The Baroque Guitar and its Ramifications

Chitarra Battente- owned by Rolf Lislevand, and featured on numerous CD recordings. Five courses in groups of three strings, on the 5th 4th 3rd and 2nd, and a double course on the 1st string

At the turn of the XVII century, the French had made substantial contributions to the repertoire of the guitar and its technique:
a. Tuning
b. Unmeasured Preludes
c. Style Brisée (alternating notes in different registers for melody and harmony)
d. Style Galant
e. The Tombeau (a musical form used to commemorate the death of a famous person, originating from the lute, based on the allemande).

The position of the Baroque guitar is unique in Europe at this time, since in the sixteenth century it had been overshadowed by the lute and the vihuela, as seen by the repertoire for both of these instruments. The Baroque guitar falls at the midway point of two extremes, to produce art music and to provide strummed accompaniment for popular music of the time. The combination of punteado and rasgueado gave the guitar its identity and opened up the door for many amateurs to enjoy music making at any level they wished to attain.

Cross Cultural Aspects


There were cross-cultural aspects that provide mirrors into Western civilization in the Baroque era.
a. The guitar became the companion to those who first came to the Americas. Once established many types of guitars an related instruments took root in the musical traditions of Latin America.

b. The oldest African-American instrumental music found in the anthology compiled by Sebastian Aguirre c.1700 “ Potorrico de los negros por el 1 y 2 rasgueado, was written for the guitar and its related African plucked instruments.

c. We find many examples of African- American Cumbées, Zarambeques and Guineos in Murcia’s Códice Zaldivar #4. These popular dances full of syncopated rhythms, found a voice in the Baroque guitar in colonial America, and later evolved into what is now the folk music of Latin America.

d. The techniques of the Baroque guitar also defined the school of modern guitar playing in Latin America, becoming an integral part in in both folk and art music.

e. The guitar in the 60’s becomes the voice of social turmoil in the Americas, becoming the instrument of choice in the musical revolution of jazz, blues rock and heavy metal, just as it was in its early history in the 1600s and 1700s




Talbot's Lesser French Theorbo as described by Crevecoeuer, and the théorbe pour les Pièces of Sauveur (1701).

The late Baroque produces some of the most complex and elegant music for the lute, but unfortunately the small sound of this instrument could not longer compete with the louder instruments being developed at this time.
The lute repertoire reached its peak with the works of the French and German composers


Francois Default (1630-?) wrote in a flexible rhythm and improvised many passages, left over 80 works in various manuscripts.

Enmemond Gautier
(1575-1651) credited with the French baroque tuning, influenced many harpsichordists and wrote mostly Courants with hemiola.

Denis Gautier (1603-1672) son of Enmemond) wrote three books: Le Retorique de Dieux 1650-55, Lute pieces of Denis Gautier on three new Modes 1669 and a Third book of Tablature 1672 where pieces are arranged into suites.
In Retorique the modes used are based on Greek mythology each reflecting the affect of a mode, a crucial step which led to the creation of the Baroque Suite by unifying the pieces under a single tonality in such order: Prelude, Pavane, Dances ( Courant, Allemande Saraband) etc.

Jacques Gallot (1600-1686) s student of Denis Gautier, continues with the organization of the baroque suite arriving at the following standard arrangement: Prelude, Allemande, Courant, Sarabande, Bourée or Loure and Gigues Gavottes or Minuets at the end.

Charles Mouton (d. 1699) Is one of the last representatives of the French lute school and of the four books he wrote only one survives. It contains eight suites regularly ordered movements and a unified style.



In the XVII century lutes began to change. We see one peg box, all strings are the same length and string baking became quite sophisticated. Extensions on the lute were not necessary and the only notation used in Germany as well as in the rest of Europe was French tablature.

Among the most important composers of this period we have:
David Reusner (1636-1670) Born in Saledia (Poland) who wrote three important books in 1667 and 1676 and a third book containing harmonized sacred melodies in 1678.

David Kellner (1670-1748) wrote the first theory book based entirely on major and minor keys and was used as a text for many years after his death. His lute book contains 17 pieces, mostly dances of a mostly rigid character and fantasias in a freer and more improvisational style.

Silvius Leopold Weiss (1686-1750)

Weiss fuses Italian driving rhythms and French tonal qualities in an impressive output of nearly 600 solo movements for the lute, of which only one was published during his lifetime. He wrote eleven incomplete Sonatas, eighty Partitas and most of it can be found in suites of six movements; Allemand, Courant, Bourée, Saraband, Minuet and Gigue, often with a Prelude at the beginning. This repertoire is highly accessible to modern day guitarists and has been recorded by many fine players. His style is late Baroque similar to J.S. Bach but lest contrapuntal, with some influences of style galant. In the course of his career he wrote movements that progressively became more extended, coordinating thematic material with an harmonic structures similar to that of the classical sonata

He was born to a German family of lute players and studied with his father Johann Jacob. In 1760 he was at the service of Count Carl Philipp in Breslau. He wrote his first Partita in 1720 when he was visiting the court of Count Dusseldorf’ brother. Between 1708 and 1714 he lived in Italy with the Polish prince Alexander Sobiesky. The prince lived in Rome with his mother and the mother Queen, Maria Casimira, who hired Alessandro Scarlatti and later in 1709, Domenico Scarlatti, to serve as musical director in the court. Weiss worked with both Scarlatti’s and was exposed to the music of Corelli and other composers in Rome. After the prince’s death in 1714, Weiss returned to Germany, and in 1715 was briefly employed in the court of Essen-Kassel in Dusseldorf.
In 1718 he is hired as a high paying member of the Royal Chapel of Dresden, unfortunately his performing career was cut short when a French violinist called Petit, attacked him and chewed his index finger, affecting his playing permanently.
Weiss traveled throughout Europe. He was in Prague in 1717, in London in 1718 and in Vienna in 1718-19. In 1722 he played in the Bavarian Court in Munich with flautist, Buffardin He also visited Johann Sebastián Bach in Leipzig in 1739 and probably saw him again in Dresden when Bach visited his son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Even though Bach owned a lute he did not play it but he was keenly aware of the music of Weiss and of his talents as a lute player and composer.
J.S. Bach did not write music for the guitar but he wrote four suites for the Lute. Guitarists play many transcriptions of his music and the most played ones are:

Six Cello Suites, Six Sonatas and Partitas (three of each), Four Lute Suites, Prelude Fugue and Allegro BWV 998 ( title page for Lute or Cembalo), Prelude in Cm part of the keyboard Preludes (d minor on guitar) and Fugue BWV 1000 usually performed with the Prelude, an arrangement of a G minor violin sonata played in A major on guitar.

Many modern players have arranged other music of J.S Bach from the clavichord and the violin, with differing results. Transcriptions vary from player to player and the most successful ones are those that avoid awkward fingerings but preserve the true spirit of the music.