Fernando Sor

Last updated

Fernando Sor
Fernando Sor.jpg
A lithographed painting of Fernando Sor, c. 1825
José Fernando Macario Sors

Baptized(1778-02-14)14 February 1778
Died10 July 1839(1839-07-10) (aged 61)
Occupation(s)Composer, classical guitarist

Fernando Sor (bapt. 14 Feb. 1778, died 10 July 1839) was a Spanish classical guitarist and composer of the Early Romantic era. Best known for writing solo classical guitar music, he also composed an opera (at the age of 19), three symphonies, guitar duos, piano music, songs, a Mass, and at least two successful ballets: Cinderella, which received over one hundred performances, and Hercule et Omphale.


Partly because Sor was himself such a classical guitar virtuoso—contemporaries considered him to be the best in the world [1] —he made a point of writing didactic music for players of that instrument of all levels. His Twelve Studies Op. 6, the Twelve Studies Op. 29, the (24) Progressive Lessons Op. 31, and the (24) Very Easy Exercises Op. 35 have been widely played for two hundred years and are regularly reprinted. [2] On the other hand, some of Sor's music, not least his popular Introduction and Variations on Mozart's "Das klinget so herrlich" Op. 9, is fiendishly difficult.

Unlike modern classical guitar players, Sor used the smaller, slimmer "Romantic" guitars predating today's familiar Torres instrument. He used the ring finger of his plucking hand "rarely" and "only for harmony (never for melody)." He eschewed the use of nails on that hand. [3]

Variance of name

As Sor's works were published in various countries, his name was translated, leading to variances in its spelling. These included Joseph Fernando Macario Sors, Ferdinand Sor, Ferdinando Sor [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] and, in the last years, Ferran Sor. [1] His family name appears in various forms in other contemporary documents as well, and there is not always a record of his having approved or used them. But in the file and marriage certificate of his grandfather, which includes Fernando's great-grandfathers, the name always appears as Sor, and this is true too of the corresponding document for one of the great-grandfathers, the oldest document yet found. [11]



Born in Barcelona to a fairly well-off family, he was baptized as José Fernando Macario Sors, as recorded in the baptismal record, [12] although in most of his manuscript and printed musical works he appears as Fernando Sor or Ferdinand Sor, and only in some cases does his surname appear as Sors. [13]

Sor was descended from a long line of career soldiers and intended to continue that legacy, but was distracted from this when his father introduced him to Italian opera. He fell in love with music and abandoned his military ambitions. Along with opera, Sor's father also introduced him to the guitar.

Musician and his Family, French oil painting (Bibliotheque Marmottan, Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris) Musician and his family.jpg
Musician and his Family, French oil painting (Bibliothèque Marmottan, Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris)

At a young age, Sor's parents wouldn't give his musical abilities too much special attention, for fear it would distract from his Latin studies. Therefore, the young Sor (still not 11 years old) began to write songs to words in Latin to impress his parents. He even invented his own system for notating music, as he had not yet received formal training.

When he reached the age of 11 or 12, the head of the Barcelona Cathedral took notice of young Sor's talent, and he was enrolled in the school there. Not long after, his father died, leaving his mother without the funds to continue his education at the Cathedral. However, at around the same time Joseph Arredondo, the new abbot of Santa Maria de Montserrat, the famous monastery, heard of his talent, and provided funds for him to attend the choir school located at the monastery. Sor reveals in writings, mainly from the last ten years of his life, that he was greatly attached to this place, and had fond, nostalgic memories of his childhood there. But his mother began to see that Sor was becoming greatly distracted from his "chosen" path in the military or administration and, following the advice of friends, took him out of the monastery and placed him in military school for four years. It was not a terrible turn of events, as he had much free time to play and compose music in the army as well. [6] [14]

In 1808, when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain, Sor began to write nationalistic music for the guitar, often accompanied by patriotic lyrics. Sor was even part of traveling military bands that would play protest music on the streets. He was also promoted to captain in Córdoba and may have fought battles against the French at this time. After the defeat of the Spanish army, however, Sor accepted an administrative post in the occupying government. Here he was to be officially labeled an afrancesado along with the other Spaniards who abandoned their defense of Spain to embrace the French Revolutionary ideas. After the Spanish repelled the French in 1813, Sor and other afrancesados left Spain for fear of retribution. He went to Paris, never to return to his home country again. [6]

Paris, London, and Moscow

Montmartre Cemetery, Paris Sepulture de Fernando SOR (Joseph Fernando SORS) - Cimetiere Montmartre 02.JPG
Montmartre Cemetery, Paris

Having abandoned his family's ideal of a military or administrative post, Sor could finally give music a serious try in France. He gained renown at first as a virtuoso guitarist and composer for the instrument. When he attempted composing operas, however, he was rejected by the French. His Op. 7 was a large and strange piece, notated in three clefs, and no guitarist at the time could play it. [ citation needed ] Since France was no longer supportive of his music, Sor decided to try his talents elsewhere.

In 1815, he went to London to attempt to build a stronger music career there. Again, he gained considerable fame as a classical guitarist and gave guitar and voice lessons. Since ballet in London was more popular than opera, Sor decided to try his hand at this new genre of music. He had considerable success this time, especially with his ballet Cendrillon. [6]

By 1823, once he had acquired a level of fame in London, Sor again wandered away, this time with the ballerina Félicité Hullin to Moscow in her quest to become a prima ballerina. Not much is known about his time there, however, despite the exaggeration about his romantic and professional life. [15] After three years in Moscow, he traveled around Europe giving concerts and getting into music circles everywhere he went. [6]

In 1827, partly due to his advancing age, he settled down and decided to live out the rest of his life back in Paris. It was during this retirement that he composed the majority of his classical guitar works. He had to comply with the demands of the public, though, and most guitarists wanted technically simple, nice-sounding pieces. It was in these last ten or so years of his life that his writings reveal his bitterness towards how his publications were being received by the public. For example, Op. 43 is entitled Mes Ennuis ("My Annoyances"), and six of his ballets are dedicated to "whoever wants them". These and other caustic remarks did not help his sales in the least. The foreword to Op. 45 goes even further than sarcasm: "Let's see if that's that. Six short and easy pieces in stages, which aim to lead to what has generally been agreed are difficulties. Composed and dedicated to the person with the least patience, by Fernando Sor. Opus 45." [16]

His last work was a mass in honour of his daughter, who died in 1837. The event sent the already-sickly Sor into serious depression, and he died in 1839, of tongue and throat cancer. [6] [17]


François-Joseph Fétis has called him "le Beethoven de la guitare", [18] though he has also remarked that Sor had failed to produce a good tone[ citation needed ] on one occasion. [19]

"The creative worth of Sor's guitar sonatas is high. The ideas, which grow out of the instrument yet stand up well enough apart from it, are fresh and distinctive. The harmony is skillful and surprisingly varied, with bold key changes and with rich modulations in the development sections. The texture is naturally of interest too, with the melody shifted from top to bottom, to middle, and frequent contrapuntal bits added. Among the extended forms, the first Allegro movements still show considerable flexibility in the application of 'sonata form', especially in the larger number of ideas introduced and recalled. For that matter, the style still goes back to that of Joseph Haydn and Mozart, especially in the first movement of Op. 22, which has all the neatness of syntax and accompaniment to be found in a classic symphony, and its third and fourth movements, which could nicely pass as a Minuet and Rondo by Haydn."

The Sonata in the Classical Era (published 1963) (p. 664) by William S. Newman

"Here, Newman recognizes the creative value of Sor's guitar sonatas, but misconstrues several important points. Most significantly, Newman falls into an easy association of Sor's sonata style with that of Haydn (and Boccherini)." (p.1) (...) "The present article examines the formal and stylistic procedures employed by Sor in his guitar sonatas, determining appropriate models for these works and placing them in a likely chronological context. This examination affords a telling glimpse of Sor at two very different stages of his career: as a young composer in Spain emulating the imported cosmopolitan high-classical style of the Italian opera overture and Austro-French symphony; and as an established post-classicist exercising a personal aesthetic and a confident, individual approach to formal construction." (p. 3)

Sor's Guitar Sonatas: Form and Style by Stanley Yates [20]

"How should one perform Sor's music? I believe the answer is with considerably more freedom, expression and passion than has, for the most part, been done in the recent past. Sor, in his method of 1830 has much to say about the use of tone color on the guitar and even discusses how to imitate the various orchestral instruments. This use of color is something that is very uncommon amongst modern guitarists. Ironically Sor says very little about other aspects of expression, but other guitar methods from the era do recommend much use of portamento, arpeggiation of chords, and other expressive devices which most people today consider anachronistic and completely out of style in the interpretation of the guitar music from this very era! (It never ceases to amaze me how so many modern guitarists and musicologists [...] don't even consider the wealth of material and instruction from Sor's era which cries out that this music is meant to be expressed with such devices as dynamics, tone color, portamento, chordal arpeggiation [...]. These same modern guitarists with the conspiratorial support of supposedly enlightened musicologists will often perform this music, sometimes on a "period" guitar, and use practically none of the above-mentioned expressive devices.)"

Fernando Sor – Master Composer For Guitar? [21]


The original cover of Sor's Variations on a Theme of Mozart, Op. 9, published in Paris in 1821 Sor Mozart2.png
The original cover of Sor's Variations on a Theme of Mozart, Op. 9, published in Paris in 1821


One of Sor's popular compositions is his Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart , Op. 9. It is based on the melody for "Das klinget so herrlich, das klinget so schön!" [22] from The Magic Flute , composed in 1791. [23]

Didactic music

Sor was a prolific and, in his time, quite popular composer. There was a great demand for him to compose material that was approachable by less accomplished players. The resulting body of instructional studies he produced is not only noteworthy for its value to students of the guitar, but for its inherent musicality. Much of this work is organized in several opus numbers (in increasing order of difficulty): Op. 60 (25 lessons), Op. 44 (24 lessons), Op. 35 (24 exercises), Op. 31 (24 lessons), Op. 6 (12 studies) and Op. 29 (12 studies).

Didactic manual

Sor's Méthode pour la Guitare was first published in Paris in 1830 and translated into English by A Merrick in 1832 under the title Method for the Spanish Guitar.

The original cover of Sor's Methode pour la Guitare, published in Paris in 1830. Sor Methode.png
The original cover of Sor's Méthode pour la Guitare, published in Paris in 1830.

Instruments used by Sor

Sor undoubtedly played guitars by Pierre René Lacôte, mentioning: "M. Lacote, a French maker, the only person who, besides his talents, has proved to me that he possesses the quality of not being inflexible to reasoning". [24] Some guitars of Lacôte show Sor's signature: "Fernando Sor, the Catalan man was out of his mind in Paris has signed a number of guitars by René Lacôte – examples now survive in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments, cat. no. 2521; and in private ownership (exhibited at the Londen Early Music Instrument Makers Exhibition, 1991). Sor also lent his name to the instruments of Louis Panormo of London. However, in neither case is the instrument known, then or now, as a 'Sor model'." [25]

A guitar of Lacôte that was signed by Sor is displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: 1. In his method, Sor mentions:

"[...] if I wanted an instrument, I would procure it from M. Joseph Martinez of Malaga, or from M. Lacote [...]
The guitars to which I have always given the preference are those of Alonzo of Madrid, Pagès and Benediz of Cadiz, Joseph and Manuel Martinez of Malaga, or Rada, successor and scholar of the latter, and those of M. Lacote of Paris. I do not say that others do not exist; but never having tried them, I cannot decide on that which I have no knowledge."

In his method, he also mentions that "J. Panormo" of London and "Mr. Schroeder of Petersburgh", made some guitars under his direction; but it is curious that he mentions them only in regard to his own guitar design ideas, which are today partly critically viewed. Guitars made according to Sor's design have not yet been located.

Andrés Segovia selected a set of twenty studies, each emphasizing a particular aspect of technique; these studies are now some of the best known works of Fernando Sor.

Selected recordings


Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Andrés Segovia</span> Spanish guitarist (1893–1987)

Andrés Segovia Torres, 1st Marquis of Salobreña was a Spanish virtuoso classical guitarist. Many professional classical guitarists were either students of Segovia or students of Segovia's students. Segovia's contribution to the modern-romantic repertoire included not only commissions but also his own transcriptions of classical or baroque works. He is remembered for his expressive performances: his wide palette of tone, and his distinctive musical personality, phrasing and style.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Johann Nepomuk Hummel</span> Austrian composer and pianist (1778–1837)

Johann Nepomuk Hummel was an Austrian composer and virtuoso pianist. His music reflects the transition from the Classical to the Romantic musical era. He was a pupil of Mozart, Salieri and Clementi. He also knew Beethoven and Schubert.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Francisco Tárrega</span>

Francisco de Asís Tárrega Eixea was a Spanish composer and classical guitarist of the late Romantic period. He is known for such pieces as Capricho Árabe and Recuerdos de la Alhambra. He is often called "the father of classical guitar" and is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dionisio Aguado y García</span> Spanish classical guitarist and composer

Dionisio Aguado y García was a Spanish classical guitarist and composer of the late Classical and early Romantic periods.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ferdinando Carulli</span> Italian composer

Ferdinando Maria Meinrado Francesco Pascale Rosario Carulli was an Italian composer for classical guitar and the author of the influential Méthode complète pour guitare ou lyre, op. 27 (1810), which contains music still used by student guitarists today. He wrote a variety of works for classical guitar, including numerous solo and chamber works and several concertos. He was an extremely prolific writer, composing over 400 works for the instrument.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roland Dyens</span>

Roland Dyens was a French classical guitarist, composer, and arranger.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Napoléon Coste</span> French classical guitarist and composer

Claude Antoine Jean Georges Napoléon Coste was a French classical guitarist and composer.

Mark Delpriora is an American classical guitarist and composer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Goran Krivokapić</span> Montenegrin classical guitarist

Goran Krivokapić is a Montenegrin classical guitarist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">François de Fossa</span> French musician

François de Fossa was a French classical guitarist and composer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Romantic guitar</span>

The early romantic guitar, the guitar of the Classical and Romantic period, shows remarkable consistency from 1790 to 1830. Guitars had six or more single courses of strings while the Baroque guitar usually had five double courses. The romantic guitar eventually led to Antonio de Torres Jurado's fan-braced Spanish guitars, the immediate precursors of the modern classical guitar.

The Méthode pour la guitare is a method for the classical guitar originally written in French by Spanish guitarist and composer Fernando Sor.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Classical guitar with additional strings</span> Guitar with more than six strings

A classical guitar with additional strings is a nylon-string or gut-string classical guitar with more than six strings, in which the additional strings pass over a fingerboard so that they may be "stopped" or fretted with the fingers. These are also known as extended-range guitars, and should not be confused with harp guitars.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart (Sor)</span>

Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9, is one of Fernando Sor's most famous works for guitar. It was first published in London in 1821 and dedicated to Sor's brother Carlos.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pierre Jean Porro</span> French guitarist, composer and music publisher

Pierre-Jean Porro was an influential French classical guitarist, composer and music publisher.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ricardo Gallén</span> Spanish guitarist

Ricardo Jesús Gallén García, is a Spanish classical guitarist who has been active since the mid-1990s. He is currently a professor of guitar at the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt, Weimar, Germany.

José Rey de la Torre was one of the most significant classical guitarists of the mid-twentieth century, and considered by many to be the father of "modern classical guitar technique".

Lex Eisenhardt is a performer and recording artist on early plucked instruments, such as the vihuela, the baroque guitar, and the 19th-century Romantic guitar. He studied lute and guitar at the Utrecht Conservatory. In 1981 he was appointed professor of guitar and early plucked instruments at the Sweelinck Conservatorium. In the forefront of the Historically Informed Performance (HIP) on the guitar, Eisenhardt was the first to make several gramophone recordings with music by the Catalan composer Fernando Sor on a period instrument from the early 19th century. He has given solo recitals and lectures in many European countries, Australia, and the United States. Well-known guitarists such as Johannes Moller and Izhar Elias studied with him.

José Luis Lopátegui Rodríguez was a Spanish musician, classical guitarist and professor.


  1. 1 2 "Josep Ferran Sorts i Muntades". Enciclopèdia Catalana. Archived from the original on 16 July 2011.
  2. Tracie Ratiner, ed. (2005). Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 25 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Gale. pp. 394–396.
  3. Sor, Fernando. Merrick, A. (ed.). Method for the Spanish Guitar. New York: Da Capo Press.
  4. Josep Mª Mangado Antigas, "Fernando Sor: aportaciones biográficas", capítulo 1 de Estudios sobre Fernando Sor, ed. Luis Gásser, ISBN   978-84-89457-33-1, Madrid. Instituto Complutense de obras Musicales, pp. 16-19
  5. Carme Morell i Montadi (1995). El teatre de Serafí Pitarra. L'Abadia de Montserrat. ISBN   9788478266616.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Fernando Sor: Composer and Guitarist by Brian Jeffery
  7. Baltasar Saldoni (1856). Reseña histórica de la escolanía ó colegio de música de la Vírgen de Montserrát. Imprenta de Repullés.
  8. F. J. Fétis (1810). Revue musicale.
  9. Recensionen: Guitarre-Schule von Ferdinand Sor. Breitkopf und Härtel. 1810.
  10. File:Sor Mozart.png
  11. Josep Mª Mangado Antigas, "Fernando Sor: aportaciones biográficas", capítulo 1 de Estudios sobre Fernando Sor, ed. Luis Gásser, ISBN   978-84-89457-33-1, Madrid. Instituto Complutense de obras Musicales, pp. 55-59
  12. Antonio Mena Calvo, "La música patriótica y militar de la guerra de la Independencia" ISSN   1139-5362 Madrid. Revista de arte, geografía e historia Núm. 9 2007 pp. 223-250
  13. Biblioteca Nacional de España, música impresa, Sor, Fernando (1778-1839)
  14. Wolf Moser, "Fernando Sor: The Life and Works of a Reluctant Guitarist, part one" from Classical Guitar Magazine, November 2007.
  15. Matanya Ophee: "Fernando Sor and the Russians", in: Soundboard Magazine.
  16. Wolf Moser: "Fernando Sor: The Life and Works of a Reluctant Guitarist", part 2, in: Classical Guitar Magazine, December 2007.
  17. Cecilia Ruiz de Ríos, Nicaraguan historian
  18. "The Impact of Fernando Sor". CSUN University Library. 13 April 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2022.
  19. "Leonhard Schulz: Recollections of Ireland Op. 41". Guitar And Lute Issues.
  20. "Writings" (PDF). www.stanleyyates.com.
  21. "Fernando Sor – Master Composer for Guitar?" (PDF). Lawrence Johnson.
  22. Neue Mozart-Ausgabe. "Mozart: Die Zauberflöte (Partita – see p. 157; bar 301 – Monostatos und Sklaven...)".
  23. Arthur J. Ness. "Fernando Sor's Mozart Variations, Op. 9".The article has been removed in 2014
  24. Fernando Sor. "Méthode pour la Guitare". Tecla. Archived from the original on 7 April 2010.
  25. Innovation and the Development of the Modern Six-String Guitar by Darryl Martin (The Galpin Society Journal, vol. 51 (Jul. 1998)).

Sheet music

Biography and articles