Fernando Sor: The Complete Italian Arietts, Italian Duets, and the Three Canons. The complete introduction by Brian Jeffery.

Fernando Sor (1778-1839) is well known today for his guitar music, and to a growing extent also for his seguidillas in Spanish for voice(s) and guitar or piano which are now available in print from Tecla. However, he also composed many other works, including music for piano, ballet music, sacred music, and these Italian arietts and duets and the Three Canons which were all first published while he lived in London, between 1815 and 1823. This present edition of his Complete Italian Arietts, Italian Duets, and the Three Canons, is the first time, as far as I know, that they have been published in a modern edition. They are presented here in facsimiles of the original editions, which are all very clear to read.

The music has been divided up into two books for the convenience of performers.

It is a pleasure to look back to the fine and memorable performances by several singers in the past twenty years in various cities, including Madrid, Seville, London and Barcelona, who performed some of these arietts in concerts and lectures which I organized, for example “Lagrime mie d’affanno” and “Io mormoro in vano” from the Sixth Set of Arietts, nos. 2 and 3. Now that this present edition makes them all available, I hope that many more performances of them will be given.

Any future notes about the music, for example any new discoveries, or anything which performers may tell us about things to look out for when playing the music, will be placed on the Tecla website. It is also planned to put on the Tecla website some arrangements for guitar of some of the piano accompaniments. After all, we know that Sor sang Italian arias to his own guitar accompaniment (see the section below on his concerts in England), so it is wholly appropriate to arrange some of them for guitar.

There are eleven sets of arietts, two sets of duets, and the Three Canons, that is to say fourteen collections each of which contains three items, giving a total of 42 Italian texts set to music. The texts themselves are interesting, twelve of them being by Metastasio. In this edition I give a complete edition of them as texts, together with English prose translations. It would be interesting to know more about where exactly Sor may have found them. Some may have come from performances in London during his stay here. Some of them were well known; for example, Metastasio’’s “Da voi cari lumi” was also set by Meyerbeer in his Sei canzonette italiane, and “Ch’io mai vi possa” and “Un fanciullin tiranno” were also set by Rodríguez de Ledesma, another Spanish musician also in London at this time (see the introduction to Rodríguez de Ledesma’s Oficio y Misa de Difuntos, edited by Tomás Garrido, Madrid, 1998, and also the forthcoming edition of Rodríguez de Ledesma’s Canciones, Arietas y Nocturnos, edited by Tomás Garrido.) [NOTE: this edition, Rodríguez de Ledesma’s Canciones, Arietas y Nocturnos, edited by Tomás Garrido, was published in Zaragoza in 2002.]

Two of Sor’s texts are by Caravita, a composer by whom various operas were performed at the King’s Theatre, London, in the period c. 1809-1821.

For more on Metastasio, and on the form of the ariett at this period, see the corresponding articles in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and the New Grove Dictionary of Opera.


The following introduction comes mostly from my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist (second edition, Tecla, 1994). It is only an outline of Sor”s Italian arietts and duets in the context of his work as a whole, in particular of his work while he was in London. Many more details can be found in the book.

Soon after his arrival in London in about 1815, Sor sang an imitation of Crescentini in a musical soirée, and in 1819 he appeared as a singer in a public concert. It seems that singing and in particular singing teaching occupied him very much, and may very well have been a part of his livelihood at this time. In 1823, the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung of Leipzig, reviewing Sor’’s ballet Cendrillon, wrote that “Sor lebt gewöhnlich in London und ist dort sehr mit Sing-Unterricht beschäftigt” (No. 39, September 1823, 636) (‘Sor generally lives in London and is very much occupied there in teaching singing’). Already, according to his biography in Ledhuy’s Encyclopédie, he was considering pedagogical ideas: he studied the action of the vocal organs, began to form a teaching method, ideas which were to come to fruition later, not so much in singing teaching, but rather in the Méthode pour la Guitare of 1830. Philip J. Bone writes that a manuscript treatise by Sor on singing, in French, was in the possession of Madame Sidney Pratten (The Guitar and Mandolin, London, 1954, repr. 1972, p. 342), and though Bone can be unreliable, the story is plausible. The manuscript, if it existed, seems to have disappeared.

But though he may have sung in public, though he may have taught singing, the most important result of his interest in singing at this time was that he composed and published no less than eleven sets of three Italian arietts for voice and piano, two sets of duets, and a set of canons, in the purest tradition of bel canto. To rediscover them is to be reminded of Rossini”s early operas, or Donizetti, or even early Verdi. The Repository of Arts is quite ecstatic about them.

The first set, called Three Italian Arietts, was brought out by the very minor publisher William Milhouse, “Military Instrument Maker to their Royal Highnesses the Dukes of Kent and Cumberland”. Clarinets by Milhouse are still well known today (see The New Langwill Index: A Dictionary of Musical Wind-instrument Makers, ed. William Waterhouse, London, 1993), but as a publisher he was distinctly a minor figure. The title-page says clearly that the work was “printed for the Author”, which means that Sor engaged Milhouse to have the work printed, presumably taking the financial risk himself. It is a comparatively early work, dating from perhaps 1815 or 1816 and certainly before the end of 1817, when the second and third sets are known to have been already published; doubtless at the time of the first set Sor was not well enough known in London for publishing houses to take the risk themselves. He was not to have to wait for long.

The choice of Milhouse may perhaps have had something to do with military connections: Sor was, after all, a commissioned officer, late Captain in the Cordovan Volunteers, and it was perhaps his aristocratic friends in London who suggested as publisher this maker of military instruments. It was also Milhouse who published the first edition, at this time, of Sor’s first set of studies, op. 6.

It also seems likely that Sor was a freemason. For example, dots in some of his signatures appear to have been a masonic sign. He dedicated his second set of arietts to the Duke of Sussex, who from 1813 was Grand Master of the united Grand Lodge of England; and the Duke of Kent, who is named on the title-page of his first set of arietts, had himself been a Grand Master of an earlier lodge. So it seems very possible that masonic connections may have enabled Sor to enter higher circles while he was in London.

Sor may have become a freemason while he was in Spain. Jacinto Torres points out that freemasonry flourished in Spain just before and during the Napoleonic invasion, and that many Spanish musicians of that time were masons (“Recóndita armonía. Las relaciones entre masonería y música en España”, Revista de Musicología, XXI, 1998).

The first set of arietts shows the lyric and dramatic qualities which can be seen throughout the eleven sets. The first ariett, “Dormia sul margine d’un ruscelletto”, is marked Andante cantabile and contrasts with the third, “O cara da quel giorno primier”, which is much more dramatic. But it must be said that though this first set is confident enough, it is in the later sets that the best arietts are to be found.

The second and third sets were no longer printed “for the Author”, but taken on commercially by the firm of Chappell. Their plate numbers suggest late 1817. The second set is dedicated to the Duke of Sussex, which fits in well with the date of the concert at which Sor is known to have met the Duke. Both sets were reviewed at length and favourably in Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, &c. The anonymous reviewer wrote of the second set:

If we were to allot to these arietts the space which we would fain wish to devote to their consideration, they would form the only article in our review. During the three weeks since we first opened them, they nearly caused us to neglect the rest of our critical calendar; they haunted us on our pillow, in our walks: we in return haunted our musical friends with them; we caught them even intruding on our more serious occupations of dry matter-of-fact business; in short, we absolutely pronounced them troublesome companions. In impressions so forcible and permanent, a great deal perhaps may be ascribed to a happy mood at the first meeting, or to a peculiar sympathy of taste; but the concurrence of other competent judges afforded us good reason to consider our own opinion as substantially correct.
(Repository, 1 January 1819)

And of the third set:
In the composition of these three ariettas, Mr. Sor has exhibited a combination of taste, feeling, and science, which cannot fail endearing his labour to the true vocal amateur … This is classic music.
(Repository, 1 September 1818)

(The full texts of these and of all other known reviews of the arietts are given in Book 1 of this edition).

On Monday 11 May 1818, at a concert of the Philharmonic Society in London, the famous singer Mrs. Salmon sang an aria by Sor. Mrs. Salmon was very celebrated in her own day. J.R. Planché recalls how he went to Paris in about 1826, where she was living “in a charming house in the Allée des Veuves, Champs Elysées”, to try to persuade her to come out of retirement to sing at Vauxhall, without success. He writes: “for luscious sweetness of tone, purity of style, and power of expression, Mrs. Salmon was and remains unrivalled amongst English sopranos” (Recollections and Reflections, vol. I, London, 1872, pp. 88–9). The aria by Sor which she sang was not named in the programme, being called merely “Aria, MS. (never performed)”, but it is possible to hazard a guess as to which one it was. The Morning Chronicle reported on 18 May: “Mrs. Salmon also sang an Aria by Sor, newly composed for the present occasion. This is a very original and beautiful composition, the words admirably expressed, and abounding in marks of genius”. Now, Sor’s fourth set of arietts is dedicated to Mrs. Salmon and appeared later in the same year, so it may be that the aria which she performed was in fact one of the three in this fourth set. On examination, it turns out that the first and third arietts of the set, though good, are very short, and the second, “Fra un dolce deliro”, is a work of large proportions, with many ornaments and with every appearance of having been designed for professional performance. Accordingly, it may very well be that the aria which Mrs. Salmon sang on 11 May 1818 was in fact this one, “Fra un dolce deliro”. It appears also in MS Add. 48,348 of the British Library, ff. 35-40 verso, with an added recitative beginning “Oh stella”; perhaps it was this fuller version which Mrs. Salmon sang.

The second to the seventh sets inclusive were all reviewed in the Repository of Arts. The reviewer can scarcely contain his enthusiasm. He gives strong reasons for his delight in Sor’s music, above all the careful marrying of the music to the words. He even compares the appearance of a new set of arietts by Sor to the appearance of a new novel by Sir Walter Scott. Here is the beginning of the Repository’s lengthy review of the fifth set, which is one of the finest and was the one which became best known abroad (Pacini in Paris published it in the 1820s, along with sets 1-4, and Peters in Leipzig published it in 1823, along with the second set of duets):


Mr. Sor’s vocal compositions have gained such favour among the higher order of musical dilettanti, that a new set of arietts, from his pen, causes almost as much sensation, as the publication of a new novel by the author of Waverley [Sir Walter Scott]. As for ourselves, we greet the appearance of Mr. Sor’s productions with the delight with which we hail a mild sunny day at this season of dreary frosts and fogs. They warm and cherish our musical spirits amidst the numerous and dense clouds which so often overhang our critical labours. It does our heart good to pick his works into minute pieces (in a friendly way of course); they not only can stand the microscope, but, like the works of nature, present unexpected beauties, the closer they are analyzed. The more we examine them, the more we recognize a correspondence, a sympathy between the feelings which gave birth to such strains, and our own; we behold, as in a mirror, our musical self. We say to ourselves, “Thus should we have sung, had nature granted us the talents, and education the cultivation of them, to give musical utterance to our sentiments.”


The fourth and fifth sets had been published, not by Chappell but by the newly founded Regent’s (soon to become Royal) Harmonic Institution. Then back to Chappell for the sixth; and then the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth sets, and a so-called “first” set, all appeared from the presses of the Royal Harmonic Institution. The so-called “first” set is something of a chronological curiosity. The plate number shows that it dates from 1821, six years after Sor’s arrival; that it is not the genuine first set at all, which as we saw was published by Milhouse; and that it appeared in fact between the eighth and ninth sets. It is a kind of well before Fellini. The true first set, one supposes, must have been out of print, and so the gap was expediently, if untruthfully, filled by the publishers.

At the Royal College of Music in London, MS 1111, ff. 102-106, is an autograph manuscript of the sixth set, with pencil marks indicating that this was the copy which Chappell used as printer’s copy for setting up their edition of this set. The inscription “F. Sor” in the title is in a hand corresponding to Sor’s other known signatures at this time, confirming that this manuscript is indeed autograph.

The later sets of arietts, and the duets, contain some fine songs. The tenth set contains a song in Spanish style, beginning “Lungi da te mia cara” and headed by the following note: “Regretting that I do not find in modern Spanish Music any Melodies but such as are entirely foreign to the characteristic Style of the Airs of that Nation, and finding only in their Canciones the true Cavatinas, I was desirous in this Arietta of reversing this system by Composing perfectly Spanish Music to Italian words. F.S.” The Spanish flavour is obtained, among other things, by alternation of 6/8 and 3/4, and by the use of the interval of the augmented second. At this time, such interest in national characteristics was growing with the Romantic movement. The fact remains that this song is, of course, far less genuinely Spanish than the seguidillas which Sor composed within his own country and within his own native musical tradition twenty years earlier. (See Sor’s Seguidillas and a new collection of More Seguidillas, both published by Tecla).

The eighth and tenth sets of arietts contain songs marked “Allegretto di Polacca and Tempo di Polacca”. That in the eighth set, “La più vezzosa e più gentil” has a long and lively introduction, a particularly beautiful and catchy tune, and some virtuoso vocal writing at the end. The other, “Volate più de venti” in the tenth set, is even more acrobatic and certainly suggests writing for a professional. Songs like these raise the question: for whom exactly were they written? Were they salon pieces for amateur singers who might be expected to buy the printed editions and sing the works for their own pleasure at home? Have they anything to do with Sor’s singing teaching? Or were they intended for professional and public performance? The answer in at least some cases must be the last of these. We saw already that the fourth set was dedicated to Mrs. Salmon; the set of canons is dedicated to Mrs. Billington; and certain songs demand a very agile vocal technique that seems unlikely to have been possessed by many amateurs. Perhaps the simpler songs were put in for amateurs; certainly most of the sets contain specimens of both easier and more difficult music. All of them show Sor as a composer thoroughly confident in what he was doing, and well versed, above all, in the style of Mozart, who had produced songs of comparable kind.


Here are some reviews of concerts in England relevant to his arietts.


Sor’s first benefit concert in England, on 14 June 1815 (four days before the Battle of Waterloo).

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.”


A concert in Bath on 24 January 1816, the Sixth Subscription Concert

An advertisement in the Bath and Cheltenham Gazette for that evening said that “The much-celebrated Signor Sor will sing several of the most favourite Pieces. Mr. Sor will accompany himself on the Spanish Guitar, and also perform a Fantasia on that instrument”. The full programme is given, including in the first half “Fantasia on the Spanish Guitar, Signor Sor, [composed by] Sor. Duet, Mrs. Ashe [the singer] and Signor Sor, [by] Guglielmi … Favourite Terzetto, Mrs. Ashe, Master Barnett [a young musician], and Signor Sor, [by] Caruso.” The second half included “Aria, Signor Sor, accompanied on the Spanish Guitar by himself, [by] Crescentini”.

The Bath Journal reviewed that concert, saying that “Mr. Ashe’s Sixth Subscription Concert was respectably attended. Among the variety of exquisite performers, both vocal and instrumental, we were most highly gratified by the native talents of Percivale and Mrs. Ashe; the latter of whom, in her duet with Signor Sor, by Guglielmi, may be said to have exceeded all praise” and also praised the performance of Master Barnett in a vocal terzetto with Mrs. Ashe and Sor.


A concert in Bath on 31 January 1816, the Seventh Subscription Concert

The advertisement for this concert said that “the performers will include “Signor Sor, (The last Night of his engagement)”. “Mr. Sor will accompany himself in a favourite Song on the Spanish Guitar”.” The programme for the first half of the concert included “Cavatina, Signor Sor, accompanied by himself on the Spanish Guitar.”


Out of the five items which he is known to have performed in these concerts in Bath, there is only one guitar solo (a Fantasia, which was perhaps op. 4), but four vocal items (an aria and a cavatina with guitar accompaniment, a duet, and a terzetto). In the Sixth Concert he sang an aria, and in the Seventh Concert a cavatina, in both cases accompanying himself not on the piano but on the guitar, which shows that it would be perfectly acceptable today if anyone wished to perform the accompaniments of these arietts on the guitar rather than on the piano.


A concert in London on 30 June 1819

In this concert, organized by the same Andrew Ashe, Sor performed only as a singer, and not at all as a guitarist.


For more details about these and other concert appearances by Sor in England, see my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist, chapter 3.


I am most grateful to the British Library for permission to reproduce the following from copies in their collection:

Three Italian Ariets (London, Milhouse). H.345.d.(3).

Three Italian Arietts, 6th, 7th, 9th, and 10th sets. H.1430 (17c, d, f, and g).

Three Italian Duets, 1st and 2nd set. H.1430 (21).


Also to the Royal College of Music Library, London, for permission to reproduce the following:

Three Italian Arietts, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th sets.


The following are reproduced in this edition from copies in my own collection:

Three Italian Arietts, 5th, 8th, and “First” set, and the Three Canons.

Brian Jeffery

Sor’s Complete Italian Arietts, Italian Duets, and the Three Canons

Copyright 2002 by Tecla Editions. Errors and omissions excepted.