FERNANDO SOR Study Opus 6. No 9
Looking to the master of Spanish classical guitar Bridget Mermikides finds a piece in D minor that balances technical instruction with musical sophistication.
Bridget Mermikides arranges and transcribes another fabulous piece from the master of classical guitar études, the great Fernando Sor.
Once again we return to the work of one of the founding fathers of the classical guitar, the Spanish composer and perhaps first virtuoso of the instrument, Fernando Sor (1778-1839). In addition to being a busy performer, respected teacher, prodigious composer in a range of contexts (including two operas, nine ballets and three symphonies), Sor’s enduring influence on the development of the classical guitar can not be overstated. His hundreds of guitar works, studies, lessons and exercises, have forged generations of classical guitarists from student to master and are as useful (and used) today as much as ever.
Here, I’ve taken one of his excellent pieces from his book of 12 Studies (Opus 6), written in London in 1815 (where Sor lived and worked as a teacher, performer and composer for some time). As is typical of Sor’s guitar works, this piece manages to balance technical instruction with a satisfying musical sophistication, and this is a useful piece for the student of both classical guitar technique and harmonic theory.
Composed in the key of D minor (using drop D tuning), the piece has a central section in the ‘relative’ key of F major (from bar 11). Harmonic interest is created by ‘leaning’ on the chords in both these keys with the use of secondary dominants (dominant 7th chords a 5th above their target – for example bar 46 the D7 a 5th above Gm). In addition, Sor uses a type of harmonic device that doesn’t quite fit in contemporary pop and rock chord-naming terminology. These are known as ‘augmented 6th’ chords (second minim of bars 19 and 23) and are a type of approach chord that targets the following chord like this: A lower voice approaches the root of the target via a semitone descent, and an upper voice via a semitone ascent. For example in bar 19 to 20,
Eb an descends a semitone to a D while (in the octave above) a C# ascends a semitone to a D.
Eb The interval between the and C# (which is outwardly resolved) is an augmented 6th and the addition of the G (a tritone away from each interval) categorises it among other varieties as an ‘Italian’ augmented 6th chord.
Eb7, In chord symbols I’ve labelled it as an but since this is a simplification I’ve included the ‘classical’ labelling of It+6.
In terms of guitar technique, the work poses the challenge of continuous 6th (and occasionally 3rd) intervals, which involves both fretting stamina and precision, and plucking hand coordination. As ever, use the tab captions to navigate the various challenges and take the time to develop fluency so that you can perform the piece with the expression it requires.