Thought I would share some of Guitar Salon International‘s beautifully produced videos of the young Polish virtuoso, Mateusz Kowalski. In the first video, Mateusz plays one of Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s less played tremolo pieces, Contemplación, with both a magical touch and an enviable ease of execution. In the second, he rips through the finale of Mauro Giuliani’s Rossiniana Nº1, Op. 119 with true operatic fanfare. Mateusz playing is hypnotizing on many levels. Musical and meticulous, it is no surprise that he is starting to receive recognition from various competitions across Europe. Enjoy!
Guest Post by acclaimed Granada-based luthier John Ray. Enjoy!
The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Part 1
by John Ray
Why does Granada always come up when we speak of fine artisan guitars? Why have so many makers from all over the world made pilgrimages to the workshops of the Granada guitar-makers to pay their respects and to find out what we do differently here? Well known U.S., German, British, Canadian, Danish, Mexican and Belgian makers have spent time here and that doesn’t include those who learned from or were influenced by Granada makers and then went on to become great makers in their own right. There are a number of factors which contribute to this reputation for excellence and the sheer numbers of guitar-makers. The only place in the world with more guitar-makers per capita is Paracho in Mexico. Let’s go back hundreds of years and see what we can find.
Although surely there were instrument makers in Granada well before the 16th century it is only from that time that we have records and names. Alonso de Buitrago, Alonso Vega, Juan de Alcaraz and Diego de Atienza are just a few names that have been preserved. Granada may or may not have been an important centre for instrument-making back then but we do know that Rafael Vallejo built a very special guitar-psaltery for King Carlos I in 1792. Furthermore, the best-known violin-maker Spain has ever produced, José Contreras, hailed from Granada. Surely that indicates a certain level of makers from the province of Granada. We do know from surviving instruments and their characteristics that Sevilla and Cadíz were more important centres of guitar-building and of innovation than Granada during the 18th century. It is in the 19th century that Granada comes into its own and takes over as a centre of innovation and spreads its knowledge to the rest of the country through the emigration of guitar-makers and the apprenticeship of guitar-makers from other provinces. In the opinion of Richard Bruné this rise in number and expertise has everything to do with a larger gypsy population and a correspondingly higher number of guitar-players and musical cafés in the city making higher demands on the builders.
Perhaps the most important maker from 19th century Granada is Agustín Caro due to the various innovations which he is responsible for. In a single guitar from 1803 we can see two landmark changes to the guitar for the first time. This guitar has its fretboard glued on top of the soundboard whereas all preceding guitars showed a fretboard flush with the soundboard in the style of the lute. Observation of later guitars shows us that this change became consolidated over the following decades throughout the world. The other change which seems to originate with this guitar is the elimination of the double strings; this guitar was made for six single strings. Again a change which, over time, pervaded almost all guitar construction. On a later guitar by Caro, 1824, we can see the first ever example of a modern bridge with an adjustable saddle and which, like the other two innovations, became the norm. Of course these attributions to Caro will only be valid until such time as an earlier guitar by some other maker might appear showing these same characteristics.
In spite of Agustín Caro’s obvious importance the Granada maker José Pernas, also from the 19th century, might well be better known due to his association with Antonio de Torres from Almeria. Antonio de Torres, known to all as the father of the spanish guitar, learned his craft without a doubt in Granada as reported by José Luis Romanillos through the words of Juan Manuel Sirvent “he went to Granada where he made his first guitar”. Furthermore, the writings of Domingo Prat and Emilio Pujol report that Torres learned the art of guitar-making from Pernas. If this were not enough we can go on to show that many of the innovations credited to Torres were also used by Pernas and it seems very unlikely that the student would have taught the master. In fact, a 1851 guitar by Pernas has been shown to have uncanny similarities to a Torres guitar from 1856. In his doctoral thesis Aarón García Ruiz details these common points to the extent that it is difficult to imagine that Torres’ ideas were not heavily influenced by the work of Pernas. Going back to Domingo Prat, one of the most commonly referenced works in guitar history, he tells us that it was Pernas, not Torres who invented the tornavoz although Torres is popularily credited with it. Neither myself nor Aarón García seek to discredit Torres but rather to show that although he was a genius and incorporated many great advances in guitar-making, he did learn from those around him specifically José Pernas. Another innovation attributed to Pernas is the pear-shaped guitar as well as the wooden “hook” designed to hold the guitar on the thigh. Torres also made at least one pear-shaped guitar.
The model for a workshop today is usually a one-person affair in which the maker controls every aspect of construction and every step in the process. The presence of a possible apprentice is infrequent and in any case makes for little change in the process. Another possible model is a shop where two or three makers work together, usually family members. The latter is less and less common as time goes on but still exists. In the latter part of the 19th century this was more common and workshops were bigger with an owner-foreman who was usually the one who was ultimately responsible and whose name was on the instruments – the master. We find many surviving guitars today from the mid-19th century workshop of Juan Ortega Castellón who worked with his sons and others. His son José Ortega Ruiz was the main influence when Benito Ferrer wanted to become a builder. At approximately the same time another Ortega – Francisco Ortega Ayala – was also working in Granada. He too had sons who continued the family tradition. One of these, Rafael Ortega Ávila, moved to Madrid around 1886 and employed a young Santos Hernández before the latter moved on to serve as foreman in the workshop of Manuel Ramírez. Just one more example of how Granada shaped guitar-making in Spain as this might explain why Santos guitars were lighter and livelier than those of other Madrid makers.
A number of other makers worked in Granada and the province at this time but their influence on today’s Granada school has not been demonstrated except in general terms. Their brief biographies can be found in Eusebio Rioja’s Inventario de guitarreros granadinos. José López, Agustin del Valle, Francisco López Gascón, Antonio Llorente, Antonio del Valle, Nicolás del Valle. Bernardo Milán Suárez,
One of the most historically important of these large workshops was that of Benito Ferrer because of the dynasty that it spawned. Ferrer was a medical student from Orihuela, Alicante who gave up his studies to find work to support his extended family. Among other things he played the spanish bandurria (like a twelve-string mandolin) with the gypsy musicians. His place in history is guaranteed because in an effort to get more sound out of the instrument he substituted the gut strings for piano wire. Of course this caused his bandurria to collapse under the string tension in short order but with knowledge gleaned from José Ortega Ruiz he was able to modify and reinforce it and make it work with the new strings. This meant that other musicians came to him wanting instruments that produced as much volume as his. He took on members of the Ortega workshop and began making guitars and the different instruments in the bandurria family. Benito Ferrer is famously responsible for the first guitar played in concert by Andrés Segovia. His is the only large workshop that survived into time of the Spanish Civil War although by this time nephew and disciple Eduardo Ferrer had inherited the workshop.
Eduardo Ferrer, much like José Ramírez in Madrid, is responsible for training a large number of guitar-makers and then slowly seeing them set up shop around the city. In some cases he was supportive to the extent that he contributed financially to the new establishments. Although it was not called The Granada School of guitar-making until later there can be little doubt that he is responsible for the situation that allowed Granada to become such a hotbed for building and selling guitars by leading and training such a large community of makers. He also sold a large number of guitars made by makers who worked both within his workshop(s) and independently. Granada’s influence on the rest of the world continued with Eduardo Ferrer. In 1966, Yamaha contracted him to teach the traditional method of guitar-making and had him traveling to Japan that year as well as the two following years. After this period Yamaha sent one of its workers to Granada to continue to learn from Eduardo. Although I will argue in part two that the influence of the Granada School comes into its own under the tutelage of Antonio Marín and Manuel Bellido there is no doubt that without Eduardo Ferrer and his disciples things would have been very different. For this reason other scholars attribute the formation of the Granada School exclusively to Eduardo Ferrer.
During the “reign” of Eduardo Ferrer the other giant of Granada was the guitar and violin-maker Manuel de la Chica. De la Chica apparently spent some time with a worker from the Benito Ferrer workshop and then went on to meticulously study the guitars of Santos Hernández and to base his work on those to the point of making perfect copies. Two of today’s Granada makers trained with Manuel de la Chica and a few others built guitars to sell to him. Manuel de la Chica had a reputation for very careful work and a level of technical skill that we don’t find in Granada prior to his time. His guitars were very sought after in the new world at the time. A few other guitar-makers in Ferrer’s time include Isidro Garrido, Miguel Robles, Miguel López Muñoz, Manuel Martínez de Milán, Alfonso Checa Plaza, Antonio Rodríguez Orozco, and Francisco Fernández Ruiz.
The scene is now set for the next generation: Spain’s young democracy is thriving, the country is opening up to the outside world and young cabinet-makers are gravitating towards guitar-making through their interest in flamenco and popular guitar music. Perhaps most importantly the nature of the Granada guitar; that light, responsive and unsophisticated instrument is being discovered by musicians and dealers all over the world.
John Ray has been living in Granada since 1989 and has been making guitars for over 20 years. In addition to being well-known for building copies of Antonio de Torres and Santos Hernández guitars he was the editor of the book “The Granada School of Guitar-makers”. https://johnguitar.com/contact/
Bibliography and further reading
- Cano Tamayo, Manuel. Un Siglo de la Guitarra Granadina. Granada, Obra Cultural de la Caja de Ahorros de Granada, 1975;
- Rioja, Eusebio. Inventario de Guitarreros Granadinos 1875-1983. Granada, Spain, Gráficas Monachil, 1983;
- Romanillos Vega, José L. and Marian Harris Winspear. The Vihuela de Mano and the Spanish Guitar. Guijosa, Spain, The Sanguino Press, 2002.
- Prat, Domingo. Diccionario de Guitarristas. Buenos Aires, Romero y Fernández, 1934.
- Pujol, Emilio. Tárrega: Ansayo Biográfico. Lisbon, Ramos, Afonso & Moita, 1960.
- Romanillos, José L. Antonio de Torres, Guitar Maker: His Life and Work. Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset, Element Books, 1987.
- Segovia, Andrés. Andrés Segovia: An Autobiography of the Years 1893-1920. New York, Macmillan, 1976.
- Bruné, R. E.: “Santos Hernández Speaks”, Vintage Guitar Magazine, mayo 2007
- Ray, John (ed.): The Granada School of Guitar-makers, Granada: Diputación Provincial de Granada, 2014,
- Garcia Ruiz Aarón: La Escuela granadina antigua de construcción de guitarras: Propuesta de un protocolo para el estudio de cordófonos, University of Granada. Doctoral theses 2017
- Grondona, Stefano, Luca Waldner, and Massimo Mandell. La Chitarra di Liutera: Masterpieces of Guitar Making. Sondrio, L’officina del Libro, 2002.
- Bruné, R. E. “Cultural Origins of the Modern Guitar.” Soundboard. Fall 1997.
- La Guitarra Española – The Spanish Guitar, The Metropolitan Museum of New York & Museo Municipal de Madrid, 1991-1992. Madrid, Opera Tres, 1993.
I stumbled upon this video of Maya Kazarina, a tremendously gifted young guitarist, filmed during the final of a competition she obviously won! Here she plays Agustín Barrios Mangoré’s well known tremolo piece Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios with sublime tremolo and Nikita Koshkin’s Usher Waltz with the brilliance and ease of someone well beyond her years. Enjoy!
The brilliant Polish concert guitarist, Katarzyna Smolarek is becoming known for both her breathtaking virtuosity and her magnificent interpretations. In addition to studying at the Mozarteum in Austria and concertizing throughout Europe, Katarzyna has been awarded over 20 international competition prizes over a very short period of time. The silver lining to sheltering in place in Europe is that she was able to find time to sit down and share her experience, philosophies, and wise advise with Six String Journal readers. Enjoy!
When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?
I started playing the guitar when I was 8 years old. My parents just signed me up for a music school and I think at the time no one was expecting that I would become a professional musician in the future. With time, I developed a love for playing music and I decided to dedicate my life to it.
What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?
I enjoy playing all kinds of repertoire from baroque to contemporary music. I think every style has its own proper charm, and I always seek to discover the beauty in each new piece that I learn.
What guitar or guitars do you perform on? strings?
At the moment I perform on a guitar built by Jacek Łozak from 2010. My favourite strings are Savarez Alliance Premium medium tension. Since last year I’m proud to be a part of the Savarez artists family.
Which guitarists have had the most influence on you?
Definitely all of my teachers. Lidia Przyłęcka, Ryszard Bałauszko and Marco Tamayo – they have had a huge influence on my progress, for which I will always be grateful. I consider all of them amazing musicians, dedicated teachers and wonderful people. I was extremely lucky to have them along the way.
What recordings are you most proud of?
I actually haven’t done a lot of recordings in my life (but I’m working on it!). I’m certainly most proud of my recent videos made in Siccas Guitars. They are my most professionally done recordings so far.
What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?
Unfortunately, because of the epidemic of coronavirus a lot of my events have been cancelled. If everything is back to normal soon, I will be able to go to Portugal in June to perform a concert with an orchestra as a part of the International Guitar Festival in Amarante. I am sure I will enjoy it a lot after having such a long break from traveling.
Technique and Performance
How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?
The duration of my practice varies depending on many factors. I usually practice around four hours per day, but this amount increases before concerts or competitions (or now, because of the quarantine). On the other hand I practice less when I spend time with my family or when traveling. I’m also no stranger to taking days off to relax and reset. I don’t think I structure my routine in some special way.
Usually after I have finished practicing in the evening, I make a plan for the next day so that my practice sessions are balanced and I don’t neglect anything. When I have a whole day for myself I like to break it out into two sessions: morning and afternoon, 2-3 hours each, with a break for lunch and some other activity.
Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?
I think there is always room for progress, so in that sense I can say I’m working on every aspect of the guitar performance. I don’t imagine that I will ever have a feeling that there is nothing else to work on and I think it’s a good thing. The constant pursuit of artistic excellence is what brings innovation and life to art.
Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?
It depends on the piece and the situation. I usually try to learn a piece by memory as soon as possible, so that I can entirely focus on the music. Sometimes the music demands deliberate memorization, and other times the memorization comes naturally after just a few days of playing it. Nevertheless, every now and then I would revise the score, because with time some details might slip away. I also make sure that it’s not only my fingers that remember the piece, but also my brain, in other words that I remember the notes and not only the movements. In order to do that, I play it extremely slowly focusing on every note, or I go through the piece in my mind without touching the guitar at all.
Do you have a favorite drill you use to warm up?
I like to play through a couple of slur and scale exercises before I start practicing pieces. However, I’m not a fan of spending a lot of time warming-up, as for me the ultimate goal is to be ready to perform without having to go through a series of technique exercises. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations when we do not have the possibility to warm up before a concert, and I believe the quality of our performance should not be compromised in those situations.
Do you have any pre-concert rituals?
Not at all. Obviously, it’s important to have a good rest and a good meal, but I wouldn’t call it a ritual. Again, I feel like it’s dangerous to have specific pre-concert routines. In situations when we are not able to perform the routines, we might then lose our confidence on stage as a result.
Advice to Younger Players
What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?
Solve the problems instead of getting discouraged! I get the impression that a lot of young players don’t really know how to practice. They think that repetition is key and when a passage still doesn’t work after having played it 100 times they start thinking things like, “this piece is too difficult”, “I’m not good enough”, or “I need months/years to play it well”. There is nothing worse than having this sort of approach. Practicing should be all about constructive problem-solving. If something doesn’t work we should be able to exactly tell why and the more precise our answer, the better. We should be extremely conscious of our movements and of our choices. This way we can make progress way faster than by mindlessly repeating.
What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate?
I wouldn’t say that there are any specific pieces that one really must play during his education, although I think that it is essential for a student to be familiar with the concepts of all the historical styles. The more repertoire we already know, the more tools we have for our next interpretations. I would also say that it is important to play the standard guitar repertoire; such as Villa-Lobos’ studies, suites by Bach, sonatas by Ponce, pieces by Barrios, Tárrega, Rodrigo, Turina and so on and so on. Nowadays we tend to look for unknown pieces, we make our own transcriptions and we commission new music. I find it wonderful, however as students we need to familiarize ourselves with traditional repertoire first. This will properly facilitate our lives as performers and teachers.
Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?
I think all recordings, no matter good or bad, have their value. Exactly what we listen to is not so important; the crucial part is that we are able to develop an informed opinion and discern what is of high quality and what’s not. What I find extremely useful is listening to a lot of recordings of the same piece and focusing on the differences between them. This helps me understand many possible ways of thinking about the same piece of music.
What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?
The last one would be Fahrenheit 451. I love Márquez, Llosa and Murakami for their out-of-this world storytelling.
What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?
I really like learning new languages. Currently I’m working on my Portuguese. Apart from that I enjoy cooking, reading, dancing salsa and just recently I got terribly hooked on the series “Breaking Bad”.