Fernando Sor – The Complete Studies, Lessons and Exercises – Complete Preface by Brian Jeffery


The marvellous studies of Fernando Sor, and his lessons and exercises, have been a part of guitarists’ experience for a century and a half. With their exuberance and lyricism and their sheer sense of freedom and enjoyment, and with the beauty and simplicity of the later easier pieces for beginners, they are a central part of the classical repertory for the instrument. This book, Sor’s Complete studies Lessons and Exercises, sets out to provide them all, for the first time complete in one book. They are edited directly from the original editions.

Sor composed in all 24 studies, 49 lessons, and 24 exercises as follows:

12 Studies, opus 6
12 Studies, opus 29
24 Lessons, opus 31 Introduction to the Study of the Guitar, opus 60 (this contains 25 pieces, to which Sor himself referred several times as “Lessons”).

This book contains them all: first the well-known virtuoso sets of studies, opus 6 and opus 29, because they were the first which Sor composed, and then the simpler lessons and exercises, opp. 31, 35, and 60. Beginners and students will find many beautiful and easy pieces in the Lessons and Exercises opus 31 and opus 35 and especially in the Introduction to the Study of the Guitar, opus 60.

Sor’s craftsmanship is superb in all of them. His aim is always a musical experience, a shape, a form, a structure, and even his simplest pieces are beautifully written. Whether a piece is called a study, a lesson, or an exercise is not so important; what matters is that this is music by a fine musician.

The twelve studies, opus 6

It often happens with creative work that the first has great energy. This is true of the first and earliest of the works in this book, the twelve studies later called opus 6, full of strength and lyricism, which were first published in London under the title Studio for the Spanish Guitar in about 1815/17. Sor was about 37 and at the height of his powers. It was the time of his great success in London, after he had been forced to flee from Spain at the end of the Peninsular War. He lived in Charlotte Street, near the north Londonarea where most of the Spanish exiles lived, with whom he stayed in touch. His concerts and pupils were many; his songs poured from the presses; and the manger of the King’s Theatre, John Ebers, called him “the extraordinary Spaniard Sor, who is known to be the most perfect guitarist in the world”.

Many of these twelve studies (opus 6) are virtuoso compositions, in which the technique dazzles. Probably nothing like the study in octaves, Study 10, had been heard in England before. But there was another side to Sor’s nature, a side which has meant that his music has endured and is played by many thousands of people two hundred years later: an inner strength, a profundity. A perceptive notice appeared in one of the London periodicals of the time: “Mr. Sor feels what he has to say, and that feeling is not merely true, it is deep and intense”. Surely we here approach the reason why this first set of studies is among the classics for the instrument.

The twelve studies, opus 29

The second set of twelve studies, opus 29, was published much later, in 1827. Having fallen in love, it seems, with a dancer, Sor left London in about 1823 and traveled to Russia, where he stayed for about three years. It seems likely that this second set of studies was composed in Russia, for it was first published, together with several other works, immediately after his return from there to Paris. These twelve new studies are fine and developed works. Opinions will differ about their style, but it seems to me that although they are perhaps more thoughtful, they have less fire than did the first set of ten years earlier. Sor gave them the numbering 13-24, carrying on from the numbering 1-12 of opus 6.

The 24 Lessons opus 31, and the 24 Exercises opus 35

When Sor settled in Paris and became a teacher, the style of his music changed very quickly. Already in 1828 appeared both the 24 Lessons (opus 31) and the 24 Exercises (opus 35). These are different from the two sets of studies, in that they contain a new type of material a well as some of the old. Thus, some of the Lessons are very simple, such as the eloquent and beautiful Lesson 2, while others are so complex that they are similar to the studies, such as Lesson 19.

Sor’s life had changed a great deal. After his tumultuous wartime experiences in Spain and his very active life in England, he settled down to a much quieter way of life as a teacher of the guitar in Paris. He had a young daughter Caroline, and we may guess that he believed that a more settled life would be beneficial to her. However that may be, certainly he was now free to give his full attention to a new subject, that is the needs of the beginning student, and the Lessons and Exercises are the first fruits of that attention. They contain many easy pieces in which a splendid gift of melodic invention and musical integrity is placed at the service of the student. Moreover, it is clear to anyone who plays this music that the London reviewer was right when he said: “Mr. Sor feels what he has to say”.

The Introduction to the Study of the Guitar, opus 60

Almost ten years passed before the next and last of Sor’s works for students: the Introduction to the Study of the Guitar, opus 60, published in Paris in 1837. Here a change has taken place, in that this work is devoted to pieces which are easy and yet full of quality, making it one of the best collections of music for the beginning guitarist ever to have been composed.

How is it that the clarity and simplicity of opus 60 came from the same pen as the fiery and complex studies of twenty years before? The answer must lie in Sor’s temperament. It so happens that we have a moving eye-witness account of his character, written by someone who visited him just a few weeks before his death, and who was himself greatly moved by the meeting. His name was Eusebio Font y Moreso, from Barcelona, who visited Sor in Paris in 1839 and later recorded his vivid and remarkable impressions of the visit. This was just two years after Sor had composed the Introduction to the Study of the Guitar. It is worth looking at the visitor’s words. Here is an extract.

This eye-witness desires, in telling this anecdote with all its details, to bring to light an interesting episode in Sor’s life, which shows that if that artist was worthy of admiration for his great skill and genius, he was no less so for the exquisite nature of his sensitive and tender heart.

[Sor has asked these visitors from Barcelona to being him a certain gift.]

Who would have believed that Sor’s heart was so simple, that this eminent artist …after exciting admiration and applause with his extraordinary ability …inaccessible to vanity, and candid as a child, should long to possess one of those Holy Week processions, depicted on a long strip of paper, with which children play on their way to school? Nevertheless that was his wish, and on receiving from Sr. Battle’s hands the rolled-up strip of paper, he took hold of it with childlike joy between his own hands, and stretched it out on a table, contemplating with tears in his eyes the figures and different objects which were depicted on it. Many will perhaps laugh at Sor’s fancy; but there is no reason to be astonished. …Sor… kept unaltered the first feelings which sprang forth in his soul.

(translation from my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist, second edition, 1994, page 110)

These, then, were the impressions of someone who met Sor at a time very close to those marvellous and simple last compositions. They were written down in the romantic era, and so their language is not the same as ours, but nevertheless their effect is to give us an insight into this music which we might not otherwise have had. The description matches perfectly, it seems to me, the character of the simple and beautiful music of the Introduction to the Study of the Guitar, of two years earlier, in 1837.

The portraits

One is tempted to draw a parallel with the two portraits of Sor which have survived to us. The first is the well known portrait from about 1815, that is to say at the time of the first set of studies opus 6, which is reproduced on the front cover of this edition. The second is the picture of an older man, from 1835, that is only a few years from the time of the last set, opus 60, which is reproduced in the present edition on page 34. These two portraits seem to show exactly the same change that we see in the didactic music: a gradual move from fire and virtuosity to gentleness, limpidity, and simplicity.

The five collections as complete entities for performance

The studies (that is, opus 6 and opus 29) would make marvellous entities for performance as whole sets. That is what the late Leif Christensen did, in the last recording which he made, in which he played each of the two sets as a whole. It is clear that Sor in fact composed the sets with such performance in mind, because of the contrast in keys and tempi which is evident in them. It would be splendid if more of our virtuoso performers of today were to consider sometimes performing these sets as a whole.

The 24 Lessons and 24 Exercises would also be perfectly good entities for performance as sets, although here one might come up against the very evident difference of complexity from one piece to the next. Where I think there would be no difficulty of unity at all would be in the marvellously simple and eloquent Introduction to the Study of the Guitar, opus 60. Here all the 25 pieces are simple, all beautiful, but varied in key and in tempo. The set as a whole shows a perfect unity. The performer of today who would not disdain to play opus 60 because it is not difficult, would, I believe, find audiences spellbound.

The Method

At the time when the Lessons and Exercises were published, Sor was already at work on his method. In this profoundly interesting book, clearly the work of an all-round musician, Sor referred to the studies, lessons, and exercises, and he discussed in great detail ways in which his music could be performed.

At the end of the Method he gave six Exercises in Thirds, six Exercises in Sixths, and one Exercise in Thirds and Sixths, and wrote of them: “He who shall have adopted my method, and, having approved my reasons, learnt to play the preceding exercises, may be certain of possessing every thing that serves as a foundation for the performance of my music.” Because of the importance which he gave to these exercises, they are included at the end of the present volume.

Technical commentary

The present edition has a feature which as far as I know has not been available before, namely a Commentary which explores this music from the point of view of Sor himself, based on his own comments in his Method. Very often a passage in the Method is directly relevant to a specific piece in this book, and I have tried to point out where this is so. However, the Method is an immensely rich and rewarding book and the work of a musician, not merely a technician. The technical details are always subordinate to the music and can only be a starting point. Faced with a problem of technique on the guitar, Sor always sought to solve it according to the demands of the music. So it is, then, that the details which I have given in my Commentary here should be regarded only as a starting point: the technique is a beginning, but solutions to problems will be found in the end in the music itself.

Sometimes the Method gives clear indications of how Sor intended a piece to be played. An example is the passage in which Sor discusses very rapid successions of notes, and recommends using the thumb and first finger of the right hand in alternation; and he says “With that view I made my nineteenth Lesson ….”

Here is the beginning of his nineteenth Lesson (page 50 of this book):

[EXAMPLE: the beginning of Lesson 19]

The passage in the Method makes it clear that he composed the nineteenth Lesson specifically to practice the technique which he mentioned, and it follows therefore that the rapid notes are to be played like this:


Another passage which is very relevant to many pieces (indeed, to practically all of them) is one in which Sor discussed right hand fingering, saying that he generally used only the right hand thumb, first and middle fingers, reserving the ring finger of the right hand only for certain chords of four and more notes. It follows that the use of the right hand ring finger is rare in his music.

Later editions and collections

After Sor’s death in 1839, his pupil Napoléon Coste published an anthology of 26 pieces (six from op. 6, five from op. 29, six from op. 31, and nine from op. 35) which he called 26 Etudes par Ferdinand Sor and which remained in print for almost a century. It was on that selection that Andres Segovia based his own anthology which he called 20 Studies (cf. Erik Stenstadvold, “Coste’s contribution to the ’20 Studies by Sor’”, Soundboard, 1984), a tasteful collection but one which reflected the technical concerns of its own time rather than those of the composer. For example, in Lesson 19 discussed above, Segovia used a 20th century fingering (aimi) rather than Sor’s own right hand fingering.

In the present century many other editions of Sor’s studies, lessons and exercises have appeared. Some of them are excellent from a textual point of view. Mention may be made in particular of the series published by Schott in the 1920s edited by Götze, Reginald Smith Brindle’s edition of opp. 6 and 29, and Ruggero Chiesa’s editions published in Italy.

For more about Sor’s life, see my book Fernando Sor, Composer and Guitarist (Tecla, second edition, 1994). Sor’s New Complete Works for Guitar are available from Tecla in re-engraved form.

I am grateful to John Arran, Peter Altmeier-Mort, Frank Cole, Solomon Ross, and Erik Stenstadvold, who gave a great deal of attention to aspects of this book when it was in preparation and made many valuable comments. For any faults which remain I am of course solely responsible.

* * * * *

In this new 1996 edition, the opportunity has been taken to include Sor’s 24 Petites Pièces Progressives (24 Short Progressive Pieces), op. 44. This is an interesting collection, one of several which Sor composed specifically for beginners during his time in Paris, and contains some charming pieces. It should be noted, however, that the central body of Sor’s didactic music remains his studies, lessons, and exercises, opp. 6, 29, 31, and 35, which Sor himself discussed in his method. To these one may add his last work for solo guitar, the Introduction a l’Etude de la Guitare, op. 60. Posterity has endorsed this selection. Op. 44 may be regarded as a kind of supplement only.

The original editions of op. 6 and op. 29 contain no fingering, and none has been added here. For opp. 31, 35, 44 and 60, the fingering in this edition is taken directly from the original editions. Those original editions contained a great many misprints, which have been carefully examined and corrected, changing as little as possible. Anyone who wishes to examine the fingering of the original editions will find them reproduced in my nine-volume facsimile edition of Sor’s Complete Works for Guitar (Tecla).


[The Commentary follows, which gives detailed notes on individual pieces, and the Thematic Index.]

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