Playing the Lisbon Portuguese Guitarra by Ronald Louis Fernandez (continued)

Section 17b. Estudo de Guitarra (1796) by Antonio Da Silva Leite

Front page of Estudo de Guitarra written by Antonio Da Silva Leite in 1796 published in Porto.

There are other online editions of this book across the world wide web.

What is now generally known as the "English" Guittar (guitarra inglesa in Portuguese), was imported into Portugal in the mid to early 18th century. At that time there was a mercantile class of English people (aka the bourgoisie) associated with various industries, in particular the wine trade. It appears that these people imported their version of the 16th century European cittern which had been modified over time in Britain. 

Whether the 19th century Portuguese guitarra was mainly derived from the 18th century English Guittar or whether it was a essentially a continuation of the cittern tradition which existed in Iberia since the Middle Ages has been the subject of debate among Portuguese scholars. It is a matter of national honor for some that the Portuguese guitarra was "home grown"--that it evolved on their own soil.

There is a very nice clear discussion of this debate in the Master's Thesis of Nuno Cristo from York University, see especially pages 21-27:

Nevertheless, rather than getting bogged down with this "Origin of the Guitarra Debate", I wish to focus on the book itself. What is the significance of Estudo de Guitarra by Antonio da Silva Leite for students of the Portuguese Guitarra?

It is probably useful for all of this discussion to understand that the "English" Guittar (commonly spelled with 2 t's) is simply the 18th century version of the European Cittern which evolved since Medieval times on the British Isles. Most  European countries had their own version of citterns which are simply a pear shaped, fretted instrument, with double or triple wire strings.

There is a recurrent opinion that Estudo de Guitarra is the first method book for the Portuguese Guitarra. In contrast 
there are others (such as my friend Luis Penedo, past president of the Academy da Guitarra Portugesa e do Fado) who claimed that this is really a method book for the "English" Guittar (spelled with 2 T's) written in Portuguese. This confusion of the of the connection between the English Guittar and Portuguese Guitarra extends to the National Library in Lisboa which classifies Estudo de Guitarra under Guitarra Portuguesa.

While the title of the book says "Guitarra" in Portuguese, the author makes it clear that he is speaking about the instrument which comes from Great Britain (1796: 25). He does not confuse the "guitarra" from Great Britain with any instrument from Portugal. He notes that there are makers of the "guitarra" in 18th century Porto but he says that the best ones come from Great Britain. It is noteworthy that Senhor  Leite mentions the cithara  (that is, the cittern or citara) as a distinct instrument from the "guitarra". 

My view is that this book had some effect on 19th century Portuguese guitarists but that it was essentially an English Guittar method for an educated person, some one capable of reading music. I should note here that, in contrast, 19th century Portuguese guitarra methods often emphasized learning the guitarra without a teacher or without reading musical notation. Often such methods (e.g., by A.F. Maia and Reynaldo Varella) went to great lengths to avoid music notation by creating unique numerical notations systems.  

1. The tuning shown in this method book is what became known in Portugal for a century as the natural tuning. It is a system for tuning based on the tonic, major 3rd and 5th of the scale. In the key of C the tuning from 6th to 1st course would be C E G C E G. In the key of G, it would be G B D G B D.

We know that this natural tuning was used by 19th century Portuguese guitarists. I have seen it mentioned in methods by, A.F.Maia & D.L. Vieira in 1875,  João Maia Dos Anjos (1877) and Ambrosio Fernandes Maia (1877). We see it mentioned into the 1920s in João Vitória's and Reynaldo Varella's method books. It is to be noted that it was used alongside other tunings such as the "Afinação para Fado".  Eventually, the modern Fado tuning won out. By 1929 we see the standard Fado tuning with D (Re) for the lowest note being used in the books by Manoel Gomes and Salgado do Carmo.

From what I can find out, the natural
tuning from England was quite different from that of the citaras (Renaissance Cittern) or citolas (Medieval cittern which existed in Iberia (or other European countries).  In his book A Guitarra Portuguesa, Pedro Caldeira Cabral explains (page 56) that 
4-course Renaissance citterns were tuned in at least 3 different ways: A G D E or C D G A or A G C D. Obviously, none of these system are like the English natural system. Interestingly, the note relationships of the last system (A G C D)  are somewhat similar to modern fado tuning. To be specific, the relationships between D, C and G are the same as 1st, 2nd and 3rd strings in modern Fado tuning.

Nevertheless, the point here is that the English Guittar tuning is quite distinct from old cittern tunings and also from later Fado tunings. It is, essentially, foreign to the musical culture of Portugal.

2. The selection of music in this work is "foreign" music, it is bourgeois music which was played in the capitals of Europe. There is nothing Portuguese about it. There is none of the music of the Portuguese masses. At the time the book was published, the modinhas and lundums were popular, none of these appear in the book. Instead there are minuetes, marchas, gavota, retirada (a military piece) contradanças (a British country dance), a Fanfarre (a trumpet piece), and a Hungarian March--all foreign musics. These are imported musics.

3. The bottom line is that this book will not instruct one in learning the 19th century Portuguese guitar. It does not teach the music (fados and guitarradas), it does not teach any of the other tunings, it does not teach the right hand techniques (the dedilho also known as vaivem) where the index finger is used back and forth across the string like a pick (plectrum). It is perhaps interesting historically and so it is nice to know about this book but it will not take you to where you want to go. It will not teach you how to play the guitarra portuguesa or fado.

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