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Authenticity of baroque guitar as continuo instrument in 18th century music?

Hello, I'm harpsichordist, not a guitarist but I appreciate the baroque guitar. I asked this question on another forum (rec.music.early) and got some interesting responses but they weren't guitarists so I figured it would be best to get all of your perspectives on the matter too.  I understand that the guitar was a typical continuo instrument in the 17th century but I was wondering if it's really authentic to be using it in 18th century music such as the music of Handel, Vivaldi, or Bach? I've read some people complain that having a guitarist in a continuo section in late baroque music is an anachronism. Your thoughts?

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I would not expect a guitarist playing Telemann, Bach or Händel... back then.

If you check this page: Continuo sources you will see that most sources (all sources on that page, actually) that mention the guitar are earlier than 1700. Checking Dr. Boye's other page Music for the baroque guitar, you come to the conclusion that there was guitar music during Bach's time, but maybe less than before.  So, I agree , it should not have been that common in the 18th century.

Well... and how about Spain, Portugal or Latin America? For sure, it SHOULD have been more common than in Europe.  It SHOULD have been, but maybe it WAS NOT.  I cannot say anything about other places, but I've seen a great deal of Guatemala's Cathedral Archive and whenever a plucked instrument is asked for it is a harp. I'm trying to locate a villancico that asks  clearly and unequivocally for a guitar... but so far, no luck.  We are speaking of almost 300 pieces from the 18th century... nothing, yet.  There's one that mentions that should be accompanied with a guitar (lyrics also mention a guitar), but no guitar music for this one either... I guess the guitarist had to read from the "Baxo" paper and that's it.

For Mexico, they seem to be doing much better.  Omar Morales Abril - in Heterofonía 141, Jul-Dec. 2009- has published an excellent edition and study of Jerónimo González's Serenísima una noche where he makes it clear that a guitar was intended. You can find a galley proof of the article somewhere on the net.

But... do we have to be that strict? Are we allowed at least some anachronisms?  After all, our instruments are usually copies, our clothes are modern, we use electrical lights, and in some cases even amplification...

And what if it sounds good? I've heard Vivaldi with baroque guitar in the continuo group and it sounded just great.

So, I would not expect a guitarist playing Telemann, Bach or Händel... back then, but should that stop us today?

Your information was interesting. Especially the continuo sources. I've been looking for something like that for a while.

Sure some anachronisms are acceptable and probably unavoidable. For instance, I think most string players still use modern instruments (as evidenced by chin rests and longer fingerboards) and just replace the strings with gut strings and use the baroque bow. I'd prefer a string orchestra made up of replicas or restored instruments but the acoustical difference is relatively minor. Clothing probably doesn't affect the sound of the music either.

A guitar on the other hand is not something I would consider minor. It changes the sound and the affect of the music substantially especially if strumming is used. If we say we play the music in a "historically informed" manner than it seems misleading and perhaps hypocritical to bring in an instrument for which we have little to no evidence of its use as a continuo instrument in the time period in question.

I'm still not convinced however that it wasn't used as a continuo instrument in the late baroque.  There seems to be a lot of paintings that show people playing the guitar in the period of 1700-1750. I presume they're mostly amateurs in these paintings but they are accompanying other people. I'd be interested to know what exactly they're playing on these guitars (thoroughbass improvisation?). There are many paintings here featuring guitars: http://www.klassiskgitar.net/1650-1700-1.html http://www.klassiskgitar.net/1700-1750-1.html  

This painting right here is one of the most interesting: 


I was once told at a masterclass where I played some Dowland, that in his - Dowlands- days, if one instrument was missing they just used another one i stead. I'm not shure if thats correct but if it is, playing baroque guitar as a substitute for another continuo instrument - wouldnt that be ok

It's very difficult to generalize.

Here are just some of my principles:

1) I'd never use the guitar for Bach music (but I'd never use theorbo or archlute too). Much better a calichon or a d-minor lute; the  same for German XVIII cent. music like Telemann or Fasch.

2) When Haendel was in Rome, guitar was used. He also writes a cantata with obbligato guitar. So, for me it's ok to use it in some Haendel music;

3) I use guitar in Vivaldi, since in Venice was a common instrument, and, in general, in Italian repertorie.

4) I use it French repertoire (Rober de Visée died in 1725)

5) Santiago de Murcia prints his "Resumen de acompañar la parte con la guitarra" in 1714, so ok for Spanish music.

Also I'm sure that in general, a lute player could play continuo on guitar too. In 1623 Castaldi writes in his Mazzetto di fiori that he doesn't want to add letters for the guitar, because for people who knows to play (lute) it's not necessary.

good answer Diego. I'll keep that in mind when I'm starting to play baroque guitar, wich I hopefully soon will.

This is the kind of information I've been looking for!   I never heard that about Handel before.

When you say that it was a common instrument in Rome, and Venice, do we know in what sort of settings it was common?

This painting suggests that lute players may have also brought a guitar to play with: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:'Portrait_of_several_musicians_an...

Also, are there any material (articles, books, etc) you can recommend that discuss its use in the 18th century? Thanks!

Whilst not 18th century, in 1682 'Matteis in The False Consonances of Musick' gives clear instructions for playing basso continuo on the guitar.  Murcia's later 'Resumen de acompaner la parte con la guitarra' (1714) is specifically for basso continuo on the guitar. In short the use of the guitar for continuo was not unknown in the early 18th century. But there seems little indication (eg from band listings) that the instrument was used with large scale forces and presumably played in small domestic works.
However it is noteable that both instructions describe a style of play closer to that used on the lute/theorbo (plucked chords etc) rather than the thrashing about strumming practised by some modern guitar continuo players.
The modern use of guitars (and lutes) is also down to the influence ('skill') of the recording engineers who, by placing multiple microphones, can effectively turn the most soft toned of instruments into something that can cut through a full band playing forte!


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