Fernando Sor

1778 1839

Fernando Sor

Composer

Biography

Fernando Sor was a Catalan composer and guitarist of the late 18th and early 19 th centuries. He composed symphonies, string quartets, a motet, and many boleros. He also published a prominent guitar method book, revolutionizing classical guitar technique. Sor’s music, though delightful in nature, is seldom performed anymore. His guitar works were, however, still enjoyed until recently.

Fernando Sor was born in Barcelona in the late 18th century into a merchant family. The exact date is unknown, but he was baptized on 14 February 1778. Sor attended the choir school at the Monastery of Montserrat. It is unknown whether he also had traditional schooling. At school he studied violin, piano, and harmony. It was not until after his graduation, when he received a gold coin from a monk with which he bought he own guitar, that he began to learn guitar. His father also owned a guitar, which seems to have influenced the young Sor. After studying at the choir school, Sor attended the military academy in Barcelona.

Very little is known about Sor until the year 1797 when the production of his opera,Telemaco nell'isola di Calipso (Telemachus on the Calypso’s Isle) (1797), successfully took place In Barcelona. The success of this premiere led to patronage by the Duchess of Alba.

In 1799, Sor moved to Madrid. It is also around this time that he enlisted in the Spanish army, eventually making the rank of captain. His first important compositions for guitar can also be traced to this time period. The untimely and premature death of the Duchess of Alba left him temporarily without a patron, however, he later enjoyed the patronage of Duke of Medinaceli. In addition to composing, Sor also held administrative jobs in Barcelona and in Málaga.

Sor’s loyalty during the French invasion is a controversial issue. It is clear that during the French invasion in 1808, he fought – at least initially – against the French and even composed some patriotic songs, includingVivi en cadenasand Venid, vencedores. He later took up an administrative post in 1810 under the French, but it is unclear whether or not he became a French sympathizer, siding with the Spanish King, Charles IV. Some scholars maintain that he was acting in the best interest of his country. In any case, as the French retreated, he was also obliged to leave.

In 1813, Sor moved to Paris where he continued his musical career and met composers such as Cherubini and Berton. He only lived in Paris for a period of two years, but these proved to be very prolific years. He composed operas, ballets, symphonies, songs, and works for guitar.

In 1815, Sor moved to London. He successfully performed his Concertante for guitar, violin, viola, and cello (c1817) at the Philharmonic Society. This composition is not included in his opus listing, which indicates that it is lost. He became an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music in 1822. While in London, he published 11 sets of 3 Italian ariettas for voice and piano. These sets were very well received and he was featured in a review by the Repository of Arts, which wrote in 1820, “Mr. Sor's vocal compositions have gained such favour that a new set of ariettas, from his pen, causes almost as much sensation as the publication of a new novel by the author of Waverley.” He also published vocal duets, 2 English songs, pieces for piano and solo guitar works. Four of his ballets were produced in London, the most successful of which wasCendrillon (1822), which was also performed more than 100 times at the Paris Opéra. HisGrande Sonate op. 22 (1825) and Grande Sonate Op. 25 (1827) are both charming works from this period with very evident Spanish roots. His Sonata No. 1 Op. 14 (1822) is a slightly darker composition, with more depth.

In 1823, Sor left for Russia with the ballerina Félicité Hullin, where Cendrillon was again performed, this time at the grand opening of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1823. While in Russia, he enjoyed socialising with the most elite society and received the honour of performing for the mother of Tsar Alexander I and the royal family. Sor wrote the funeral march that was used during the tsar’s funeral in St Petersburg. The work, however, has not survived.

Sor returned to Paris in 1826 and immediately published six compositions for guitar, which were likely to have been written while he was in Russia. He also wrote and published hisMéthode pour la guitar (1830), along with other works for guitar. The guitar duets from this period are a result of his friendship with fellow guitarist, Dionisio Aguada.

Fernando Sor continued to play and teach until his death; many of his students even included high society ladies. He achieved fame as a guitarist and his compositions were widely enjoyed in his day. His final years were marked by tragedy as his wife and daughter died within a short time of each other. He then suffered from cancer of the tongue and suffered greatly until his death in Paris in 1839.

Sor was influenced by Moretti in his belief that the guitar was able to do more than just play chords. His style was influenced by both Haydn and Mozart. His music was enjoyed and admired all throughout his life in Europe. He found that his vocal music influenced his treatment of melody in his guitar music. Sor’s teaching and method book have expanded upon and improved guitar technique. He also collaborated with guitar makers to improve the construction of guitars.

Sor’s reputation rests on his guitar music. His other works are very rarely performed, and even now, many of his guitar works are often left un-played. However, 25-30 years ago, his guitar works were standard in the classical guitar repertoire. Modern critics now claim his music is lightweight and clichéd, resulting in a decrease in popularity.

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