This article is about a meeting in Málaga in 1805 between Fernando Sor as a young man, and the young Italian doctor Augustus Bozzi who spent six months there, in which the doctor considered that Sor was spending too much time on music.
At the time of this meeting, Sor aged 26 had just taken up a post as administrator of the royal playing-card factory (fábrica de naipes) in a small town called Macharaviaya about fifteen miles outside Málaga.
Perhaps a strange job for the young musician! But at that time it was his intention to have a normal administrative kind of job such as this one, not a musical job. The playing-card factory was a royal monopoly which above all exported playing-cards to the Spanish colonies in South America. Sor wasn’t employed by the factory, but rather was the government officer who kept an eye on things to make sure that they were done correctly. He spent a good amount of time in Málaga itself and indeed had a house there, and we know that he organized the concerts of a very wealthy Málaga businessman named William Kirkpatrick who was also the consul of the new country the USA. He had recently composed many seguidillas and it is reasonable to suppose that he continued composing them while he was in Málaga.
Augustus Bozzi was an Italian doctor, young at the time, fresh from medical school, who found himself in Italy in danger of being conscripted into Napoleon’s armies and fled in a ship to the Levant. As well as being a medical doctor, he was an accomplished amateur singer and guitar player. Later he settled in England having first taken an official change of name to Granville after a maternal ancestor of his, to become A.B. Granville, M.D., who had a practice in Harley Street specializing in obstetrics, married an English lady and had seven English-born children. He was the first person to perform an autopsy on an Egyptian mummy, in London in 1825 (see the article “Augustus Granville” in Wikipedia). And in London he published his Autobiography, which is how we know about this about Sor.
First as a young man he went from Milan to Genoa, then to Venice, and from there he set out to the Levant, as he says on page 71 of his Autobiography, with clothes, a few books, letters of introduction, and “every contrivance that would facilitate my taking notes of whatever I might observe in my travels worth recording”, a phrase which means that his Autobiography, and its account of Sor in Málaga, will surely have been written from notes which he will have made at the time rather than merely recollected many years later.
In January 1805 after some time in the eastern Mediterranean he set out from Smyrna on a ship bound for Messina in Sicily and then Málaga, where he had an introduction to a gentleman named Carl Müller, who was a businessman in Málaga and who was also the Austrian consul. There he spent about six months. It seems that he advised on an epidemic of yellow fever – a parallel to our own times just now. He tells us that Señora Müller had tertulias at her house twice a week and that he went to them. Such tertulias in all the cities of Spain were enormously part of the social scene: depending on the taste of the ladies who usually organized them they might be political in nature, or there might be gambling or music or dancing.
He tells us several times in his book that from his time in Italy he knew how to sing and to play the guitar—indeed he found later when he settled in England that his ability to sing “Yo que soy contrabandista” to the guitar was a positive hindrance in his practice as a medical doctor. In Málaga he took guitar lessons from Sor. Here (Autobiography, pp. 213-4) we find Bozzi singing to the guitar in a tertulia:
“It required, indeed, no little assurance in a stranger to come forward in the centre of such an assembly with an instrument peculiarly Spanish, and attempt to sing an aria after the company had been listening to the delicious seguidillas of Sor, an artiste whose skill on the guitar, accompanying a mellow voice, was prodigious. But for his seguidillas I had my Venetian barcarolles; and when these palled, the sudden introduction of a Greek romanza carried off all the bravos. The two performers became however friends, and I took lessons from Sor on the instrument he had made so peculiarly his own. This young man [Bozzi was 21 and Sor was 26] belonged to a most respectable family, and though intended for a serious profession, wasted his opportunities of distinguishing himself in it through his passion for music; the full indulgence in which proved a fatal impediment to his progress in more essential pursuits, for he only attained the reputation and name of the first Spanish guitarist. He was one of the examples I had in view, besides many others, when in the early part of these memoirs I inveighed against young men indulging in amateur music when they have to get their own bread in life. I have preserved one of Sor’s poetical compositions, with accompaniment for the guitar, to the air of a popular dance much in vogue, called “La Gravina”, in allusion to the well-known admiral of that name. This piece was sung in the most fashionable ladies’ assemblies, although the subject was in dispraise of love, which would probably remind English musicians of their own countryman Purcell’s elegant little ballad, “I attempt from Love’s sickness to fly”.
In Germany, with a grand piano before him, Sor might have become a Mozart, or a Wagner with grandiose ideas; but with so simple and poor an instrument as the guitar, none but light and trifling melodies could be expected.”
So take note everyone! Concentrate on your career and don’t waste time on frivolities like music!
After six months Bozzi left Málaga and Sor remained there until the momentous events of 1808 and the following years (see my book España de la guerra).
I wish to thank Patrik Kleemola who found this reference to Augustus Bozzi and Sor and told me about it.