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Review: The Century That Shaped the Guitar

Review: The Century That Shaped the Guitar (From the Birth of the Six-String Guitar to the Death of Tárrega)

James Westbrook

2005. 180 pp., Available from

Previously published in American Lutherie #88, 2006

In 1813 the soon-to-be-renowned composer and guitarist Fernando Sor left Spain, never to return. His destination was Paris, in the only country that would have him. After two years of frustration and disappointment he moved to London where he was to finally achieve the success that had eluded him. The large forces that brought Sor to London include his education, his professional training, the many wars in Europe, and taste.

Sor was given a liberal education in his native Barcelona. He studied composition, singing, and the newly invented 6-string guitar. With the premiere in 1797 of his opera Telemachus on Calypso’s Isle, Sor became the celebrated wunderkind. But a career in music was not in his immediate future. He had received a military training that seemed unlikely to cause his musical career much trouble. But, Napoleon’s invasion of Spain changed all that. Sor was thrown into active duty. When the French finally conquered Spain, Sor was given the choice of continuing his military career as part of the occupying French army, or joining the Spanish resistance. (The resistance was not doing so well, as documented by the many gruesome paintings by Goya.) Sor chose to continue his military career with the French (bad move). When Napoleon was finally defeated, these Spanish afrancesados were being murdered by the now victorious resistance at an alarming rate. Like many Spaniards in his position, Sor joined the exodus of 1813 and moved to Paris.

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