1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Guitar

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GUITAR (Fr. guitarre, Ger. Guitarre, Ital. chitarra, Span. guitarra), a musical instrument strung with gut strings twanged by the fingers, having a body with a flat back and graceful incurvations in complete contrast to the members of the family of lute (q.v.), whose back is vaulted. The construction of the instrument is of paramount importance in assigning to the guitar its true position in the history of musical instruments, midway between the cithara (q.v.) and the violin. The medieval stringed instruments with neck fall into two classes, characterized mainly by the construction of the body: (1) Those which, like their archetype the cithara, had a body composed of a flat or delicately arched back and soundboard joined by ribs. (2) Those which, like the lyre, had a body consisting of a vaulted back over which was glued a flat soundboard without the intermediary of ribs; this method of construction predominates among Oriental Instruments and is greatly inferior to the first. A striking proof of this inferiority is afforded by the fact that instruments with vaulted backs, such as the rebab or rebec, although extensively represented during the middle ages in all parts of Europe by numerous types, have shown but little or no development during the course of some twelve centuries, and have dropped out one by one from the realm of practical music without leaving a single survivor. The guitar must be referred to the first of these classes.

Above: Notation. Below: Real Sounds.

The back and ribs of the guitar are of maple, ash or cherry-wood, frequently inlaid with rose-wood, mother-of-pearl, tortoise-shell, &c., while the soundboard is of pine and has one large ornamental rose sound hole. The bridge, to which the strings are fastened, is of ebony with an ivory nut which determines the one end of the vibrating strings, while the nut at the end of the fingerboard determines the other. The neck and fingerboard are made of hard wood, such as ebony, beech or pear. The head, bent back from the neck at an obtuse angle contains two parallel barrels or long holes through which the pegs or metal screws pass, three on each side of the head. The correct positions for stopping the intervals are marked on the fingerboard by little metal ridges called frets. The modern guitar has six strings, three of gut and three of silk covered with silver wire, tuned as shown. To the thumb are assigned the three deepest strings, while the first, second and third fingers are used to twang the highest strings. It is generally stated that the sixth or lowest string was added in 1790 by Jacob August Otto of Jena, who was the first in Germany to take up the construction of guitars after their introduction from Italy in 1788 by the duchess Amalie of Weimar. Otto[1] states that it was Capellmeister Naumann of Dresden who requested him to make him a guitar with six strings by adding the low E, a spun wire string. The original guitar brought from Italy by the duchess Amalie had five strings,[2] the lowest A being the only one covered with wire. Otto also covered the D in order to increase the fulness of the tone. In Spain six-stringed guitars and vihuelas were known in the 16th century; they are described by Juan Bermudo[3] and others.[4] The lowest string was tuned to G. Other Spanish guitars of the same period had four, five or seven strings or courses of strings in pairs of unisons. They were always twanged by the fingers.

From Juan Bermudo.
   Fig. 1. — Spanish Guitar with seven Strings. 1555. Vihuela da Mono

The guitar is derived from the cithara[5] both structurally and etymologically. It is usually asserted that the guitar was introduced into Spain by the Arabs, but this statement is open to the gravest doubts. There is no trace among the instruments of the Arabs known to us of any similar to the guitar in construction or shape, although a guitar (fig. 2) with slight incurvations was known to the ancient Egyptians.[6] There is also extant a fine example of the guitar, with ribs and incurvations and a long neck provided with numerous frets, on a Hittite bas-relief on the dromos at Euyuk (c. 1000 B.C.) in Cappadocia.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag

   From Denon's Voyage in Egypt.
   Fig. 2. — Ancient Egyptian Guitar. 1700 to 1200 B.C.

By piecing together various indications given by Spanish writers, we obtain a clue to the identity of the medieval instruments, which, in the absence of absolute proof, is entitled to serious consideration. From Bermudo's work, quoted above, we learn that the guitar and the vihuela da mano were practically identical, differing only in accordance and occasionally in the number of strings.[7] Three kinds of vihuelas were known in Spain during the middle ages, distinguished by the qualifying phrases da arco (with bow), da mano (by hand), da penola (with quill). Spanish scholars[8] who have inquired into this question of identity state that the guitarra latina was afterwards known as the vihuela da mano, a statement fully supported by other evidence. As the Arab kuitra was known to be played by means of a quill, we shall not be far wrong in identifying it with the vihuela da penola. The word vihuela or vigola is connected with the Latin fidicula or fides, a stringed instrument mentioned by Cicero[9] as being made from the wood of the plane-tree and having many strings. The remaining link in the chain of identification is afforded by St Isidore, bishop of Seville in the 7th century, who states that fidicula was another name for cithara, “Veteres aut citharas fidicula vel fidice nominaverunt.”[10] The fidicula therefore was the cithara, either in its original classical form or in one of the transitions which transformed it into the guitar. The existence of a superior guitarra latina side by side with the guitarra morisca is thus explained. It was derived directly from the classical cithara introduced by the Romans into Spain, the archetype of the structural beauty which formed the basis of the perfect proportions and delicate structure of the violin. In an inventory[11] made by Philip van Wilder of the musical instruments which had belonged to Henry VIII. is the following item bearing on the question: “foure gitterons with iiii. cases they are called Spanishe Vialles.” Vial or viol was the English equivalent of vihuela. The transitions whereby the cithara acquired a neck and became a guitar are shown in the miniatures (fig. 3) of a single MS., the celebrated Utrecht Psalter, which gave rise to so many discussions. The Utrecht Psalter was executed in the diocese of Reims in the 9th century, and the miniatures, drawn by an Anglo-Saxon artist attached to the Reims school, are unique, and illustrate the Psalter, psalm by psalm. It is evident that the Anglo-Saxon artist, while endowed with extraordinary talent and vivid imagination, drew his inspiration from an older Greek illustrated Psalter from the Christian East,[12] where the evolution of the guitar took place.

Britannica Cithara to Guitar.jpg

   Fig. 3. — Instrumentalists from the Utrecht Psalter, 9th century: (a) The bass rotta, first transition of cithara in (C); (b, c, d). Transitions showing the addition of neck to the body of the cithara.

One of the earliest representations (fig. 4) of a guitar in Western Europe occurs in a Passionate from Zwifalten A.D. 1180, now in the Royal Library at Stuttgart.[13] St Pelagia seated on an ass holds a rotta, or cithara in transition, while one of the men-servants leading her ass holds her guitar. Both instruments have three strings and the characteristic guitar outline with incurvations, the rotta differing in having no neck. Mersenne[14] writing early in the 17th century describes and figures two Spanish guitars, one with four, the other with five strings; the former had a cittern head, the latter the straight head bent back at an obtuse angle From the neck, as in the modern instrument; he gives the Italian, French and Spanish tablatures which would seem to show that the guitar already enjoyed a certain vogue in France and Italy as well as in Spain.

   From Dr H. Janitschek's Geschichte der deutschen Malerei.
   Fig. 4. — Representation of a European Guitar. A.D. 1180.

Mersenne states that the proportions of the guitar demand that the length of the neck from shoulder to nut shall be equal to the length of the body from the centre of the rose to the tail end. From this time until the middle of the 19th century the guitar enjoyed great popularity on the continent, and became the fashionable instrument in England after the Peninsular War, mainly through the virtuosity of Ferdinand Sor, who also wrote compositions for it. This popularity of the guitar was due less to its merits as a solo instrument than to the ease with which it could be mastered sufficiently to accompany the voice. The advent of the Spanish guitar in England led to the wane in the popularity of the cittern, also known at that time in contradistinction as the English or wire-strung guitar, although the two instruments differed in many particulars. As further evidence of the great popularity of the guitar all over Europe may be instanced the extraordinary number of books extant on the instrument, giving instructions how to play the guitar and read the tablature.[15]

(K. S.)

  1. Über den Bau der Bogeninstrumente (Jena, 1828), pp. 94 and 95.
  2. See Pietro Millioni, Vero e facil modo d' imparare a sonare et accordare da se medesimo la chitarra spagnola, with illustration (Rome, 1637).
  3. Declaration de instruments musicales (Ossuna, 1555), fol. xciii. b and fol. xci. a. See also illustration of vihuela da mano.
  4. See also G. G. Kapsperger, Libro primo di Villanelle con l' infavolutura del chitarone et alfabeto per la chitarra spagnola (three books, Rome, 1610-1623).
  5. See Kathleen Schlesinger, The Instruments of the Orchestra, part ii. “Precursors of the Violin Family,” pp. 230-248.
  6. See Denon's Voyage in Egypt (London, 1807, pl. 55).
  7. See also Luys Milan, Libro de musica de vihuela da mano, Intitulado Il Maestro, where the accordance is D, G, C, E, A, D from bass to treble.
  8. Mariano Soriano, Fuertes Historia de la musica española (Madrid, 1855), i. 105, and iv. 208, &c.
  9. De natura deorum, ii. 8, 22.
  10. See Etymologiarium, lib. iii., cap. 21.
  11. See British Museum, Harleian MS. 1419. fol. 200.
  12. The literature of the Utrecht Psalter embraces a large number of books and pamphlets in many languages of which the principal are here given: Professor J. O. Westwood, Facsimiles of the Miniatures and Ornaments of Anglo-Saxon and Irish MSS. (London, 1868); Sir Thos. Duffus-Hardy, Report on the Athanasian Creed in connection with the Utrecht Psalter (London, 1872); Report on the Utrecht Psalter, addressed to the Trustees of the British Museum (London, 1874); Sir Thomas Duffus-Hardy, Further Report on the Utrecht Psalter (London, 1874); Walter de Gray Birch, The History, Art and Palaeography of the MS. styled the Utrecht Psalter (London, 1876); Anton Springer, “Die Psalterillustrationen im frühen Mittelalter mit besonderer Rücksicht auf den Utrecht Psalter,” Abhandlungen der kgl. sächs. Ges. d. IVissenschaften, phil.-hist. Klasse, Bd. viii. pp. 187-296, with 10 facsimile plates in autotype from the MS.; Adolf Goldschmidt, “Der Utrecht Psalter,” in Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft, Bd. xv. (Stuttgart, 1892), pp. 156-166; Franz Friedrich Leitschuh, Geschichte der karolingischen Malerei, ihr Bilderkreis und seine Quellen (Betlin, 1894), pp. 321-330; Adolf Goldschmidt, Der Albani Psalter in Hildesheim, &c. (Berlin, 1895); Paul Durrieu, L'Origine du MS. célèbre dit le Psaultier d' Utrecht (Paris, 1895); Hans Graeven, “Die Vorlage des Utrecht Psalters,” paper read before the XI. International Oriental Congress, Paris, 1897. See also Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft (Stuttgart, 1898), Bd. xxi. pp. 28-35; J. J. Tikkanen, Abendländische Psalter-Illustration im Mittelalter, part iii. “Der Utrecht Psalter” (Helsingfors, 1900), 320 pp. and 77 ills. (Professor Tikkanen now accepts the Greek or Syrian origin of the Utrecht Psalter); Georr Swarzenski, “Die karolingische Malerei und Plastik in Reims,” in Jahrbuch d. kgl. preussischen Kunstsammlungen, Bd. xxiii. (Berlin, 1902), pp. 81-100; Ormonde M. Dalton, “The Crystal of Lothair,” in Archäologie, vol. lix. (1904); Kathleen Schlesinger, The Instruments of the Orchestra, part ii. “The Precursors of the Violin Family,” chap. viii. “The Question of the Origin of the Utrecht Psalter,” pp. 352-382 (with illustrations), where all the foregoing are summarized.
  13. Reproduced in Hubert Janitschek's Geschichte der deutschen Malerei, Bd. iii. of Gesch. der deutschen Kunst (Berlin, 1890), p. 118.
  14. Harmonie universelle (Paris, 1636), liyre ii. prop. xiv.
  15. See C. F. Becker, Darstellung der musik. Literatur (Leipzig, 1836); and Wilhelm Tappert, “Zur Geschichte der Guitarre,” in Monatshefte für Musikgeschichte (Berlin, 1882), No. 5. pp. 77-85).