A Short History of the Classical Guitar

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The classical guitar is an often overlooked instrument and genre of music, due to the popularization of rock and electric guitar. Classical guitar, however, has a rich history of not only beautiful music, but also influential musicians such as Leo Bouwer that we wrote about earlier this month. Keep reading to learn more about this beloved instrument and be sure to visit our website to learn more about the guitar lessons we offer to students of all ages near San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Milpitas at our Santa Clara location.

Introduction

Guitar is an instrument that is much older than probably assumed. Various stringed instruments such as the kithara and lyre have existed throughout history. However, the vihuela and gittern, both guitar-like instruments, preceded and greatly influenced the development of the guitar. The guitar gained popularity during the Renaissance period and had strings called courses, but the root of the guitar’s name comes from ancient Persia.

Beginnings

The guitar spread to Europe by way of Spain. English and French scholars traveled to Spain to learn from Muslim, Christian, and Jewish scholars. When they returned home, they brought the guitar to Western Europe. At first the guitar was considered an instrument for the common folk and for playing simple songs. However, composers such as Alonso Mudarra, Adrien le Roy, and Guillaume de Morlaye wrote complex and sophisticated pieces for the guitar that matched that which was being written at that time for the lute.

During the Baroque Period

Though the guitar gained prominence during the Renaissance, the Baroque guitar is said to be the direct ancestor of the modern guitar. Evolving in both construction and its place in society, the guitar made its way into the hands of professional musicians and the courts of kings. Significant musical pieces were written for the guitar by composers such as Santiago de Murcia, Francisco Guerau, Robert de Visee, and Francesco Corbetta.

The Guitar of the Classical Era

During the classical era of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, the guitar fell out of popularity. Despite its decline, the guitar saw major changes in its construction during this time. Six strings became the norm and the neck of the guitar was lengthened. The rosette of old guitars was replaced by the modern hole design and metal frets became standard. The body also became bigger.  

The Guitar and the Romantic Era

The guitar once again rose in popularity and became a dominant instrument featured in the compositions of the day’s finest composers and in the hands of popular musicians. The guitar with its modifications of the previous era lent itself perfectly to achieve the expression of intense emotional feelings, the aim of Romanticism. Due to the guitar’s compact size, it allowed musicians to travel across Europe easily.  

1800’s and Beyond

For most of the time before, composers and musicians were one and the same; rarely did musicians perform pieces that weren’t their own. However, during this time, due to large pieces of music such as symphonies and operas being written, composers no longer performed their own music and thus the professional musician was born. Performing for large audiences also became a norm. In times past, musicians usually performed for the courts of kings. Even later, the ability to record music gave the professional guitarist one more outlet to share their music and make a living performing.

The construction of the guitar also changed once again. No longer were gut strings used, but during World War II, the nylon strings that are used on classical guitars today came to be.

Conclusion

The classical guitar has continued to evolve and still delights the ears of listeners and the musicians that play it. There is so much more to learn about the classical guitar and its history that we could simply not cover in one blog post. Regardless, we hope that you learned a little more about this instrument and how it has changed over time into the instrument that we have today.

If you or your child are interested in taking guitar lessons, contact The California Conservatory! We offer classical training that includes private lessons, theory classes, and many recital opportunities. Visit our website to learn more about the guitar lessons that we offer students in Santa Clara, as well as Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood Shores, Foster City, and Belmont at our Redwood City location.