Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist by Brian Jeffery: extract from Chapter 3

This is an extract from Chapter 3 (“London, 1815-1823”) of the book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist by Brian Jeffery, on concerts in London, including newly-discovered ones.

“…During his stay in England, Sor performed in many concerts, both as a singer and as a guitarist. Altogether we know of some nineteen concerts in England in which he took part, all of them in the years 1815-19, that is to say during the first part of his stay here. We know about most of them from announcements or reviews in the newspapers of the time such as the Morning Chronicle, the Morning Herald, and the Morning Post, and immediately a problem of source material becomes evident: namely, that those newspapers constitute a vast amount of material through which it would be a huge task to check thoroughly. I found some items myself for the first edition of this book, and since then more have been found, some by Dr. Stuart Button, and others when I came to re-examine the early newspapers for this second edition, so that it has been possible to expand considerably the following section on Sor’s concerts in England. One day perhaps the newspapers of the time will be fully indexed (preferably in electronic form with a search facility), but until that time, no complete list of Sor’s concerts in England can be possible, and the following list must remain provisional.

The announcements and reviews carry the mark of the type of source from which they come, in that they generally seek to say something newsworthy. Perhaps Sor has ‘just arrived in England’, or it is the ‘last night of his engagement’; or he reveals powers in the guitar which had not been known before; or he uses the guitar to accompany an Italian aria, something which was a relative novelty. We must read carefully in order to form a judgement about the musical reality. In fact, we can conclude from the number of concerts and from his association with the best-known musicians of the day, that he took his place as a fully professional musician, in two roles, firstly as a singer, and secondly with his unusual instrument, the guitar. Certainly the guitar was important, but again and again he is present in the concerts as a singer, not only solo, but in small ensembles.

Here is a list of the known concerts.

20 April 1815

Sor’s first known concert in England was a benefit for two Spanish musicians, Perez (piano) and Reyes (tenor?). The Morning Post carried the following advertisement on Saturday April 15th 1815: ‘Argyll Rooms.–Mr. Perez and Mr. Reyes beg leave respectfully to inform the Nobility, Gentry, and the Public in general, that their Benefit Concert is fixed for the 20th instant, at the above Rooms, when a choice selection of Vocal and Instrumental Music will be performed. The following celebrated Performers have promised their assistance:–Madame A. Catalani, Mrs. Ashe, and Mr. Naldi. Leader Mr. Spagnoletti; Conductor Mr. Asioli. Mr. Sor, the most celebrated Performer in Europe on the Spanish Guitar, and who is just arrived in England, will, in the course of the evening, execute a Fantasia on that instrument (being his first public appearance in this country). Mr. Reyes will sing several favourite pieces, and Mr. Perez will perform a Grand Military Concerto, and a Fantasia upon the Piano-forte.’

Sor is here already presented as ‘the most celebrated performer in Europe on the Spanish guitar’. Perez and Reyes are Hispanic names. Sixto Pérez is listed briefly in Saldoni’s Diccionario as a pianist; Reyes I have not traced. But they appear to have been either Spaniards or from the New World, so we see that from the very beginning of his stay here, Sor moved among his compatriots. It is also perhaps of interest that this was a time full of turmoil in England; Napoleon escaped from Elba in March 1815, and the events leading up to the Battle of Waterloo (June 1815) took place at this time. Indeed, in the two weeks between 14 and 27 June 1815 Sor played in no less than six known concerts, and it was precisely then that the Battle of Waterloo was fought, on 18 June 1815.

A correspondent of the periodical The Giulianiad wrote many years later, in 1833 (p. 27): ‘The impression he then made on his first performance at the Argyll Rooms, which I attended, was of a nature which will never be erased from my memory; it was at once magical and surprising’.

14 June 1815

Sor’s own first benefit concert in England followed, and was announced in the Morning Post for Wednesday June 14th 1815 for the evening of the same day: ‘Mr. Sor most respectfully informs the Nobility, Gentry, and his friends, that his Benefit Concert is fixed for this day, June 14, at the Argyll Rooms, when a choice selection of Vocal and Instrumental Music will be performed. The following celebrated performers will lend their assistance on the occasion: Mrs. Ashe, Mrs. Sala, Mr. Ledesma, and Mr. Lacy. Leader, Mr. Vaccari; at the Piano-forte, Mr. Sor. In the course of the evening Mr. Sor will execute a Fantasia on the Spanish Guitar, with full accompaniments, and two other pieces. Mr. Muller will play a Thema with Variations, on the Clarionet, and Mr. Perez, a Fantasia on the Piano-forte. To begin at half-past eight o’clock. Tickets to be had of Mr. Sor, 6, Charles-street, St. James’s-square…’

The Morning Chronicle of 17 June 1815 reviewed this concert as follows: ‘Mr. Sor, the celebrated performer on the Spanish guitar had a most fashionable and crowded assembly at the Argyll Rooms on Wednesday evening, where he gave a splendid Concert. His talent on this instrument, which has been so limited, till he enlarged its powers, was truly exquisite, and he shewed how admirably adapted it is to a lady’s voice, by the effect of a delicate aria, finely sung by Madame Sala, with his guitar accompaniment. It was universally applauded.’

It may be noted that Sor also played the pianoforte in this concert.”

[Details of many more concerts follow.]

Extract from Chapter 5.