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This is Bernard Gabriel. It used to be a piano that greeted the guy in almost every home and it was no one usual sight to see a little boy trudging his way along the street and carrying a violin case. But now on the street off the street with a cover on with the cover off it's the guitar everywhere you look. The strumming comes at you from open windows from alleyways and park benches from transistor radios and phonograph turntables. Certainly it's the instrument of the hour if not of the entire age. And like the organ which can express both the mightiest musical thoughts of Handel or as a frog. And yet just as easily lend itself to the sentimental syrup the sounds of a soap opera. Well the guitar too can be the medium for a great classy tradition and still be considered a favored instrument for rock and roll. It's about time this program gave some attention to an instrument that is that important that has taken the world so much by storm and I have a
man in the studio with me who I think must know as much about the guitar as possibly any one alive. He's written an international anthology for the instruments. Published in four languages. He's a distinguished exponent of the classical guitar and he was awarded the degree of Doctor of Music with high honors. He's well-known as a soloist a composer and a teacher and he's got a new book out which is called An Illustrated History of the guitar and published by Colombo which I think you know must be the definitive work on the subject. You haven't mentioned his name yet. Well he's Alexander Bello and Mr. Bellot the guitar I think is no Johnny come lately when it comes to instruments is you know the piano I think was invented by that in 1711 but they that are that goes way back. Oh yes. Like make up I be alone in King Harbor more I beat time Egypt it started in the Old Kingdom. Like from wishing
How hard have you trace the origins of the rage and says this of to get twenty five hundred be C but the push through really get shaped instrument we have evidence in by billowing in nineteen hundred B.C. by bologna and preached blades. It had to be stings that time a lot of history a lot of history it has. And in your book The Illustrated History of the guitar you have a chart which shows really the fascinating development of this instrument over a period of as you say almost 5000 years. I wonder is it too much for me to ask you to just touch on the highlights of how the thing developed how the instrument developed through all those millennia. Actually it developed in just about the same time in by billowing in Egypt and in the toilet people by the name he died. It's had already highly developed
instrument 13:00 And you know these mostly from sculptures and pictures that Scott has played. And the harp was kind of the forerunner of everything within our absolutely is the oldest. And from there came the all other string install out of this thing instrument harp live and then the next instruments. Well then what happened kind of now let's take it you are in about 900 B.C. what happens say around a little after me you know 80 a little urban area transfers to Europe around before time of the movers there is some duty that is brought to guitar. Yeah actually it has no foundation. That was an instrument which was called Morticia guitar. This was instrument and had nothing whatsoever to do is get our whole guitar arrived in Europe somehow somehow I think that's true that
I think that it's game to provide us transcend. Yes and spread all or all over Europe all over Europe in 12 century we can see carvings on the cathedrals. Which already overwhelm these early guitars now you're speaking about the 12th century already that's right now about what is the guitar like Van is it was a very different from the instrument we know today. It was a smaller size. How many strange most. It had four sometimes three strings and also find some Fife sting and what about these double strings that you speak by double strings came a little later went to probably to improve. Yes and so we begin and get our literature for four double steam guitar and then fifth string was added later date around fifteen hundred. What is the
earliest guitar that you've ever taken in your hands and strum played. The only his guitar I had in my hand I was they did about fifteen hundred fifty I would say 15 16 was that a strange experience or did it seem pretty comfortable. Yeah no it was not very comfortable. No nobody played on it for a while I just wanted to sound like that. Oh not much I see. Well now all right. You've gotten it in Europe and you say it was a four five stringed instrument and I didn't like much but not too different other than that from the you know what I did and then what happened. And then it became kind of fun as we called it royal instrument for example. John it's the second quarter it was a very popular game himself played it very well according to Condi Grammont
memoirists also Louis de 14 play he did. Oh yes Linda for Gene studied guitar from Robert Davies A who was employed and he scored the first guitarist in the score it was called a bad guy from Italy who traveled later to London and then in Spain. It wasn't a big thing in Spain Oh yes in Spain it became national instrument. Now your Russian are you Russian born you are yes. Yeah well now it's also been the thing in Russia. That's right. So I get tired just spread all over. Now at present the guitar of course is very popular in its serious side as a classic instrument. But even more so I'm sure as the instrument for Iraq and Iraq and also folk music. But from your book I gather that it was always pretty popular I don't think people realize that. That's right it was. For example I was lucky enough to own convert several minor
scrapes compositions written for guitar in 17th century Italy. When composer published seven books in tablature is I want to get to that later. Well I think you mentioned a tablature is one of the two it is the way of writing music tabla to represent lines and present strings and numbers. The frets where to press the strings and this added aided notation as we know it was hard to do up to I would say 18th century. I hate I have to add that in France and England it was letters not numbers. Open meant opening be first fret etc. and the timing was marked on top of what you call the. The five lines and little funny little notes that you get on popular music today now is that would you still call that tablature. You know no I don't think that word is just
marking it is very much like that. But if you wouldn't actually call it you know because it doesn't have a melody line or something like that they had before. Well anyhow you say that royalty including Louie Fourteenth and many others always seem to find the guitar a very favorite instrument. And it's been popular all through these later centuries 800 900 and so that today's popularity really is perhaps greater than ever before it's not that unusual. Yes I would say that if you came down to people. Yeah but then let me ask you why do you think it has reached an apex of popularity right now. First of all I think that the invention of Nile and streams has to do with it. God strain were very uncomfortable they were breaking all the time. And more than with a violin to me for years. And that guitar is actually polyphonic instrument on which you can accompany and play solo that as we know three instruments in use now which we can call polyphonic is
piano harp and guitar. Guitar is more portable. Note A little is not so popular but it became more popular. So you don't have to say that category. Yes it is. Well I don't know if you've told me why you think it's really reached such a huge. I mean why is so very very popular right now you say you think that's partly due to the nylon strings but I bet there's more that oh my God more jumbo jet planes have something to do with it in what way. A few days before on the ship and by train now by jet he can play practically every day at concerts just $5 ations really. Yes. Why why has a rock and a rock have the rock people taking this instrument up with such a vengeance. Because it's easy to carry. You can play chords you can. Not too difficult to make it sound when you know it is very easy to start
by then very hard to continue my solo. Well now the lawn boss guy has been credited with the current interest in the harpsichord but yes also very great yes. Would you say that it's safe for me to intimate that Segovia is largely responsible for the tremendous enthusiasm for the guitar now as a concert instrument. Absolutely I would say should go is not only giant of 20th century he also a symbol of the guitar. And he's been playing in public for well over 50 years now only and still going strong. Oh yes this extraordinary absolute always full houses. Yes. For an instrument that is. He doesn't amplified or anything you know and just sits quietly and plays the most serious music and the people go out and guns and drugs all the time. I mean it's unbelievable to be at doors I have to say here really and as somehow that this stimulus was very comparable to those guys with people not more you could not even yes.
Well before we talk about the guitar in popular music today you mention in your book that many great composers have not only played the guitar but have composed for it and I think not everybody's aware of that. Who are some of them. I have to start with barriers. He played only guitar he didn't play no instrument he knew the instruments for which he wrote but he played guitar and he even made a living teaching guitar. Mostly the nobility of France. You know I sound strange because he's noted for these tremendous booming huge orchestral effect that are almost deafening and yet he had an interest in a quiet instrument in him. Yes it's always the contrast and Schubert possessed only guitar. Yeah yeah he comes boys stand it and we still have some of his songs originally written for voice and guitar
and only last year or so he had got his brother gave him. But as always everything is written for good. Could I say that the guitar is the instrument of romance. I think you could describe it as a dreamy guy right there he said. He's me every time you want to suggest romance in an opera you know or even today. I mean and a love song immediately you get out. Yes it has it has a hunting sound. What about Paganini. Oh that was great with doors and I always think of him as strictly violent. Yes bad men. He studied violin his speech accompanied him and the guitar. That's where it all started. Didn't he write a lot of the guitar. Yes he did hero of the 140 compositions for guitar and where how often do you hear them play. Not much because actually the smallest of his compositions were published his big works.
Publishers didn't like they were too hard for you How are you going to sell them now do you play. Well one of the composers they'll have played is I think interesting Rossini or were composed of the guitar hero as he composed was very very young or yes many many composers used guitar when they composed and more up to date more of today a lot of us have below because he's a master of the guitar. His compositions for example really represent I would say explored the guitar and it is original. I think everybody knows that it's very very fine violin and can run into real money like a hundred thousand dollars maybe. Yeah how expensive Can a very fine guitar get. Oh I would say up to fifteen hundred dollars more. Twelve hundred fifteen hundred you know golden lady
and how and how reasonably can you buy land a depends gun said you can buy a reasonable guitar already for $600. I say buy you can just go and buy because it's handmade it has to be a handmade machine made good guitars too. And you can get us for how little you can get for 500 machine made decent gets all the ranges from about five hundred to fifteen hundred I would say even from 300 to 59 this year but now the man who made violin and today you have to sometimes pay up to a hundred thousand dollars for one is of course Stradivarius corners I understand Stradivarius also made some guitars and a few of them have come down to you where they comparable in quality to his violins and those days the guitar had a different shape and it had rosettes. So the sound hole was covered. And he's guitars didn't sound as ice as finest as we have it today is that so I guess. Very
interesting I think. And besides it had double stings five double steam should that be and you frown on that now. No we have six stamps now. Mr. Alexander bellow I found your book The Illustrated History of the guitar to be truly fascinating. Very well written and abounding in color and black and white pictures of some of the most beautiful instruments and sculptures imaginable. Thank you how much you somehow in your long research got hold of Throughout the long history of the instrument. I did want to ask you Would you say that all present day guitar are alike as much alike one to the other as say violins are to each other or a piano about and everybody has four strings about the same size and any violence can switch from one to another without seriously. You mean think himself in the piano has 88 keys and you know if you play one can you play another but what about guitar they all pretty much alike.
That's right they have been standardized. They are what. How many strings now is the standard guitar standard is six single strange about some folks saying there's 12 string guitar as they call it which actually is. Revived six double string guitar from which six single originated so it's known since 18 century at all to the same perhaps later. And what are they standard tuning is what the standard tuning is starting from a lower string which I mean what are they allowed. The right that is that violin tuning. The last basis of the right you know when you came in this morning this morning to tape this little interview with me. I was very happy to see that you were kind of to bring your guitar and you said that you would illustrate for us if you have the different
ways in which the guitar is played and some of the different styles. And gosh I'd be so grateful to you if you would. Thank you I try my best day and not focusing I say again saying hi and listening to the Internet not your voice. What is this. What would you show is very strange. First I give you an idea of classical music on the guitar written by the lovers who as we just said laid very well and I think you told me before hand that this composition it's called but it's a prelude number one. That this show's kind of explores the possibilities of the guitar as it is I mean that horrible effect sonority The other thing I can find with you. That's beautiful. You also said that you would perhaps indicate a
little bit about flamenco. That is what Spanish Gypsy music actually flamenco is a company meant for dance. There have been nine dances and the guitarist that company in the same arena for the dance. Would you indicate a little bit of you know you know mostly mostly Rask Otto's which is timing was for playing. It's not it's not us so much in it. For example everybody knows this migraine Yeah. Something of that sort. Yeah you know you were playing something just before we went on the air and you played about four five notes. I said What is that I
said in chatting melody I usually have to hear things through before I know that I like it or not. But all of a sudden it hit me and I had to like it I mean I wish I wasn't sure very modestly blushed or something said Wise One of my own compositions in the back row and I'm sincere I really was taken by this and you played it again like that would you know just as a favor to me a little is because I know you published a lot of things. Is this published. Yes it's called actually discovered Tina. Yeah which consist from demons to first moment is by a cut off which means song of the gun. It's a matter of fact you played it and I mean the rest of them see if I could play part of it and I some of it stuck with me right away. I really really like it. Thank you. Just by the first phrase again which I really have.
You got to get through there Isabel. Well tell me I was beautiful really. Tell me what are these rock n roll boys doing with the guitar. She has all kinds of timing which goes on as background while they sing. This is a kind of special thing and they get most of the time the plectrum is used for it. You frown on that don't you. By me. You frown on that. Yeah I think yeah. Because I I asked before what about the electric guitar and said oh they use a plectrum you didn't look happy. No because you can play single notes or course you can play by the planet music. It's gender gaps you have to play on.
It's hard to play that. You can skip notes when you're strong. But one can learn to play the guitar as well as necessary for a good deal of the rock and roll without too long to study would you say or not yes I think that if you don't go to basics which I think everybody should no matter what kind of guitar you play because guitar is a guitar as we say there is no full piano rock'n'roll pianist or a logical pianist so there is not a difference in a guitar. I think that everybody should take at least maybe half a year to a year and to learn how to play the instrument. Now you tell me that you teach guitar at a couple of the universities and all now do you find that many of the students are. You find a lot of students interested in what kind of of guitar are they interested in learning. Actually only classical guitar really. You mean the other they can pick up by themselves or what. If you play classical guitar you can pick up anything so very
basics. You could join a koan really. Yeah I think you have the rhythm. You have that beat. Have you ever played any rock n roll yourself. No no I didn't you know your book indicates that there were many women guitarists the ages and a lot of pictures sculptures of them that's kind of unusual because women instrumentalists are too many Until recently I think. Yeah I tell you they are because I get that it's very suitable. I think that's as you said yourself it's my romantic that instrument and I don't see why women should not play you down or I think they can do just as good a job as men. Yeah but I'm thinking of way back oh you know how many I think were there centuries ago. Yes. Not you know you take drugs and you know I do I do.
And I'm of Hammurabi human women had more rights than now in some countries women by priestess do and guitar was actually a sacred instrument. Let me ask you a quick question. The lute is very popular now too I think not so much for popular music because I'm not aware of it. But what's the chief difference between the two instruments. The difference is that guitar had also double strings a Sloot has now. Now get our last doubles and became single. That's why Guitar survived lude still has double now. The only difference is besides these double stings and aloo it but that don't sting and allude to and have a tone lower than the guitar and Lute has a couple of things there which makes it in my opinion easier to play him or do you write a letter. I know that a man like Julian Bream plays both instruments noncitizens if you play guitar rap that you know if you play guitar you can easily pick up
loot and sort of like a violin and viola would you say. I would say I would say yes. I find the man who is easier to play than guitar is hired to do and if you don't have to pluck so hard. We were speaking about tunings. Yes. And you say this is now standardized although you mention through your book all kinds of different tunings course that's partly because the number of strings varied you know different not only that it was experimentation you know people experiment constantly and the most composers wrote them positions for different doing hoping that this tuning would be adopted and they would be the inventors. They also looked for better sound. And the instrument that you brought with you which is a very handsome one in which you were kind after play. I take it this is not a Stradivarius. No. What is it. This guitar is made by Mondale Velasquez here in New York who I think is
one of the best in the world certainly sounded very resonant and. Yes it's much better then we had it even 20 years ago. Is that so oh yes. Improvement is tremendous in building. Of course there I was a good guy make us just as good. But various isn't it that no one has discovered the secret if there was one for the magnificent instance of going Arius and Stradivarius. And they're still the finest with an instrument like the guitar that has a longer history. You say the finest guitars are made really today. Yes because today we have radio television guitarist more blades. Yes that would be good. Well Alexander Bell I want to thank you not only for being my guest and for your interesting and illuminating remarks. I thank you too for bringing along this beautiful guitar of yours and demonstrating and playing for us briefly as it was
and not least I'm very grateful that you wrote your book An Illustrated History of the guitar published by Colombo which for me is the definitive book on the subject. And I must say that I hope it has the wide sale that you thoroughly deserves. This is been Bernard Gabriel hoping that the coming week will be one filled with fine music. This program was acquired with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is the national educational radio network.
Bernard Gabriel
Episode Number
The Guitar Today Alexander Bellow
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Chicago: “Bernard Gabriel; 32; The Guitar Today Alexander Bellow,” 1971-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
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