Publications, 2001), 38-39.
  12. Turnbull and Tyler indicate that Corbetta went to France in 1656. Wade mentions 1653.
  13. Turnbull, 51.
  14. Tyler and Sparks, 114.
  15. (accessed on July8, 2006).
  16. presents the book as containing four suites and five miscellaneous pieces.
  17. Tyler and Sparks, 140.
  18. Ibid, 145-147.
  19. Ibid, 123-124.
  20. Ibid, 128. Ten years later, Derosier published a second didactic book in Paris (Nouveaux principes pour la guitare…).
  21. Monica Hall, “The Stringing of the Five-Course Guitar,” Robert McKillop Home Page, (accessed on September 4, 2006).
  22. Tyler, 38.
  23. Hudson, xi. The author is careful to inform the existence of two folias prior to the publication of Montesardo’s book, although they are cited as exceptions.
  24. Richard Hudson, The Sarabande, vol.2 of The Folia, the Saraband, the Passacaglia, and the Chaconne: The Historical Evolution of Four Forms that Originated in Music for the Five-Course Spanish Guitar (Stuttgart: Hänssler-Verlag, 1982), xvi.
  25. Richard Hudson, The Passacaglia, vol.3 of The Folia, the Saraband, the Passacaglia, and the Chaconne: The Historical Evolution of Four Forms that Originated in Music for the Five-Course Spanish Guitar (Stuttgart: Hänssler-Verlag, 1982), xvi.
  26. Richard Hudson, The Chaconne, vol.4 of The Folia, the Saraband, the Passacaglia, and the Chaconne: The Historical Evolution of Four Forms that Originated in Music for the Five-Course Spanish Guitar (Stuttgart: Hänssler-Verlag, 1982), xiv-xv.

From The History of the Guitar: Its Origins and Evolution, by Júlio Ribeiro Alves