It is no secret that the classical guitar world is a world dominated by men. Interestingly enough, the guitar was first thought of as an instrument for women. Men who played the guitar (including Sor) were seen as less manly than those who played proper instruments such as the violin, military brass instruments, or basically anything else. In an article by Erik Stenstadvold (“‘We Hate the Guitar’: prejudice and polemic in the music press in early 19th-century Europe”), it was written that:
“As late as 1823, the Allemeine musikalische Zeitung reported about the state of music in London that ‘for young men of class, to play the piano or even the guitar, is still always a kind of shame, unless they intend to teach. Besides, both are regarded as only women’s instruments.’”
Nonetheless, more and more men started to make a living playing the guitar, and herein lies the problem. Although the guitar was a woman’s instrument, it was only a woman’s instrument at home. Women were not generally permitted on the concert stage, and therefore, although many women played the guitar, they were not able to make a name for themselves as guitarists in the public eye.
Then, of course, since the advent of rock-and-roll, the guitar has become the cool instrument that every young boy wants to learn.
After talking to a few of my colleagues, we came to an interesting realization. Most of the teachers that I talked to don’t notice a huge imbalance in girl-boy ratios in young students, however, around puberty the girls tend to quit taking lessons while the boys continue to play guitar. There are probably many reasons for this, and I plan on thinking about it more for a future blog post.
Today I would just like to focus the spotlight on some of the women who have composed for the classical guitar. This list will be incomplete – I will try to cover all of the female composers for the guitar that I know over a few blogposts, but please add any names and pieces that come to mind in the comments at the end of this post. I have decided to include only composers who wrote for the 6-string guitar, so while there are women who wrote for stringed instruments prior to 1800, I will not be including them at the moment.
Before I begin my informal bibliography of female composers, I would like to note a couple collections of works that have been recorded and/or published.
Annette Kruisbrink (herself a prolific modern guitar composer) has published a collection titled “Guitar Music by Women Composers.” This collection can be purchased through Les productions d’oz here. The book is laid out as a chronological survey of music by female composers from the Baroque era to present day. The book is accompanied by a CD with recordings of the pieces.
Connie Sheu recorded a CD called “The Women’s Voice: Original Music for Guitar by Female Composers.” I have not heard this CD, but I plan on picking it up at some point. The CD includes recordings of Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi’s 6 Preludes as well as her Op. 9 variations, and music by Dale Kavanagh, Ida Presti, and Annette Kruisbrink. The CD was released in 2012 and is avaiable for purchase all over the internet. Here is a link to Amazon where you can purchase the hard copy.
Madame Sidney Pratten (Catharina Josepha Pratten)
Madame Pratten (1821-1895) was a very important guitar teacher in London during the mid-late 19th century. She was the daughter of German guitarists Ferdinand Pelzer and grew up in England. She was a child prodigy, and as a child, she performed in concerts with Giulio Regondi. She was married in 1854 to the flautist Robert Sidney Pratten, with whom she had 3 children, all of whom were musical. She became an incredibly well respected guitarist and teacher, teaching, among others, the princesses Louise and Beatrice at the royal court.
Her music is rather difficult to come across, as not all of it is available online. A few of her shorter pieces are available in the Boije collection here, and her Guitar School is available through the Huddleston Collection here. Two of her short pieces (also available through Boije) are published in Annette Kruisbrink’s collection “Guitar Music by Women Composers.”
Here is a recent home recording of “Eventide.” The music is available through the Boije Collection.
Emilia Giuliani-Guglielmi (1813-c1844/1850) was one of the first female guitarist-composers that I came across when I began my search almost two years ago. She was the daughter of the famous guitarist-composer Mauro Giuliani, and was, by all accounts, quite the accomplished musician. After playing some of her music (the 6 Preludes), I can tell you that she music have been quite the virtuoso, as those are not easy pieces to play! Much of her music (op. 12-45) seem to be lost to history. Her most well known work is likely the Sei Preludi, op. 46 that I mentioned before. Her other works include 6 Bellinianas based on opera themes by Bellini (in the style of her father’s 6 Rossinianas), and a few other theme-and variation works. The 6 Preludes are available through Boije here.
Ida Presti (1924-1976) was another child prodigy guitarist who may have been the greatest guitarist of the 20th century, or of all time (according to her second husband, Lagoya). She performed as a solo guitarist until her marriage to Alexandre Lagoya, after which time she only appeared in duet with her husband. She had an incredible, although short life as a guitarist and her legacy has been passed down through generations of students. For more information on Ida Presti, I would highly recommend this interview with Alice Artz, one of Presti’s most esteemed students. There are a few recordings and videos floating around the internet of Presti’s playing – check out this video recording of Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Prelude No. 1 and this radio show from the 1980s.
As a composer, Presti was perhaps not as prolific as some (after all, she was quite busy as a performer), however, she did leave behind a few notable pieces. There is a collection of 6 Etudes which was published by Max Eschig, and is, I believe, still available through some websites and libraries. A couple of her pieces (“Etude du Matin” and “Segovia”) are available through Guitar Gallery Music here. The Presti-Lagoya duet collections are also available through Guitar Gallery Music, and volume 6 is a collection of Ida Presti’s original compositions for guitar duet (the other volumes include transcriptions of Bach, Scarlatti, and others).
I have played one piece by Ida Presti, and it is not one of the published works mentioned above. My teacher, Patrick Roux, at the university of Ottawa had a hand copied version of Presti’s Etude No. 3, a homage to J.S. Bach, which does not seem to have been published. Nonetheless, in my opinion, it is a better piece than any of the etudes published in the collection of 6 Etudes. The copy that I played from was passed down Patrick’s own teacher, Jean Vallières, who studied with Alexandre Lagoya in Paris. It is a beautiful chromatic étude with a texture very much reminiscent of Bach’s E major Prelude from the Violin Partita No. 3 (also a Lute suite). I would like to bring it back in a couple years for a recording.
I will finish today’s portion of this list with Canadian composer, Anne Lauber (b. 1943). Anne Lauber is not a guitarist like the other three mentioned today, however she has written two significant pieces for guitar. For more information on Lauber’s work as a composer, please visit her website, annelauber.com, or the Canadian Music Centre.
The first guitar composition is a solo piece, Arabesque, composed for the 1983 GFA international guitar competition in Quebec. I am not aware of any professional recording of this piece (please correct me if I am wrong!), and the only version that I can find on YouTube is my own roughly recorded version. I hope to bring this piece back into my repertoire in a couple years, and I would like to record it on a future album.
The second piece for guitar by Anne Lauber is a concerto for guitar called Espania. I do not know if this piece has been performed with an orchestra. There is a midi version of the piece available on Ms. Lauber’s website here.