Influence of the Guitar (?)

One intriguing theory concerning Soler's frequent usage of the Alberti bass (see Fig. 1 for an example) and other similar musical forms postulates an influence arising from the Spanish guitar; this has been noted by more than one Soler researcher.

Certainly there were guitars available at the Escorial; after all, Soler lived and composed in Spain, a country where the vihuela and gitarra had long been de rigeur. And there was no dearth of talented players, so we can presume that Soler had the opportunity to hear many spirited performances of the traditional music of Spain on such instruments. But the main evidence for this theory stems rather from the music itself, where we find an abundance of arpeggiated and broken chords, and internal pedal points, as well as many instances of the Alberti bass, all devices very commonly seen in the guitar repertoire. Almost every sonata contains at least a small section made up of arpeggiated passages in the style of the guitar, frequently used as episodic material between themes. At times these seem somewhat inappropriate for the harpsichord, as in the following example from Sonata 10 (Fig. 2):

Fig. 1 Fig. 2
Fig. 1 Sonata 33, m. 28-29 Fig. 2 Sonata 10, m. 91-92

The awkwardness of playing these large skips on a keyboard instrument melts away, to become simple string-crossings, on a guitar. The arpeggiations are very typical of the guitar style, and often used for the same reason as on a harpsichord, i.e. the lack of a resounding sostenuto inherent in the instrument. The many wild, leaping hand-crossings in in Soler's (as well as Scarlatti's) music have traditionally been attributed to "stylistic flair", but perhaps a guitar influence is an equally plausible explanation.


1 Chase, Gilbert. The Music of Spain. New York: W. W. Norton and Co., Inc., 1941

2 Storm, Nancy Elizabeth. Unpublished thesis, University of Washington, 1948

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