Portuguese guitar

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Portuguese Guitar
Guitarra Portuguesa
2 Portuguese guitars.jpg
left: Coimbra guitar; right: Lisbon guitar.
String instrument
Classification String instrument
Related instruments
Guitar - Cittern

The Portuguese guitar or Portuguese guitarra (Portuguese: guitarra portuguesa) is a plucked string instrument with twelve steel strings, strung in six courses comprising two strings each. It is one of the few musical instruments that still uses Preston tuners. It is most notably associated with fado.

History[edit]

The Portuguese guitar now known has undergone considerable technical modification in the last century (dimensions, mechanical tuning system, etc.) although it has kept the same number of courses, the string tuning and the finger technique characteristic of this type of instrument.

There is evidence of its use in Portugal since the thirteenth century (cítole) amongst troubadour and minstrel circles and in the Renaissance period, although initially it was restricted to noblemen in court circles. Later it became popular and references have been found to citterns being played in the theater, in taverns and barbershops in the seventeenth and eighteenth century in particular.

In 1582, Friar Phillipe de Caverell visited Lisbon and described its customs; he mentions the Portuguese people’s love for the cittern and other musical instruments. In 1649 was published the catalogue of the Royal Music Library of King John IV of Portugal containing the best known books of cittern music from foreign composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in which the complexity and technical difficulty of the pieces allow us to believe that there had been highly skilled players in Portugal.

The angel playing the cittern (c.1680), a sculpture of large dimensions in the Alcobaça Monastery, depicts in detail the direct ancestor of the Portuguese guitar. In the first half of the eighteenth century, Ribeiro Sanches (1699–1783) had cittern lessons in the town of Guarda, Portugal as he mentions in a letter from St. Petersburg in 1735.

In the same period there are other evidence to the use of the cittern alluding to a repertoire of sonatas, minuets, etc. shared with other instruments such as the harpsichord or the guitar. Later in the century (ca. 1750), the so-called "English" guitar made its appearance in Portugal. It was a type of cittern locally modified by German, English, Scottish and Dutch makers and enthusiastically greeted by the new mercantile bourgeoisie of the city of Oporto who used it in the domestic context of Hausmusik practice. This consisted of the "languid Modinhas", the "lingering Minuets" and the "risqué Lunduns", as they were then called. The use of this type of guitar never became widespread. It disappeared in the second half of the nineteenth century when the popular version of the cittern came into fashion again by its association with the Lisbon song (fado) accompaniment.

The last detailed reference to the cítara appeared in 1858 in the book of J.F. Fètis "The Music Made Easy". The Portuguese translation includes a glossary describing the various characteristics (tunings, social status, repertoire, etc.) of both cittern and "English" guitar of the time.

The Portuguese guitar is used for solo music as well as accompaniment and its wide repertoire is often presented in concert halls and in the context of classical and world music festivals all around the world.

Models[edit]

Two distinct Portuguese guitar models are built: the Lisboa model and the Coimbra model.

The differences between the two models are the scale length (445 mm of free string length is used in Lisboa guitars and 470 mm in Coimbra guitars), body measurements, and other finer construction details. Overall, the Coimbra model is of simpler construction than the Lisboa model. Visually and most distinctively, the Lisboa model can easily be differentiated from the Coimbra model for its larger soundboard and the scroll ornament that usually adorns the tuning machine, in place of Coimbra's teardrop shaped motif. Lisboa guitars usually employ a narrower neck profile as well. Both models have a very distinct timbre, the Lisboa model having a more bright and resonant sound, and the choice between the both of them falls upon each players preferences.

As early as 1905 luthiers were building larger Portuguese guitars (called guitarrão, the plural being guitarrões), seemingly in very small numbers and with limited success. Recently, the famed luthier Gilberto Grácio has built a guitarrão, which he named a guitolão instead; this instrument which allows for a wider timbric range, on the low and the high end, than a regular Portuguese guitar.

Technique[edit]

The technique employed to play the Portuguese guitar is what is historically called dedilho. This technique comprises playing solely with the thumb and the index fingers and it was inspired by the technique used to play "viola da Terra da Terceira". On the Portuguese guitar the strings are picked with the corner of the fingernails, avoiding contact of the flesh with the strings. The unused fingers of the picking hand rest below the strings, on the soundboard. Nowadays most players use synthetic materials in place of natural fingernails; these fingerpicks are usually made of plastic or tortoiseshell.

Notable artists[edit]

António Chainho and his Portuguese guitar (Lisbon model)

Armandinho, born in 1891, became one of the most influential guitar players in Lisbon, leaving a vast repertoire of variations and fados behind. Following in his footsteps came other guitarists, such as Jaime Santos, Raul Nery, José Nunes and Fontes Rocha.

Artur Paredes, born in 1899, was an equally important player in the city of Coimbra. Much of today's Coimbra guitar features can be traced back to his contact with local luthiers. His son Carlos Paredes was a virtuoso and attained great popularity, becoming the most internationally known Portuguese guitar player. His compositions on the Portuguese guitar go beyond the traditional use of the instrument in fado musicianship giving him (and the instrument) a status above folk or regional music. This solistic tradition has been followed till today by several outstanding musicians like Pedro Caldeira Cabral, Antonio Chainho, Ricardo Rocha, Paulo Soares and several other virtuous playing guitarists of the younger generation.

Rock musician Steve Howe made use of the Portuguese guitar (commonly miscredited as a "vachalia") as well, as seen in songs like "Your Move" (Yes), "Wonderous Stories" (Yes), and "The Hunter" (GTR).[1]

The Portuguese guitar features prominently on Sun Kil Moon's debut album Ghosts Of The Great Highway.

Portuguese guitar makers[edit]

There are many Portuguese guitar makers still building guitars, according to traditional craftsmanship. Many families have passed on their knowledge for generations. Amongst the most notable "guitarreiros", or guitar makers, are the names of the Grácio family, Álvaro Ferreira, the Cardoso family, António Guerra, Domingos Machado and Domingos Cerqueira. The Grácio family and Álvaro Ferreira's instruments are usually considered as the pinnacle in terms of quality, although these instruments are very hard to find and can be quite expensive.

For a more comprehensive list of manufacturers please refer to José Lucio's site below.[Link Missing ?]

Tuning[edit]

Afinação de Lisboa (Lisboa tuning)
Afinação de Coimbra (Coimbra tuning)
Afinação natural (Natural tuning)

The tuning chiefly employed on the Portuguese guitar was historically called afinação do fado or afinação do fado corrido. It was probably developed in the early 19th century, as it was already largely adopted by Lisbon's fadistas by the mid-century. With the diminishing use of the natural tuning (see below) by players, this tuning came to simply be called either afinação de Lisboa, when tuned high, in D, or afinação de Coimbra, when tuned low, in C; this stems from the fact that while most Lisbon fado players tuned their guitars in D, in Coimbra the students came to tune theirs in C as standard practice, mainly through the influence of Artur Paredes. It is important to note, however, that regardless of the difference in pitch between the two variations of the tuning, in practice, the latter still makes use of the former's oral conventions, as such a C is called D, a D is called E, etc., by the players (essentially making a Coimbra-tuned Portuguese guitar a transposing instrument similar to a B-flat trumpet in that a given note is referred to by the note name a whole step higher than the note name that concert-pitch conventions would use).

The natural tuning, inherited from the English guitar of the 18th century, was also very frequently employed up to the first half of the 20th century, being preferred to the former by some late 19th century players; it was frequently tuned in E instead of C, as this simplified the change between the fado tuning for players who used both. Some variations of this tuning where also adopted, such as the afinação natural com 4ª, also known as afinação da Mouraria, or the afinação de João de Deus, also known as afinação natural menor. The natural tuning and its variations have been for the most part out of practice for several decades.

Further reading[edit]

  • Caldeira Cabral, Pedro (1999). A Guitarra Portuguesa,. Portugal: Ediclube. ISBN 972-719-077-4.  — THE PORTUGUESE GUITAR
  • Richards, Tobe A. (2009). The Portuguese Guitar Chord Bible: Lisboa Tuning 1,728 Chords. United Kingdom: Cabot Books. ISBN 978-1-906207-13-7.  — A comprehensive chord dictionary for the Portuguese Coimbra Guitar
  • Soares, Paulo (1999). Método de Guitarra Portuguesa Vol. 1: Bases para a Guitarra de Coimbra. Portugal: Paulo Soares. ISBN 972-97496-0-4.  — Basic techniques for the Portuguese Coimbra Guitar (Portuguese)
  • Soares, Paulo (2007). Método de Guitarra Portuguesa, Vol. 2: Domínio dos Acordes. Portugal: Paulo Soares. ISBN 978-972-97496-1-2.  — Chord building (Portuguese)
  • Cebolo, Eurico Augusto. Guitarra Magica Fado. Portugal: Unknown. ISBN 972-8019-07-6.  — Basic techniques for the Portuguese Coimbra Guitar (Portuguese)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]