Fernando Sor – Studies for guitar op. 29 nos. 20 and 21


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These two studies by Sor, op. 29 nos. 20 and 21, give you the chance to play something magical, a sound-picture very different from usual.

First of all, study no. 20 uses the scordatura of tuning the sixth string of the guitar down to D, which in itself gives a rich sonority.

Then as you can see Sor writes that the piece should be played “presque piano” (almost piano). Not only that, but he writes that “the strings should be plucked at the point where the vibrations will last longest”, by which he no doubt means to pluck them near their centre, near the sound-hole. So the sound is already very different from usual.

But the very special feature of this piece is that it uses the old Spanish technique of campanelas in which an open string sounds repeatedly through moving chords, and also it has the left hand high up on the instrument. The fingering at bars 25-26 shows this, which is the only fingering which Sor gave in all the studies opp. 6 and 29. That fingering shows that the top A at bars 25-26 is on the second string not on the first string, and that top A no doubt continues to be on the second string through the rest of the piece.

So if the player uses those campanelas and also follows Sor’s recommendations about playing softly and where to pluck the strings and where to finger them with the left hand, a most marvellous and exceptional sound picture can be produced.

The melody in the bass (sometimes the melody is in fact in the middle voice with sonorous bass notes below it) needs to brought out throughout.

Study no. 21 is entirely in harmonics.

These studies come from Sor’s second book of twelve studies, op. 29, following on from his first book of twelve studies op. 6, and was first published in Paris in 1827, that is to say just after he arrived back in Paris from Russia, which makes it likely that he composed this second set of studies op. 29 while he had been in Russia.

The complete set of Sor’s Twelve studies op. 29 is available from Tecla Editions at www.tecla.com as part of the new 2019 second edition of Sor’s New Complete Works for Guitar edited by Brian Jeffery. For details about Sor’s music and his biography, please see www.tecla.com.