Early Guitars and Vihuela

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have been asked to play continuo for a concert includng:

a Bach cantata
a Bach harpsichord concerto
a Zelenka Miserere
a selection of Rameau's concerted pieces.

it's probably cheeky to use BG for the Bach cantata but what about the Zelenka?

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I think it depends on how historically accurate / informed you want to appear :-) I believe there is very little evidence of guitars having been used for continuo in orchestras, leave alone for sacred music...

So if you ask me, I'd say, if it is a professional production, being presented as historically informed or authentic, don't. If it is an amateur production, that aims at having fun and providing enjoyment, go for it.

so today i played the in a concert that included Bach's famous Air from the Suite in D, and Corelli's Christmas Concerto. i've played public gigs with my little baroque jarana before, but these were always with ukulele groups. this was the first time i used my baroque jarana for a 'proper' classical concert, with a little amateur community orchestra that is trying to do smaller 'baroque' ensemble music.

the Bach would have been very painful to play on my G archlute, and archlute would have been anachronistic anyway, so i went for what was easier. i wasn't going to bring two instruments for two pieces, so i thought to use the guitar for the Corelli. the harpsichord player was playing from an old-fashioned editorial realisation in 4-parts and very correct but bland. the string players said they appreciated the brisé addition to the texture as well as the strummed accents on cadences (i can't play everything yet). i had fun :D i don't think i'd have had the courage play solo in public, but someone i don't mind doing continuo - could be the feeling of safety in numbers. 

so yes, i used a baroque guitar in Bach. given that my archlute would have been awkward, the ease of the baroque guitar and the additional volume was worth it. i'm playing with modern strings anyway, and they're mostly sawing away like it's Chaikovskii, so inaudible authenticity is probably a bit pointless.

There is surely evidence for guitars being used in orchestras, but I'd say just play whatever feels and sounds right.

I really hate the notion that if it strives to be 'authentic', don't use this or don't use that.

Authenticity is such a problematic concept...You see so many people worrying far too much about a concept that is unattainable and unrealistic to begin with.

If you ask me, whether it's a 'professional' or 'amateur' production, play whatever you have on hand, whatever you feel most comfortable with, and whatever sounds best.

Hi Konstantin,

I'd be very interested in any primary source information on guitars being used in contemporary orchestras playing Bach, Rameau or Zelenka...

me too!

A few months ago I wrote a paper exploring payroll records around the time of Rameau, mainly dealing with the Concert Spirituels. There were at least 3 pluckers employed, one of whom is clearly stated as a guitarist. Another interesting source for sacred music is the music of Bernier. Some of his published prefaces do specify guitar, although as an option, as do many other publications.

For Bach and Zelenka I really don't know of any evidence. My field is baroque France.

Like I advised Edward: Play on whatever sounds and feels right.

Who am I to tell him 'NO! don't you dare bring a guitar close to Bach!'

We can sit here and discuss obscure footnotes and sources until next Saturday, while Ed will be busy making lovely music and enjoying himself.

I'd be happy to discuss primary sources and evidence of whatever you'd like, but perhaps in a different thread.

Happy music making to all!

Hello Konstantin, that sounds like a fascinating paper. As to the Concert Spirituels, I think the only guitarist employed there ever, in over 60 years, was Vidal in 1776... so that rather demonstrates how UNusual it was for guitars to be used for basso continuo in religious music (in France in C!8)! I'd still like to see the Bernier reference, maybe you can point us towards the source?

Thank, Jelma

A lot depends on what you mean by religious music or sacred music.     I think you need to make a distinction between settings of religious texts and music intended to be performed in church as part of the liturgy.  I am also rather surprised to learn that there are many - presumably French -sources which actually specify the guitar as an accompanying instrument.   Can you list some of them?

It seems to me wholly inappropriate to include baroque guitar in the music of Bach or Zelenka - Rameau perhaps if it was secular. As I understand it the Concert Spirituel was formed to perform instrumental music and vocal music with Latin texts at public concerts (not during the liturgy) but also extended its repertoire to include vocal music with French texts. One of the pluckers may have played the guitar but this doesn't mean that he played all the time in everything regardless of whether it was appropriate to do so. It is all very well saying "Do what you think sounds good". On that basis you could include the ukelele or the bagpipes if you happened to like and play them. It is surely necessary to excerise a bit of taste and discretion. I hate hearing the bg strumming away in everything which seems to be the fashion today!
Well - if you are not worried about "authenticity" you can do what you like. I can't really see why any plucked stringed instrument was necessary, archlute or whatever if there was a harpsichord on board. But if you had fun and the audience enjoyed it that is presumably all that matters.
On a very different side of the planet -New Spain- it was not so unusual. I've seen a "villancico de negros de Jalapa con guitarra" and in a better known piece, "Serenissima una noche" in the coplas, you see an indication "por el cruzado" which makes little sense unless you have someone playing the guitar. These pieces " villancicos de maitines" were intended to be played In Church.

Now, I really would like to play some continuo for Handel or Purcell. Even though it is about half a century earlier, do you think the Matteis book provides a good enough excuse?

But these are "non-liturgical" pieces performed at Christmas or Corpus Christi often in procession, not necessarily in church.  Moreover Catholic rather than Protestant.  You wouldn't accompany movements from the mass by Victoria or Juan de Araujo with the guitar.   You could perhaps use the guitar for continuo in some secular pieces by Purcell  who was contemporary with Matteis but not Bach or Handel and certainly not in their church music.


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