Matteo Carcassi: 25 Etudes for Guitar, op. 60 (Tecla). Notes on the pieces.

This page gives the notes on the pieces, from the Tecla edition of Carcassi’s 25 Etudes for guitar op. 60.

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No. 1

This piece consisting of scale passages is a prelude in a very ancient tradition. Many such preludes were found in lute music a century before Carcassi, often acting as an introduction to another piece or group of pieces. Giuliani also has such preludes in his Etudes op. 100 (available in Giuliani’s Complete Studies, TECLA 105), where nos. 17-24 are flexibly constructed pieces consisting mainly of scales, marked “Preludi ad uso cadenza servendosene avanti di cominciare un pezzo di musica” (“Preludes to be used as cadences, to be played before beginning a piece of music”). So this piece by Carcassi can be considered as a prelude or introduction to the entire set of the Etudes op. 60, especially if the entire set is to be performed as a whole.

The piece is marked Allegro, so keep it at a good speed.

It is also marked staccato, the only one in this collection to be so marked. What did staccato mean to Carcassi? He doesn’t mention the word staccato in his method, although he does mention étouffé, in which the right hand fingers pluck the notes and then rapidly deaden the sound by coming to rest again on them. Giuliani mentions that same technique in his Studio for the guitar, op. 1, where he calls it smorzato, and Giuliani also mentions the word staccato in his op. 1 but seems to use it to mean simply scale passages. New Grove says that in this period the term staccato had many varieties of meaning and that “occasionally the term [staccato] may imply emphasis without physical separation”. Perhaps Carcassi meant that in this piece. Performers are advised to play the scales with emphasis or with what we call staccato, as they wish.

For scale passages such as the ones in this piece, Carcassi recommends using the index and middle fingers alternately. Or, I personally like to use the thumb and index fingers in alternation. See the notes on technique above.

At bar 9-10 the Roman figure V stands for “at the fifth position” (“5e position”, says the original edition), that is, with your left hand at the position where your index finger is over the fifth fret. You’ll find this indication of “position” many times in this work. It’s a very handy way of showing where on the fingerboard a passage is to be played (even if it isn’t very commonly used today).

The Roman figures (such as III, V, etc.) only mean the position. They do NOT tell you whether a barré is or is not to be used. For example, at bars 9-10 no barré is needed, whereas at bars 29-30 the D and the G are both played with a barré. Again at bar 31 there is no barré. At bar 32 a barré isn’t needed (but using one might be handy in this particular bar – try it). At bar 33, as at bars 29-30, a barré is needed. At bars 38-39 no barré is needed (the first finger plays the first C in bar 39 and then, as the rest carefully indicates, lifts up and is available to stop the A).

It’s easy when you get used to it!

No. 2

This piece doesn’t have anything necessarily to do with the right hand ring finger, since Carcassi didn’t use it except in four-note chords and arpeggios. In fact, it may very well be that he composed this piece specifically to give practice in using the index and middle fingers in alternation, as described in the notes on technique above. Carcassi would probably have fingered it ppmi imim in each group. Or, Sor (and I) might prefer ppmi pipi. On the thumb leaping on the two bottom strings, see the notes on technique above.

Think of the first and third groups in each bar as a chord and get the chord ready in your mind in good time in order to go straight to it as a chord.

No. 3

A favourite piece for very many people. Not too slow. Andantino isn’t any slower than Andante which in Carcassi’s time meant “with movement”, not slow as it is today.

It revels in an ambiguity in that in most bars, a stress is placed on an off-beat: in bar 1, for example, on the F sharp. Yet the underlying rhythm must be kept clear throughout.

Again it is probably ppi mpi mpi ppi at the beginning. Nothing to do with the a finger.

You might practise the piece sometimes with only the four main notes of each bar (omitting the second and third notes of each triplet). For practice only: it clarifies the musical structure.

The repeats come from the original edition, but it may be suggested that they be considered as optional.
Bar 5: the original has 1142 which is rather awkward with its partial barré, and I have replaced it here with 1131 which I prefer.

No. 4

Again probably not the a finger. Rather perhaps ppi mi mi mi, or even ppi mp mp mp which gives a rich extra-clear sound on the upper strings.

Bar 1 has pf, bar 9 mf, and bar 10 rf (rinf in the Brandus edition). Pf may stand for poco forte but it seems to mean also with some degree of accent but not too much.

The many slurs are all on the top two strings, giving a very clear and as it were shimmering effect to the whole piece.

No. 5

No doubt the upper part in bars 1-8 and later is to be played as a sustained line.

No. 6

All the bass notes in bars 1-8 and later are to be played with the thumb. The piece gives very good practice in balancing two simultaneous but very different lines. Don’t forget to observe the rallentando, a tempo, and lento at the end.

No. 7

The piece, with plenty of life in it, has an allegro tempo to be kept up throughout. The crescendos and decrescendos may be regarded as typical of the interpretation of that mid-Romantic period, and should be observed in performance.

Again Carcassi would not use the right hand ring finger in the repeated notes in bar 1 etc, rather probably pimi.

Practise the bass line alone sometimes, without the upper notes, to clarify the structure. Also practise it as four chords in a bar, not successive notes, for the same purpose.

It is suggested that the repeat of the last section may be regarded as optional.

No. 8

A tranquil piece, giving practice in downward slurs integrated into the mood of the piece.

No. 9

A delightful piece with perhaps a bit of a sense of humour in the four portamentos at bars 13-15, the octave downward slur at bar 16, and the chords at bars 23 etc.

This particular study gives practice in slurs. The indication “Allegretto grazioso” shows that the composer intended the piece, with its slurs, to be played not heavily but gracefully. The slurs are aids to speed and lightness rather than being additional difficulties. The form is two eight-bar sections, followed by an eight-bar minor section and a short passage back to the beginning.

In bars 2 and 7, at the end of the first downward scale, the F sharp is played on the third string as a “hammer-on”.

The special sign where the left hand finger moves up is described by Carcassi in his method, where he illustrates it with this same special sign, as follows: “Du son glissé ou porté. Le son glissé ou porté s’exécute par un seul doigt de la main gauche qui glisse le long du manche en passant sur toutes les touches de la première à la deuxième note, après avoir attaqué avec la main droite, la première des deux notes. Le glissé produit un bon effet sur la guitare, parce qu’il imite le son porté de la voix.” (“The glissando or portamento is played by a single finger of the left hand which slides along the neck of the guitar passing along all the frets from the first to the second note, after the first note has been plucked by the right hand. The glissando produces a good effect on the guitar because it imitates the portamento of the voice.”)

The terms glissando and portamento are often confused and used interchangeably (as New Grove says), but often glissando means straight from one note to the other whereas in portamento each individual note is distinctly heard along the way. Carcassi doesn’t tell us which he means, but it seems likely from his words “le son porté de la voix” that he meant each individual note to be distinctly heard.

No. 10

This charming and delightful piece, a bit like a chirping canary, is one of the best-known pieces in Carcassi’s op. 60. The slurs on the triplets mean only that in each triplet the second and third notes are to be slurred.

As in no. 4, the slurs are always high up on the instrument, chirruping or like a musical clock, with the simplest bass possible, all open strings.

Try to put the left hand in one position for a whole pair of bars, as for example in bars 1 and 2 where Carcassi has indicated by his fingering that both bars are to be played in the same position.

No. 11

The piece is marked Agitato, and that tempo should be kept up throughout. The pf at the beginning is from the original editions. The meaning is not certain, but perhaps it means, in conjunction with the agitato marking, a performance in which a potential forte is held in check. It should be borne in mind that the piece dates from the mid-Romantic period. Then there is a quiet section in the middle, forte at the modulation into flats, then it ends quietly. These indications tell us that although this piece is agitato, it doesn’t shout, it only narrates.

Observe the rests which are all carefully marked, also the dynamic indications.

It gives practice in playing rapid arpeggios in treble and bass: it means that the right hand must move easily and rapidly across the strings and back again.

No. 12

The arpeggios are almost all close together, moving up and down. Very nicely structured. A little balance is added at bars 15-16 where the pattern changes very slightly. Both sections end with a diminuendo, piano, and ritardando.

Practise the top line separately (D, E, F sharp, G, etc) and the bass line also separately (F sharp, G, A, B, and all the way up and down again), to clarify the structure.

Bar 7 has a very good example of economical fingering: the 3 alone is not only useful for guidance, but also confirms that the open second string is used to give a campanelas-like effect.

“Andante” in Carcassi’s time meant “with movement”, not slow as it is today, so “Andante mosso” means “with a lot of movement”.

No. 13

Lightly, not too fast: it’s Andantino grazioso. Again, Andantino means with movement. As with so many other pieces, practising the bass line alone will help to clarify the structure. Try singing the bass line.

Again this piece probably has nothing to do with the a finger. Carcassi doesn’t mark the right hand fingering but it is probably pim imi pim pim etc.

It’s interesting that again, as in no. 12, the chords are all very close together. It gives a good nicely structured effect.

This piece uses the ancient and splendid technique of campanelas, where an open string rings through changing chords, often high up on the fingerboard.

No. 14

This is like a violinist playing scales (with an occasional intervention from a cellist). Nearly all the bass notes are open. And like a violinist having fun, it doesn’t stop!

In the dialogue passages (bars 9-12, 23-26), make sure that the final notes are damped and don’t ring on.

No. 15

One of the longer pieces, this again goes on and on (with only a pause at bar 8 and a slight breather at bar 20). The pattern begins to change at bar 28, especially with the up-ending of the right hand pattern at bars 31 and 35.

To practise it, take it apart first. Play the bass line alone, then the top line alone. Then those two lines together. Only then add the repeated notes in the middle.

Probably pimimimi.

Bar 1: the original has 321 which is rather awkward and I have replaced it here with 312 which I prefer.

Bar 6: the original has 1124 which is rather awkward with its partial barré, and I have replaced it here with 1113 which I prefer.

No. 16

Andante at this period means “with movement”, so not too slow.

The top part is lyrical, sustained. Make it sing. The frequent “hairpins” (accent or decrescendo marks) are very deliberate and indicate how this line is intended to be played. The lower part is like a series of thuds because of the rests which are exactly notated and should be observed. In nearly all places this is best done by using the m finger for all the top line and p i for the chords, placing p i back on the strings to dampen them. Perhaps Carcassi composed this piece as a study in étouffé.

In this piece it is a question of being ready for each chord in good time. The key of F, which is relatively uncommon in guitar music of that time, is unforgiving and does not help much with open strings. The melody in the treble should sing out unbroken.

The repeats are in the original editions but it may be suggested that they be regarded as optional.

No. 17

For practice in octaves, alternating with wide-ranging arpeggios. A dazzling piece. It has big wide chord spacing, in contrast to earlier close-up pieces. Notice the careful and detailed dynamics towards the end.

No. 18

A light and dazzling piece, this time in rapid triplets. To my mind, a clue to its sparkling nature is in the penultimate bar, where the chord whizzes up on a glissando (the only one in the piece).
Allegretto, fairly fast.

No. 19

Like earlier pieces, an exercise in a lyrical sustained top voice combined with other material below.
Again probably nothing to do with the a finger. Rather, the bass with the thumb and the other notes mipi mipi etc.

No. 20

Very fast, allegro brillante. Full of spirit, as the portamentos at bars 8, 18, 20 and 24 show, and the ending, full of panache, deliberately going up to the highest note of the whole op. 60 (to be heard only once more, at the end of the last piece, no. 25).

No. 21

An exercise in slurs, which should be played lightly but very clearly throughout. It’s Andantino, which means “with movement”, so not too fast.

At the end of the middle section (bars 49-52) notice the diminuendo, the rallentando, the hairpin diminuendo, the descending notes, the pianissimo: five indications of a dynamic waiting effect at this point, so don’t miss it!

No. 22

Another virtuoso scale piece, like a violinist, so like a violinist in fact that this time there isn’t even an accompanying bass. Very musical, very good.

No. 23
More virtuoso scales, perhaps not quite so hard this time, and stabilized by a bass which takes on more interest in the middle section (bar 17 on).

No. 24

A romantic piece, eloquent and varied. It seems to give a broader dimension to this part of Carcassi’s op. 60. Again, Andantino means with movement.

The tempo indications and dynamics are from the original edition and it is suggested that they be fully observed. In particular, from the end of bar 8 the tempo should be maintained at a good speed. The repeats are from the original edition, but it is suggested that they may be regarded as optional.

No. 25

This long virtuoso piece, Allegro brillante, whose final chords resemble those of many a romantic symphony, brings op. 60 to an end. Perhaps op. 60 was intended to be performed as a complete set, in which case the flourish of the ending of this piece would serve to bring the performance to an end. Giuliani also does this, for example, in his opp. 1, 48, 51, 98 and 100 (all in the new edition of Giuliani’s Complete Studies, TECLA 105). Sor, on the other hand, brings his groups of studies etc. to a position of repose at their end (opp. 6, 29, 31, 35, and 60 in his Complete Studies, TECLA 101).

Brian Jeffery

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