There are lots and lots of classical guitar pieces out there. So which one should you learn? How to choose? Well, why not try these, just because they’re fun!
1. Fernando Sor - Opus 60, etude 22
About the piece
Fernando Sor was such a guitar virtuoso that contemporaries considered him to be the best in the world! And in this piece, you can just feel his genious while you’re playing.
I can’t even begin to describe how much I love this piece. It’s one of those pieces that change constantly, that need to be played with lots of energy or it just doesn’t work. A piece that will challenge you at every step.
Background info on composer
Fernando Sor, also called (Spanish) José Fernando Macarurio Sors, (Catalan) Josep Ferran Sorts i Muntades, or (English) Joseph Fernando Macari Sors, (baptized February 14, 1778, Barcelona, Spain—died July 10, 1839, Paris, France), Catalan Romantic performer, composer, and teacher of guitar known for being among the first to play the guitar as a classical concert instrument and for writing one of the earliest books of guitar-playing methodology. He was a noted guitar virtuoso.
When he was a young boy, Sor was introduced both to Italian opera and to the guitar, the latter then considered distinctly plebeian and inferior to orchestral instruments. He attended the Escolania de Montserrat, the choir school at Montserrat monastery, and, when he was 18 years old, attended military school in Barcelona for four years. In 1797 he staged his first opera, Il Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (“Telemachus on the Island of Calypso”). As a result of that work, he moved in 1798 to Madrid, where he was supported by the duchess of Alba until her death in 1802. When Napoleon and the French army invaded Spain in 1808, Sor first supported the Spanish side. He then switched allegiances when Spain was defeated and took a post with the new French government. When Napoleon was subsequently defeated in 1813, Sor left Spain for France and remained in exile for the rest of his life.
Sor taught and performed on the guitar while living in Paris. In 1815 he moved to London, where he stayed until 1823. While there he wrote music prolifically. He published 33 Italian ariettas for voice and piano (11 publications with three pieces of music each) and had four ballets produced there, notably his Cendrillon (Cinderella), which was staged in Paris in 1822 and, after a successful run, went to the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. Sor traveled to Moscow to oversee the production and returned to Paris about 1826. In 1830 Sor published Méthode pour la guitar (Method for the Spanish Guitar, translated into English 1832), a book of 30 studies for guitar that is still considered, in the early 21st century, to be a major contribution to classical guitar studies. For the remainder of his life, Sor was highly sought after as a teacher and a performer throughout Paris.
After his death Sor’s compositions fell into obscurity, as did the classical guitar, until the instrument and Sor’s repertory were revived in the 20th century by Spanish guitarist and composer Andrés Segovia. Very little was known about Sor’s life (his grave was unmarked until 1934) until the release of the Brian Jeffery’s biography, Fernando Sor: Composer and Guitarist, in 1977. Although Sor composed hundreds of works—including operas and ballets and pieces for voice, guitar, piano, and other instruments—he is chiefly remembered as a composer and performer of music for the guitar and as the person responsible for granting that instrument respectability. Grand Sonata in C Major, Op. 22 (written by 1808) and Introduction, Theme and Variations on a Theme from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Op. 9, for guitar (c. 1820–23), are among his best-known works.
2. Erik Satie - Gymnopedie no 1
About the piece
Erik Satie is first and foremost a pianist. Not all his piano pieces translate well to guitar but this one sure does…
Gymnopedie no 1 is one of the most relaxing pieces I’ve ever played. When played live it calms everybody listening down immediatly. It’s definitely one that’s worth learning!
Background info on composer
Eric Alfred Leslie Satie (17 May 1866 – 1 July 1925), who signed his name Erik Satie after 1884, was a French composer and pianist. He was the son of a French father and a British mother. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire but was an undistinguished student and obtained no diploma. In the 1880s he worked as a pianist in café-cabaret in Montmartre, Paris, and began composing works, mostly for solo piano, such as his Gymnopédies. He also wrote music for a Rosicrucian sect to which he was briefly attached.
After a spell in which he composed little, Satie entered Paris’s second music academy, the Schola Cantorum, as a mature student. His studies there were more successful than those at the Conservatoire. From about 1910 he became the focus of successive groups of young composers attracted by his unconventionality and originality. Among them were the group known as Les Six. A meeting with Jean Cocteau in 1915 led to the creation of the ballet Parade (1917) for Serge Diaghilev, with music by Satie, sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso and choreography by Léonide Massine.
Satie guided a new generation of French composers away from post-Wagnerian impressionism towards a sparer, terser style. Among those influenced by him were Maurice Ravel and Francis Poulenc. His harmony is often characterised by unresolved chords, he sometimes dispensed with bar-lines, as in his Gnossiennes, and his melodies are generally simple and often reflect his love of old church music. He gave some of his later works absurd titles, such as Veritables Preludes flasques (pour un chien) (“True Flabby Preludes (for a Dog)”, 1912), Croquis et agaceries d’un gros bonhomme en bois (“Sketches and Exasperations of a Big Wooden Man”, 1913) and Sonatine bureaucratique (“Bureaucratic Sonata”, 1917). Most of his works are brief, and the majority are for solo piano. Exceptions include his “symphonic drama” Socrate (1919) and two late ballets Mercure and Relâche (1924).
Satie never married, and his home for most of his adult life was a single small room, first in Montmartre and from 1898 to his death, in Arcueil, a suburb of Paris. He adopted various images over the years, including a period in quasi-priestly dress, another in which he always wore identically-coloured velvet suits, and is known for his last persona, in neat bourgeois costume, with bowler hat, wing collar and umbrella. He was a lifelong heavy drinker, and died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 59.
3. Andrew York - Willow
About the piece
Andrew York is one of the most interesting contemporary guitar players out there. If you don’t know who he is, you should really check out his work!
Willow is one of those pieces where the melody is constantly changing and morphing into something else. It’s a bit counter intuïtive but not so much that it becomes real difficult to get the hang of. A real treat!
Background info on composer
Andrew York is one of today’s best loved composers for classical guitar and a performer of international stature. His compositions blend the styles of ancient eras with modern musical directions, creating music that is at once vital, multi-leveled and accessible. Andrew received a GRAMMY as a member of the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet during his sixteen years with the cutting-edge ensemble. York’s compositions have been featured on GRAMMY-winning recordings by Jason Vieaux (CD “Play”, featuring Andrew’s iconic composition “Sunburst”, 2015) and Sharon Isbin (CD “Journey to the New World” featuring “Andecy”, 2010). In 2006 Andrew recorded and performed with the Atlanta Symphony for the opera “Ainadamar” by Osvaldo Golijov. The recording of “Ainadamar” (Deutsche Gramophone) won two GRAMMY awards.
Andrew has released CDs on Sony-U.S., Sony-Japan, King Records (Japan), Telarc, GSP and Delos labels, as well as inclusion on Rhino Records “Legends of Guitar” and numerous other compilations. Andrew’s 2010 CD release “Centerpeace” offers individual collaborations with guitarist Andy Summers, and pianists Mitsuko Kado and Allaudin Mathieu. Andrew’s most recent recordings “Home” and “The Equations of Beauty,” were released on both vinyl LP and two separate EP/CDs. The recordings include the single “Home” and the 26-minute suite “The Equations of Beauty,” based on mathematics.
Andrew’s solo recording “Yamour” was released on vinyl as a double LP album, and garnered the number one spot in Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s “Essential Recordings of 2012” by editor Teja Gerken. Commenting on the more than eighty minutes of new pieces for solo guitar he composed for this major work, Andrew says “When I write I feel a connection to my spirit and the joy and sorrow of life. My entire life comes into focus and there is no separation between me as a boy, a young man and now in my later years.” In film, Andrew performs in the live documentary “Primal Twang,” written and hosted by eminent musician and storyteller Dan Crary, with other artists Eric Johnson, Albert Lee, Doc Watson, and Mason Williams. York’s compositions have also been recorded by guitar luminaries John Williams and Christopher Parkening, Sharon Isbin, Jason Vieaux, and Japanese pianist Mitsuko Kado. In addition, generations of younger guitarists make Andrew’s music a staple of their repertoire in their performances and studies. As a published composer, York’s works appear in print worldwide through Majian Music, Alfred Publications, Hal Leonard, Mel Bay Publications, Guitar Solo Publications, Doberman-Yppan in Canada, Ricordi in London, and Gendai in Japan.
A love of music was instilled at an early age; Andrew’s father was a guitarist and his mother a professional singer. Family reunions abounded with folk music ranging from frontier American to English and Celtic traditional songs. Andrew crosses over stylistic boundaries with an unusual authority – besides his classical contribution, he also has an extensive background as a jazz guitarist, studying with jazz legends Joe Diorio and Lenny Breau. As a classical musician, Andrew was awarded a grant from the Del Amo Foundation for Study in Spain. Andrew received his Master of Music degree from University of Southern California, and is the only USC graduate in the school’s history to twice receive the Outstanding Alumni of the Year Award in 1997 as a member of LAGQ and in 2003 as the sole recipient. Andrew is a member of the Triple Nine Society.
4. Claude Debussy - Clair de lune
About the piece
No matter what arrangement you try to play of this piece, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written. Wether you’re version is simple or very complicated, it’s always gorgeous
This one is therefor all about phrasing!
Background info on composer
Claude Debussy was among the most influential composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His mature compositions, distinctive and appealing, combined modernism and sensuality so successfully that their sheer beauty often obscures their technical innovation. Debussy is considered the founder and leading exponent of musical Impressionism (although he resisted the label), and his adoption of non-traditional scales and tonal structures was paradigmatic for many composers who followed.
Debussy began piano studies at the Paris Conservatory at the age of 11. While a student there, he encountered the wealthy Nadezhda von Meck, who employed him as a music teacher to her children; through travel, concerts, and acquaintances, she provided him with a wealth of musical experience. Most importantly, she exposed the young Debussy to the works of Russian composers such as Borodin and Mussorgsky, who would remain important influences on his music.
Debussy began composition studies in 1880, and in 1884 he won the prestigious Prix de Rome with his cantata L’enfant prodigue. This prize financed two years of further study in Rome — years that proved to be creatively frustrating. However, the period immediately following was fertile for the young composer; trips to Bayreuth and the Paris World Exhibition (1889) established, respectively, his determination to move away from the influence of Richard Wagner, and his interest in the music of Eastern cultures.
After a relatively bohemian period, during which Debussy formed friendships with many leading Parisian writers and musicians (not least of which were Mallarmé, Satie, and Chausson), the year 1894 saw the enormously successful premiere of his Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun) — a truly revolutionary work that brought his mature compositional voice into focus. His seminal opera Pelléas et Mélisande, completed the next year, would become a sensation at its first performance in 1902. The impact of those two works earned Debussy widespread recognition (as well as frequent attacks from critics, who failed to appreciate his forward-looking style), and over the first decade of the 20th century he established himself as the leading figure in French music — so much so that the term “Debussysme” (“Debussyism”), used both positively and pejoratively, became fashionable in Paris. Debussy spent his remaining healthy years immersed in French musical society, writing as a critic, composing, and performing his own works internationally. He succumbed to colon cancer in 1918, having also suffered a deep depression brought on by the onset of World War I.
His works for solo piano, particularly his collections of Préludes and Etudes, which have remained staples of the repertoire since their composition, bring into relief his assimilation of elements from both Eastern cultures and antiquity — especially pentatonicism, modality, parallelism, and the whole-tone scale. Pelléas et Mélisande and his collections of songs for solo voice establish the strength of his connection to French literature and poetry, especially the symbolist writers, and stand as some of the most understatedly expressive works in the repertory. The writings of Mallarmé, Maeterlinck, Baudelaire, and his childhood friend Paul Verlaine appear prominently among his chosen texts and joined symbiotically with the composer’s own unique moods and forms of expression.
5. Ferdinando Carulli - Waltz in E minor
About the piece
You can’t be a classical guitarist without at least one waltz in your repertoire and this is a real good one to start with.
It has three main sections that all have their own charm. The fun part is that you can rearrange the order and change the number of repeats all you want, which makes it perfect for live performances, where you might want to play a little longer.
Background info on composer
Ferdinando Maria Meinrado Francesco Pascale Rosario Carulli (9 February 1770 – 17 February 1841) 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.
Carulli was among the most prolific composers of his time. He wrote more than four hundred works for the guitar, and countless others for various instrumental combinations, always including the guitar. His most influential work, the “Method, op. 27”, published in 1810, contains pieces still widely used today in training students of the classical guitar. Along with numerous works for two guitars, works for guitar with violin or flute, and three concertos for guitar with chamber orchestra, Carulli also composed several works for guitar and piano (in collaboration with his son, Gustavo).
Many of the pieces now regarded as Carulli’s finest were initially turned down by publishers who considered them too difficult for the average recreational guitarist. It is likely that many of his best works remained unpublished and are now lost. Nevertheless, several of Carulli’s published works point at the likely quality and sophistication of his concert music, the Six Andantes Op. 320 (dedicated to the guitarist Matteo Carcassi) being a good example. The great majority of Carulli’s surviving works, however, were those considered marketable enough by mainstream Parisian publishers aiming at an amateur recreational market.
In addition to his highly successful Methode Op. 27 (which went through four editions during his lifetime and a major revision, as Op. 241), Carulli also published several supplements to the method, along with a method without explanatory text (L’Anti Methode Op. 272), a method for the decacorde, a harmony treatise, a treatise dealing with guitar accompaniment of the voice, and several collections of vocalises and solfèges. The latter studies were intended to exploit the guitar’s accompanying capabilities, and to be used by both singer-guitarists amateurs, and voice teachers who were not proficient figured bass readers.
Classical guitarists have recorded many of his works. Arguably his most famous work is a duet for guitar and flute, which was recorded by Alexander Lagoya and Jean-Pierre Rampal, although his Duo in G Op.34 achieved a measure of indirect fame in Britain as the theme tune of cult 1980s science fiction/television game show The Adventure Game. The Duo in G has been recorded several times, most famously by Julian Bream and John Williams.