A lithographed painting of Fernando Sor, c.1825
|Born||Baptized 14 February 1778 (date of birth unknown)
|Died||10 July 1839
Josep Ferran Sorts i Muntades (baptized 14 February 1778 – died 10 July 1839) was a Catalan classical guitarist and composer. While he is best known for his guitar compositions, he also composed music for a wide range of genres, including opera, orchestra, string quartet, piano, voice, and ballet. His ballet score Cendrillon (Cinderella) received over one hundred performances. Sor’s works for guitar range from pieces for beginning players to advanced players such as Variations on a Theme of Mozart. Sor’s contemporaries considered him to be the best guitarist in the world, and his works for guitar have been widely played and reprinted since his death.
As Sor's works were published in various countries, his name was translated, leading to variations in the spelling. Variations have included Joseph Fernando Macari Sors, Fernando Sor, Ferran Sor, Ferdinand Sor, and Ferdinando Sor.
Born in Barcelona to a fairly well-off family, Sor was descended from a long line of career soldiers, and intended to continue that legacy, but was distracted from this when his father introduced him to Italian opera. He fell in love with music and abandoned his military career goals. Along with opera, Sor's father also introduced him to the guitar, which, at the time, was little more than an instrument played in taverns, thought to be inferior to orchestral instruments.
At a young age, Sor’s parents were wary of giving his musical abilities too much special attention, because his father was afraid that it would distract from his Latin studies. Therefore, the very young Sor (less than 11 years old) began to write songs to words in Latin to impress his parents. He even invented his own system for notating music, as he had not yet received formal training.
When he reached the age of 11 or 12, the head of the Barcelona Cathedral took notice of his talent, and the young Sor was enrolled in the school there. Not long after Sor's enrollment his father died, leaving his mother without the funds to continue his education at the Cathedral. However, at around the same time Joseph Arredondo, the new abbot of Santa Maria de Montserrat, the famous monastery at Montserrat, heard of his talent. Arrendondo provided funds for him to attend the Escolania de Montserrat, the choir school located at the monastery. Sor reveals in writings, mainly from the last ten years of his life, that he was greatly attached to this place, and had fond, nostalgic memories of his childhood there. Unfortunately, his mother began to see that Sor was becoming greatly distracted from his “chosen” path in the military or administration, and following the advice of friends took him out of the monastery and placed him in military school for four years. It was not a terrible turn of events, as he had much free time to play and compose music in the army as well.
In 1808, when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain, Sor began to write nationalistic music for the guitar, often accompanied by patriotic lyrics. Sor was even part of traveling military bands that would play protest music on the streets. He was also promoted to captain in Córdoba and may have fought battles against the French at this time. After the defeat of the Spanish army, however, Sor accepted an administrative post in the occupying government. Here he was to be officially labeled an afrancesado along with the other Spaniards who abandoned their defense of Spain to embrace the French Revolutionary ideas. After the Spanish repelled the French in 1813, Sor and other afrancesados left Spain for fear of retribution. He went to Paris, and never returned to his home country again.
Paris, London, and Moscow
Having completely abandoned his family’s ideal of a military or administrative post, Sor could finally give music a serious try in France. He gained renown at first as a virtuosic guitarist and composer for the instrument. When he attempted composing for operas, however, he was rejected by the French as a composer. His Op. 7 was a large and strange piece, strangely notated in three clefs, and no guitarist at the time could play it. Since France was no longer supportive of his music, Sor decided to try his talents elsewhere.
In 1815, he went to London, England, to attempt to build a stronger music career there. Again, he started to gain considerable fame as a guitarist, and even gave guitar and voice lessons. Since ballet in London was a more popular genre than opera, Sor decided to try his hand at this new area of music. He began to have considerable success this time, especially with his ballet Cendrillon, the most successful of his works in its own day.
By 1823, once he had acquired a level of fame in London, Sor again wandered away, this time with the ballerina Fèlicitè Hullen to Moscow in her quest to become a prima ballerina. Not much is known about his time in Russia, however, though much has been exaggerated about his romantic and professional life there. After three years in Moscow, he traveled around Europe giving concerts, getting into music circles everywhere he went.
In 1827, due partly to his advancing age, he settled down and decided to live out the rest of his life in Paris. It was during this retirement that he composed the majority of his guitar works. He had to comply with the demands of the public, though, and most guitarists wanted simple, nice-sounding pieces to practice that didn't require any special technical ability. It was in these last ten or so years of his life that his writings reveal his bitterness towards his career for the instrument. For example, Op, 43 is entitled Mes Ennuis (“My Annoyances”), and six of his ballets are dedicated to “whoever wants them.” These and other caustic remarks did not help his sales in the least. The foreword to Op.45 goes even further than sarcasm: “Let’s see if that’s that. Six short and easy pieces in stages which aim to lead to what has generally been agreed are difficulties. Composed and dedicated to the person with the least patience, by Fernando Sor. Opus 45.”
"The creative worth of Sor's guitar sonatas is high. The ideas, which grow out of the instrument yet stand up well enough apart from it, are fresh and distinctive. The harmony is skillful and surprisingly varied, with bold key changes and with rich modulations in the development sections. The texture is naturally of interest too, with the melody shifted from top to bottom, to middle, and frequent contrapuntal bits added. Among the extended forms, the first Allegro movements still show considerable flexibility in the application of 'sonata form', especially in the larger number of ideas introduced and recalled. For that matter, the style still goes back to that of Joseph Haydn and Mozart, especially in the first movement of Op. 22, which has all the neatness of syntax and accompaniment to be found in a classic symphony, and its third and fourth movements, which could nicely pass as a Minuet and Rondo by Haydn."—The sonata in the classical era (published 1963) (p. 664) by William S. Newman
"How should one perform Sor's music? I believe the answer is with considerably more freedom, expression and passion than has, for the most part, been done in the recent past. Sor, in his method of 1830 has much to say about the use of tone color on the guitar and even discusses how to imitate the various orchestral instruments. This use of color is something that is very uncommon amongst modern guitarists. Ironically Sor says very little about other aspects of expression, but other guitar methods from the era do recommend much use of portamento, arpeggiation of chords, and other expressive devices which most people today consider anachronistic and completely out of style in the interpretation of the guitar music from this very era! (It never ceases to amaze me how so many modern guitarists and musicologists [...] don't even consider the wealth of material and instruction from Sor's era which cries out that this music is meant to be expressed with such devices as dynamics, tone color, portamento, chordal arpeggiation [...]. These same modern guitarists with the conspiratorial support of supposedly enlightened musicologists will often perform this music, sometimes on a "period" guitar, and use practically none of the above-mentioned expressive devices.)"—Fernando Sor – Master Composer For Guitar?
The first piece from Sor's Opus 31, c.1828
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One of Sor's most popular compositions is his "Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart", Op. 9. It is based on a melody "Das klinget so herrlich, das klinget so schön!" from The Magic Flute, which Mozart composed in 1791.
Méthode pour la Guitare
Sor's Méthode pour la Guitare was first published in Paris in 1830 and translated into English by A Merrick in 1832 under the title Method for the Spanish Guitar .
Sor was a prolific and, in his time, quite popular composer—and there was a great demand for him to compose material that was approachable by less accomplished players. The resulting body of instructional studies he produced is not only noteworthy for its value to students of the guitar, but for its inherent musicality. Much of this work is organized in several opuses (in increasing order of difficulty): Opus 60 (25 lessons), Opus 44 (24 lessons), Opus 35 (24 exercises), Opus 31 (24 lessons), Opus 6 (12 studies) and Opus 29 (12 studies).
Instruments used by Sor
Sor undoubtably played guitars by Pierre René Lacôte, mentioning: "M. Lacote, a French maker, the only person who, besides his talents, has proved to me that he possesses the quality of not being inflexible to reasoning".
- Some guitars of Lacote show Sor's signature: Fernando Sor, the Catalan guitarist living in Paris has signed a number of guitars by René Lacôte – examples now survive in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, Cat. No. 2521; and in private ownership (exhibited at the Londen Early Music Instrument Makers Exhibition, 1991). Sor also lent his name to the instruments of Louis Panormo of London. However, in neither case is the instrument known, then or now, as a "Sor model".
"[...] if I wanted an instrument, I would procure it from M. Joseph Martinez of Malaga, or from M. Lacote [...]
The guitars to which I have always given the preference are those of Alonzo of Madrid, Pagès and Benediz of Cadiz, Joseph and Manuel Martinez of Malaga, or Rada, successor and scholar of the latter, and those of M. Lacote of Paris. I do not say that others do not exist; but never having tried them, I cannot decide on that which I have no knowledge."
In his method, he also mentions that "J. Panormo" of London and "Mr. Schroeder of Petersburgh", made some guitars under his direction; but it is curious that he mentions them only in regard to his own guitar design ideas, which are today partly critically viewed. Guitars made according to Sor's design have not yet been located.
In addition to many serious works for guitars, Sor composed a large number of studies intended for players of lesser virtuosity. Andrés Segovia selected a set of twenty studies, each emphasizing a particular aspect of technique, these studies are now some of the best known work of Fernando Sor.
- "Josep Ferran Sorts i Muntades". Enciclopèdia Catalana.
- Tracie Ratiner, ed. (2005). Encyclopedia of World Biography 25 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Gale. pp. 394–396.
- Carme Morell i Montadi (1995). El teatre de Serafí Pitarra. L'Abadia de Montserrat.
- Fernando Sor: composer and guitarist by Brian Jeffery
- Baltasar Saldoni (1856). Reseña histórica de la escolanía ó colegio de música de la Vírgen de Montserrát. Imprenta de Repullés.
- F. J. Fétis (1810). Revue musicale.
- Recensionen: Guitarre-Schule von Ferdinand Sor. Breitkopf und Härtel. 1810.
- "Cover of Sor's Op. 9 Mozart-Variations".
- Cecilia Ruiz de Ríos, Nicaraguan historian
- Wolf Moser, “Fernando Sor: The Life and Works of a Reluctant Guitarist, Part One.” from Classical Guitar Magazine November 2007
- Matanya Ophee, “Fernando Sor and the Russians” from Soundboard Magazine
- Wolf Moser, “Fernando Sor: The Life and Works of a Reluctant Guitarist, Part Two.” from Classical Guitar Magazine December 2007
- "Leonhard Schulz: Recollections of Ireland Op. 41". Guitar And Lute Issues.
- "Fernando Sor – Master Composer For Guitar?". Lawrence Johnson.
- Neue Mozart-Ausgabe. "Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (Partita – see p. 157; bar 301 – Monostatos und Sklaven...)".
- Arthur J. Ness. "Fernando Sor's Mozart Variations, Op. 9".
- Fernando Sor. "Méthode pour la Guitare". Tecla.
- Innovation and the Development of the Modern Six-String Guitar by Darryl Martin (The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 51, (Jul. 1998)
- Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist by Brian Jeffery (London, Tecla, second edition, 1994). A critical view of the second edition, by Matanya Ophee
- Moser, Wolf. “Fernando Sor: the Life and Works of a Reluctant Guitarist, Part Two.” Classical Guitar Magazine 26 No. 4 December 2007: 20 – 25.
- Moser, Wolf. “Fernando Sor: the Life and Works of a Reluctant Guitarist, Part One.” Classical Guitar Magazine 26 No. 3 November 2007: 20 – 25.
- Ophee, Matanya. “Fernando Sor and the Russians.” Soundboard Magazine, Volume XXXI No. 3-4 2007: 13 – 29.
- Diccionario biográfico-bibliográfico de efemérides de músicos españoles by Baltasar Saldoni 1868
- historical source Revue de Paris; published by Demengeot & Goodman, e.a., 1851
- historical source Bentley's miscellany; by Charles Dickens, William Harrison Ainsworth, Albert Smith; published by Richard Bentley, 1844
- Recensionen: Guitarre-Schule von Ferdinand Sor Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung; published by Breitkopf und Härtel, 1832
- historical source Dictionnaire des artistes de l'école française, au XIXe siècle; by Charles Gabet; 1831
- historical source Seven years of the King's theatre; by John Ebers; published by Carey, Lea & Carey, 1828
- historical source Revue musicale; by F. J. Fétis; 1827
- historical source The Harmonicon, 1823
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fernando Sor.|
- Rischel & Birket-Smith's Collection of guitar music 1 Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Denmark
- Boije Collection The Music Library of Sweden
- George C. Krick Collection of Guitar Music Washington University
- creativeguitar.org (sheetmusic largely compiled from the above primary sources)
- Complete Works for Guitar (sheetmusic largely compiled from the above primary sources)
- Free scores by Fernando Sor at the International Music Score Library Project
- HOMAdream Complete guitar works by Fernando Sor (Engraved and edited by Jun Sugawara)
Biography and Articles
- Fernando Sor UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography, (2003)
- Biography (www.musicweb-international.com)
- Biography (www.classicalguitar.net)
- (Spanish)Fernando Sor: Músicas En La Guitarra by Gerardo Arriaga Moreno
- The Doctrine of Affections: short story collection including "The Studies of Fernando Sor"
- Information (Tecla Editions)
- Ich, Fernando Sor Versuch einer Autobiografie und gitarristische Schriften; by Wolf Moser (Edition Saint-Georges, ISBN 3000152741)
- Images of Sor (Gallica)
- Image of Sor (enciclopedia.cat)
- Fernando Sor's grave at the Cimetière de Montmartre: paris.fr (Plan of the cemetery – Sor's grave is located at Division 24, number 1) (see also landrucimetieres.fr, findagrave.com)