The complete Introduction by Brian Jeffery
Carcassi’s 25 Etudes Mélodiques Progressives, op. 60, have become very famous. They have been known to generations of guitarists and were one of my own favourites when I began the guitar.
Matteo Carcassi (c. 1793-1853) was an Italian guitarist who spent much of his life in Paris (see the Carcassi page for his biography). He wrote many pieces for the guitar, and a celebrated method for it. The 25 Etudes were probably composed in about 1836 and were published in about 1853.
This edition presents the original text with only the original fingering and without the addition of any modern fingering. It is the very basic simple text, which can safely be used by beginners.
The 25 Etudes may have been intended to be performed as a set, like some sets of Etudes by pianists such as Chopin, because the work is carefully constructed as a single collection with contrasting pieces, and because it builds up to a symphony-like climax at the end of the last virtuoso piece. But of course it is perfectly in order to take it as a collection of individual items which can be played individually.
This edition presents the original text as found in the two original editions both published in about 1853, by Brandus in Paris and Schott in Mainz. For more on those editions and the circumstances of their publication, please see below [the Publishing History is in the printed book].
FINGERING AND TECHNIQUE
The right hand ring finger (a)
Today the right hand ring finger (a) is commonly used a great deal, but it wasn’t in Carcassi’s time. Here is Carcassi writing about right hand fingering in about 1836 in his Method:
“Les 6me. 5me. et 4me. cordes, sur lesquelles s’exécutent le plus souvent les notes appelées basses, se pincent du pouce; les trois autres cordes se pincent, dans les gammes et les phrases de mélodie, avec l’index et le médium alternativement en changeant de doigt à chaque note. Le doigt annulaire ne pince que dans les accords et arpèges composés de 4 5 et 6 notes.”
(‘The 6th, 5th and 4th strings, on which the notes called bass notes are usually played, are plucked with the [right hand] thumb. The three other strings are plucked, in scales and melodic passages, with the index and middle fingers alternately, that is, changing the finger at each note. The ring finger [of the right hand] is used only in chords and arpeggios which contain four, five or six notes.’)
I played and play a lot on guitars of the time, and I find that the use of mostly the thumb, index and middle fingers (p i m) without much ring finger (a) is perfectly practical. Also as a bonus, I find it much, much easier.
In the time of Carcassi and Sor the right hand ring finger (a) was not generally used for scales. Instead, sometimes the index and middle fingers were used in alternation (imim), as Carcassi said in the passage quoted above.
But as well as that, another practice, going back to old lute technique, was to use the right hand thumb and index fingers in alternation, right up to the top two strings. Carcassi doesnt mention it in his method, but Sor does. In his Method of 1830 Sor writes about rapid scale passages as follows:
“Cette observation m’a décidé à exécuter les traits de cette espèce avec le pouce et l’index, et c’est dans cette intention que j’ai fait ma dix-neuvième leçon.”
(‘This observation [of the anatomy of the hand] determined me to execute passages of that kind [scale passages] with the thumb and first finger, and with that view I made my nineteenth lesson’) (English translation, from Sor’s Method for the Spanish Guitar published by Tecla).
Sor says that while some players, especially Aguado, use the index and middle fingers in alternation, he prefers to use the thumb and index fingers in alternation, and he gives detailed anatomical reasons why, and even says that he composed his 19th Lesson specifically to give practice in doing this. (This is his op. 31 no. 19, the well-known piece beginning with four demisemiquavers (sixteenth-notes), which Segovia included in his selection of Sor studies as his no. 10, but Segovia gave a modern fingering which did away with the very purpose for which Sor says he composed this piece).
Again my personal experience is that alternating right hand thumb and index finger (pipi) in scale passages works just fine, and indeed the strength of the right hand thumb gives an added punch, a zest, to them.
The right hand thumb used in chords
In chords with five or six notes, the right hand thumb can play the bottom two or three notes, sliding up them as it goes. Here is Carcassi writing in his method:
“Si l’accord qu’on veut exécuter est composé de trois notes (quelles que soient les cordes sur lesquelles il s’exécute) on le pince avec le pouce l’index et le médium; s’il est de quatre notes on y ajoute l’annulaire, et s’il est de cinq ou six notes le pouce pince en glissant les deux ou trois notes basses, et les autres doigts pincent les trois autres cordes.”
(‘If the chord which one wants to play is made up of three notes (regardless of which strings it is played on), one plays it with the thumb, the index and the middle fingers. If it has four notes one adds the ring finger, and if it has five or six notes the thumb plucks the two or three bass notes sliding up them, and the other fingers pluck the three other strings.’)
Using these old techniques might be compared to using lime mortar on ancient buildings. Lime mortar was the material that was usually used at the time when they were constructed, so if you use it now, it goes with the building, it is in harmony with it. In winter it contracts and in summer it expands and the whole building stays in equilibrium. Modern cement? It’s fine in its way, but in an ancient building it isn’t what was intended and it may crack.
If you would like to find out more about the technique of Carcassi’s time, you could read Sor’s or Aguado’s methods which are both available in English from Tecla. Carcassi’s method in its original 1836 edition is unfortunately not available yet but it is hoped to bring out an edition with Tecla.
Carcassi in his method used indications such as “5e pos[ition]” etc., for fifth [etc.] position, and these indications are also found here in these Etudes. This is a very handy way to finger this music, like violin music, even though it has not caught on very much since that time. In this edition I have used roman figures for the positions, for example putting the figure V to indicate where the original had “5e pos[ition]”. You will find it simple to use and very economical. The lines that often follow the indication are those of the original edition.
The position indications do not imply whether a barré is or is not to be used. For more on this, see the notes to no. 1 below.
The words barré and Grand barré are from the original editions.
The dynamics of the original editions are often detailed and interesting, for example in no. 2, bars 7 to 8, where the music goes from f to pp in just two bars. I recommend observing the dynamics closely and in detail.
Copyright 2006 by Tecla Editions. Errors and omissions excepted.