February 2019 Composer of the Month - Fernando Sor

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Composer of the month: Fernando Sor

Who is Fernando Sor?

Fernando Sor forged the way for today’s modern classical guitarists to have a significant role in music--Andres Segovia can thank Sor for paving that path.  So who was Fernando Sor anyway? He was:

  • A Spanish-born classical guitarist and composer

  • Born on Valentine’s Day, 1778

  • Best known for his guitar compositions

  • A composer for multiple forms of music

  • Considered to be the best guitarist in the world by his contemporaries

  • Responsible for bringing the guitar to the world of modern classical music

Early life

Fernando Sor was born in Barcelona, Spain on and baptized on Valentine’s Day, 1778.  His father introduced Sor to the guitar.  Sor soon became a prodigy of sorts, mastering the guitar without any formalized training by the tender age of eight. 

Education

Sor’s musical talent was becoming well-known throughout the area and eventually caught the attention of Joseph Arredondo, the new abbot at the monastery of Montserrat. The Abbot invited Sor to the monastery so that he could attend the monastery’s choir school; Sor would be allowed to attend for free, essentially, since the Abbot volunteered to provide the necessary funding for this kind of education. 

Sor received classical training in music at the choir school.  It was here that he learned how to play the violin and the piano; it was here that he was introduced to music theory in a formal way.  Amid all of these opportunities, Sor wasn’t given the chance to master the guitar here: students were only give traditional classical instruments during this time.

Ten years passed, Sor’s father died, and his mother couldn’t afford the cost of this private music education.  She also didn’t see any professional value in these studies, so it wasn’t long before Sor left the choir school and entered a (less expensive) military program.

Adult life and critical acclaim

Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808 and defeated the Spanish soon after, and it was around this time that, Sor unwisely accepted an administrative post with the French government.  In 1813, the Spanish were able to regain their country, and Sor moved to France fearing for his life and never returned to Spain.

Sor lived in Paris and returned to his musical roots.  He composed etudes and other pieces for the guitar as well as longer, more elaborate performance works in other genres. Sor also returned to his first love:  the guitar.  He performed throughout Europe and captivated audiences with his ability on the guitar. In fact, he performed at the London Philharmonic Society in 1817 to great acclaim. He became a popular, sought-after performer.  In 1822, he was named an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music. He retired from the concert stage just five years later.

In his retirement, Sor composed music and wrote about playing the guitar..  One of his greatest contributions remains The Method for Spanish Guitar. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 59.

Not only did Fernando Sor increase his own fame, but he helped audiences see the guitar as a viable instrument capable of being used in more ways than for simple accompaniment for songs at the local pub. 

Most well-known pieces

Take a listen to some of these famous pieces by Fernando Sor.  Have you heard them before?

  • Centrillon (Cinderella), which Sor performed more than 100 times!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi7ZtzRgyRU

  • Variations on a Theme of Mozart

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iaEcDgxm8es

  • Grand Solo

https://youtu.be/91t9gKi2SFk

Fun facts

Sor was the first musician known in “The First Golden Age of Guitar”

  • Before Sor came onto the scene, people viewed the guitar as a simply bar or taven instrument unfit for classical music

  • Like other composers (SEE MOZART ARTICLE LINK HERE), Fernando Sor wasn’t the real name of the guitarist and composer. Joseph Fernando Macari Sors

Because of Fernando Sor, the guitar was brought to the masses and more people than ever before wanted to learn how to play the guitar. Guitar is still one of the most popular instruments in the world! If you are interested in studying guitar at CCM’s Redwood City location or Santa Clara location, we offer guitar lessons for students of all ages.  Contact the California Conservatory of Music today to schedule your free 15-minute introductory lesson—we can’t wait to hear from you!