Giftedness: Out of Sync with the Majority

“Each person comes into this world with his or her own agenda, their own ‘mission’. It may be very different from what the society would like them to produce. That doesn’t mean they have failed to live up to their potential. It means that they’ve chosen their own, unique path, which they have the right to do.”

“Giftedness: creates qualitatively different life experiences; means having significantly different needs; is the experience of being an outsider; [and] requires early recognition and accommodations.”

“When we look at the gifted from a global perspective, it is clear that the development of each person’s gifts benefits all of society. Every human being has a unique contribution to make to the whole. It makes no sense to take those…who have come here with a different ‘mission’ and to press them down because we all lose when any individual who has something special to offer isn’t allowed to be themselves and to develop what they’ve come here to develop.” (Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D.)

Here is a beautiful, inspiring, and accurate talk about the nature of giftedness:


The Quest for the Other: Beyond Formalism

1) Text & Act: Essays on Music and Performance by Richard Taruskin

2) The Quest for Voice: On Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy by Lydia Goehr

3) Music and the Ineffable by Vladimir Jankélévitch (trans. Carolyn Abbate)

4) The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music by Lydia Goehr

5) The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays by Richard Taruskin

6) Music, Myth, and Nature, Or, The Dolphins of Arion by François-Bernard Mâche

7) Science, Order, and Creativity by David Bohm & F. David Peat

These are seven books, dating from the turn of the century, that I consider vitally important reading for the young, twenty-first-century classical musician. Important because each brings to light some aspect of the changing ideological lenses through which the performance of classical music has come to be viewed through the course of the 19th and 20th centuries – often pre-reflectively, without awareness of the lens.

A thread running through all seven is the rise of a positivistic formalism, the hegemonic ideology of Western art music since the 1920s and practically the only “appropriate” approach to its performance during the so-called “Golden Age of Positivism” of the 1960s through ’80s. Entailing a nuanced series of ideological variations, musical formalism would require a major academic study for its holistic unpacking. Taken collectively, these seven books from the period of interregnum between the previous (modernist) and the coming era, already go far toward expounding the influence, the significance, and the dangers, of musical formalisms. They shed light on why non-formalists, appreciated by the general public, were often ostracized by opportunistic critics. (On this topic, Richard Taruskin’s The Danger of Music includes the essay “Why Do They All Hate Horowitz?” An analogous argument would explain the case of the “wayward” Narciso Yepes in the context of the formalist classical guitar scene of the late 20th century.) These books also begin to point ways toward a rebirth of Western art music beyond creativity-blocking constraints.

On my view, such a “renaissance” is only possible if awareness is fostered of the arbitrary and unquestioned formalist assumptions – including those of the so-called “authenticity” movement – that have undergirded performance since the 1960s, and only if such awareness is supplemented by novel, truly pre- or truly post-modern ways of conceiving of musical “works”. (As Lydia Goehr rightly informed us in The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works, “Bach did not intend to compose musical works” (p. 8) – a 19th century concept.) In other words, a paradigm shift is needed to break classical music out of the “scandalously unsaleable” rut (Mâche, p. 2) in which it has atrophied since the height of formalist hegemony. These seven very important books clarify where we are coming from ideologically, bringing unquestioned assumptions into awareness, and begin to point out ways of moving forward.

Of particular interest is Goehr’s The Quest for Voice, which argues for the necessity of an enhanced formalism – formalism enriched by a transcendent “something” extra.  The nature of this “something” – call it Other, for lack of a better term – is of great interest to me and a subject to which I will return at length. For now, suffice it to say, as have the philosopher Alfred Korzybski, the physicist David Bohm, and the literary theorist Michael Marais (also, in a sense, Kant and d’Espagnat): whatever one thinks or says something [the "work", the Other, the Thing-in-Itself, the "composer's intention", Reality, "the truth"] is, it is not; it is always “something” more and different. Thus, as Goehr writes, via the parable of Die Meistersinger: “[instead of measuring by familiar] rules that which doesn’t run by [your] rules, [it is necessary to] leave behind your treasured rules, and look instead for its rules!” For reasons to be expounded elsewhere and another time, this quest for the other necessarily entails a movement of infinition, the Romantics’ interminable Sehnsucht or quest for the “blue flower” (Novalis’s Blaue Blume), a Derridean différance or Deleuzean “either/or…or”, eschewing naively positivistic formalist notions of knowable “truth” and achievable “perfection”, thereby maintaining a more open, pluralistic, and progressive practice than the ideological fashions of the 20th century permitted.

The Quest for Voice is available to read for free via the University of California Press website:

Also, a version of a central essay from Richard Taruskin’s Text & Act, “The Modern Sound of Early Music”, appeared under an editorial title in the New York Times and is available to read online:

Note: In the above essay, Taruskin lists three salient (though not exhaustive) characteristics of the formalist style:

* It is text-centered, hence literalistic.
* It is impersonal, hence unfriendly to spontaneity.
* It is lightweight, hence leery of the profound or the sublime.

It is so easy to establish that the desiderata of the classical guitar scene of the late 20th century were undergirded by these formalist assumptions about what performance supposedly ought to be like that it inspires incredulity that no one before me ever connected the dots. Just consider a few characteristic passages from Graham Wade’s dangerously utopian Traditions of the Classical Guitar (1980):

*Formalism is text-centered, hence literalistic:
“The Utopian idealism [†] of the purists may seem tedious. It is always easy to be sloppy and unscrupulous about the demands of the past on the present … This situation is however beginning to change as the public learns that what the composer actually wrote [*] may be far more exciting than the bogus ‘improvements’ of musicians living several centuries later.” (Wade, p. 70) [*What he wrote, yes, which the better informed musician knows is not the totality of what he actually played, or what his listeners actually heard.] This text-centrism extends even to prescriptivistic attitudes to fingering, as in the case of Segovia.

[†] Note: As Taruskin rightly states elsewhere (in the lecture “Where Things Stand Now” 2009): “Utopian idealism” is dangerous for “utopian thinking can easily lead – no, … has always led – to authoritarian thinking.” (Again, the example of the Segovian ideology of forced conformance exemplifies Taruskin’s point about the danger of utopian thinking leading to authoritarian thinking.)

*Formalism is impersonal, hence unfriendly to spontaneity:
“John Williams is a great artist who drew the guitar closer to the orbit of the ulterior impersonality of art, untainted by whim, mood or individual weakness. T. S. Eliot…puts the classic attribute of true creativity into words…[it is] a continual extinction of personality.” (Wade, p. 211)

*Formalism is lightweight, hence leery of the profound or the sublime:
“Segovia’s…true expressiveness…evokes but makes no undue display. The flashy shallowness of much [?] guitar performance is eschewed and any such player is cast, artistically, into outer darkness.” (Wade, p. 189) “Williams was the least exhibitionist of all musicians… In this he was a true disciple of Segovia. His playing demeanour was that of restraint, control and order, an Apollonian” (Wade, p. 208) Also, “transcription from the four-course guitar to its modern descendant is perhaps the most fruitless and destructive of all possible types of instrumental change. … [W]hat we lose are the sonority…and the overall atmosphere of this tiny voice.” (Wade, p. 55, my emphasis)

Equally telling of the formalist views underpinning prejudices within the classical guitar community is the 180-degree flip-flopping of the opportunistic Gramophone “critic,” John W. Duarte. Committed since the 1950s to a so-called “romantic” narrative about his friend (the neo-classicist) Andrés Segovia, by the 1980s Duarte had switched openly, if tacitly, to the formalist bandwagon, by then de rigueur, denigrating Segovia’s “rival” Narciso Yepes for his unfashionably “overcooked vibrato” and “distorted” note values (i.e., for being too “romantic”), where less than a decade earlier the story was the opposite, with Yepes being charged with a merely “accurate account” of the note values and supposed lack of rubato. (Contrast these conflicting “reviews”, or propaganda pieces, about the same recording.)

Duarte conflicting reviews

Given today’s political climate in which “fake news”  abounds, it is particularly important to be on guard for agnogenetic (“ignorance-generating”) tactics like Duarte’s. (It is worth noting that similar tactics were then being used by the tobacco industry to create confusion around links between smoking and cancer. Today they are being used to deny climate change by the fossil fuel industry, or to promote right-wing agendas, with no lower limit to which some people won’t stoop to get ahead.) I am aware of one particularly obsessive compulsive propagandist or troll – going by the pseudonym of “Mike”, among other noms de guerre – making its rounds on the internet, averring in the comments sections of various web pages that Narciso Yepes was a formalist! [*] Rather desperate and clearly a frightened case of projection, lacking cogent argument or proof.

*For example (agnogenetic propaganda at work in the comments sections):

INTERLUDIO (1968) for 10-string guitar by Leon Schidlowsky (ed. Viktor van Niekerk)


One of the earliest compositions for the ten-string guitar of Narciso Yepes is now available in an edition published by the Israel Music Institute.

Dating from 1968, Chilean-Israeli composer Leon Schidlowsky‘s Interludio was written for Yepes and his guitar in a graphic ‘space-time’ notation widely adopted during the 1960s when Western art music entered its ‘liquid’ (or ‘post-‘) modern phase.

Excerpt from INTERLUDIO by Leon Schidlowsky (ed. Viktor van Niekerk), Israel Music Institute.

Schidlowsky originally notated Interludio across two staves with (transposing) treble and bass clefs. However, one of the composer-approved changes to the score was the relocation of all notes played on strings 1-6 to the upper staff, and all notes played on strings 7-10 to the lower one. This allowed us to minimize string and fingering indications (and thus limit entropy) in an already cluttered score. (Strings 7-10 are only indicated when fretted.) Incidentally, in Interludio, strings 7-10 are used over 120 times in the space of about 2’12”, making for a challenging addition to the repertoire of the virtuoso ten-string guitarist. The piece also provides extensive opportunities for the use of Yepes techniques like prestissimo flourishes with three fingers of the right hand, and cross-string trills.

The score is available from the Israel Music Institute*, catalogue number IMI 8002:

A few minor errata have to be pointed out:

  • Bar 41: either slur or attack the G#, but of course not both.
  • Bar 115: the arrow indicating the simultaneous playing of two strings (8-7) by the right-hand thumb should point down.
  • Bars 122-23: left hand fingering (3 4) should be 4 then 3.
  • The explanation of symbols used in the score has been omitted; I include both Schidlowsky’s original Spanish instructions and my English version below.
Symbols (Spanish)
Symbols (English)


(For an example of Schidlowsky’s style, click here for his Piano Quartet on YouTube.)

*The score is also available from the following IMI representatives abroad:

Theodore Presser (USA, Canada, Mexico), Peer Musikverlag (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), Melos Ediciones Musicales / Ricordi Americana (South America), Albersen (The Netherlands), Cesky Rozhlas – Fond Hudebnin (Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Hungary), AB Nordiska (Sweden), Intermusica (Spain, Portugal), Danmusik (Denmark), and Harald Lyche (Norway).

Giga by David Kellner & Menuet by Camille d’Hostun

Two elementary and intermediate level ten-string guitar transcriptions of baroque lute music:

Camille d’Hostun, duc de Tallard (1652-1728)

TALLARD [click here to download PDF]
Transcription by Viktor van Niekerk

David Kellner (1670-1748)

KELLNER [click here to download PDF]
Transcription by Viktor van Niekerk

Note: Numbers inside triangles indicate strings whose vibrations need to be checked by the given finger of the left or right hand. When this symbol is accompanied by the abbreviations w, th, or dp, the meaning is to stop the vibration of the string by means of the RH wristheel (thumb-side), and distal phalanx of the thumb respectively. The difference between stopping the sound with “p” (thumb) and “dp” is that the first makes use of the thumb pad (as if playing the string) while the latter checks the string’s vibration by means of the side of the thumb’s distal phalanx (i.e., placing the thumb ‘under’, not on, the string). The latter technique is useful when ascending to an adjacent string, not wishing both to sound together. Not all such techniques are explicitly indicated. The most common damping technique is a (light) rest stroke, when descending across adjacent strings that form a major/minor 2nd, e.g., a rest stroke on string 10 after sounding string 9, leaving 10 to sound while checking 9 by coming to rest on it. Occasionally it is a good idea to fret the A2 bass on string 9/10 instead of playing it open when it is followed by an open 9th string (i.e., G#2 or G2). This avoids the melodic (M/m) 2nd becoming a dissonance as well as unnecessarily tricky damping. There is an example of this fingering in the Kellner Giga: the anacrusis or pickup from bars 3 to 4, page 2, system 2.

Menuet (Urtext) by Tallard

Giga (Urtext) by Kellner

J.S. Bach: Prelude (BWV 999), edition Viktor van Niekerk

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Prelude in C minor BWV 999

Edition Viktor van Niekerk: click here to download PDF

Note: Narciso Yepes used a half capo tasto at III when he performed this prelude. While avoiding the extended barre of mm. 1-4, this solution (like most six-string guitar editions) makes it impossible to play the correct bass note on page 2, system 4, m. 2 (p. 1, system 6, m. 2 of the Urtext). I prefer to do away with the capo altogether, a solution which opens again other possibilities. One of these is occasionally to fret the bass line on strings 8-10, avoiding disruptive mid-phrase changes of position. Interpretive merits aside, for the advanced ten-string guitarist the result is also a good technical study in extended use of the fingerboard, and for the agility of the right hand thumb (strings 7-10 are used 46 times in this brief composition).

(Clearly I disagree with the assumed “fidelity” of formalist “executions” of the text that “read” literal “intentions” into rests. There are examples in Bach’s music where such textualism results in obvious nonsense, e.g., four one-bar phrases of a single melodic line, with big leaps, instead of one four-bar phrase in steps and two-part counterpoint at the beginning of the Sarabande of BWV 995. Nevertheless I believe in the value of a plurality of different interpretations, so I may well formalize or “rhythmicize” some future performance, just as I may take the tempo slower or quicker, bring out other implied voices, or apply other articulations and dynamics. Why not? For an excellent demonstration of such possibilities in Bach – but not necessarily just in Bach – see this lesson by pianist-composer Emile Naoumoff.)

J.S. Bach: Prelude (BWV 999)

J.S. Bach: Prelude (BWV 999)

J.S. Bach: Prelude (BWV 999)
Urtext in the hand of Bach’s student J.P. Kellner


Explanation of Symbols

Julian Bertino’s Graduating Recital, 16 April 2016


Hirokazu Sato (*1966) – Mountains, Wind and the Lakes (1997) for 10-string guitar

Concepción Lebrero (*1937) – Remembranza de Juan de la Cruz (1989) for 10-string guitar

(About this work, see:


Fernando Sor (1778-1839) – Marche Funèbre pour harpolyre
(Ed. Viktor van Niekerk for 10-string guitar after Sor’s original publication for 21-stringed guitar)

Julian Bertino (*1991) – Kriyā (2016) for 10-string guitar

Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688-1758) – Lute Concerto FaWV L:d1


Playlist of full recital:

Narciso Yepes 1979 Recital, 1984 Concert Programmes

This 1979 recital of Narciso Yepes has to date received over a million views, on this video alone. Including uploads of individual items (e.g. Recuerdos de la Alhambra), it has in fact been viewed c. 6 million times.

The recital is now also available with restored audio quality in the following playlist:

Alternatively, click on an item below for easy navigation.


KÜHNEL: Suite (for baroque lute)


BACH: Sarabande & Double BWV 1002 – @11:43

BACH: Chaconne BWV 1004 – @18:46

SOR: Fantasie Villageoise, op. 52 – @33:38

SOR: Variations sur “Marlborough s’en va-t-en guerre”, op. 28 – @42:37

PERIS: Elegía para Gisela (for 10-string guitar) – @48:29

KUČERA: Diary (Homage to Che Guevara) – @55:50

-Day of Love
-Day of Hate
-Day of Decision
-Day of Battle
-Day of Death

BROUWER: Tarantos – @01:08:41

VILLA-LOBOS: Etudes nos. 1, 11, 12 – @1:13:14

BACARISSE: Passepied (encore 1) – @1:23:33

ANONYMOUS: Brian Boru’s March (encore 2) – @1:27:42

TÁRREGA: Recuerdos de la Alhambra (encore 3) – @1:33:20

GALILEI: Saltarello (encore 4)- @1:38:35

RUIZ-PIPÓ: Danza no. 1 (encore 5) – @1:42:02

* * *

As Fritz Buss points out (in this interview), Yepes usually had about four or five programmes of this length committed to memory at any given time (excluding concertos). As an example, here are a few recital programmes from April-May 1984:

  • May 1, 1984, Great Hall, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg:


Music by Alfonso X, Kellner, Bach, Giuliani, Satie, Villa-Lobos, Peris, Balada, Tárrega:


  • May 10, 1984, Linder Auditorium, Johannesburg:


Music by Adriaensen, Falckenhagen, Scarlatti, Bach, Falla, Sainz de la Maza, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Brouwer, Ginastera:


  • May 20, 1984, Civic Theatre, Johannesburg, in duo with Godelieve Monden:


Music by Johnson, Ford, Telemann, Carulli, Gurdjieff, Petit, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Rodrigo:


* * *

Moreover, as Yepes mentioned (in this  interview), by 1981/’82 he had c. 23 concertos in his repertoire, to which could be added (at least) those by Françaix, Marco (Eco), Balada (Persistencias), Moreno-Buendía, and Hovahness (No. 2) that came later.

Yepes’s performance of the Adagio from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez (with its transcendent, non-textual elements that so nag at the straitjackets of formalist minds) has received c. 4 million views, on this upload alone:


New 10-String Guitars by Hans van den Berg

Master luthier Hans van den Berg recently completed two more ten-string guitars for students of Fritz Buss. (Photos below.)

Said one of the proud new owners: “I never expected such a result. What a fine, sensitive humble, respectful human being. I am completely honoured to own and play a guitar he has constructed.”

All we have to add is that these are world-class instruments that are inspiring to play. Hans van den Berg’s consummate professionalism, his desire always to keep refining his craft, the fact that he cares about his customers and the meaningful position that a musical instrument could occupy in a person’s life: all these are quite extraordinary qualities, as are those of his beautiful guitars.

We have no reservations about recommending Hans van den Berg’s masterful ten-string guitars. (Viktor van Niekerk, Fritz Buss)

* * *

The people at Guitar Salon International have also described Berg’s six-string guitars as having “a very silky, textured and rich quality of sound, while at the same time [being] clear in every register. … Overall a very impressive and unique instrument by all standards.” (

For a GSI article about Hans, see:

For an earlier review of Berg’s first ten-string guitar, see:

* * *

For orders, please contact Hans at

* * *

Photos of Tsivia’s Guitar:








Photos of Carlo’s Guitar:





Ten-String Guitar by Philipp Neumann

German luthier Philipp Neumann has built an excellent ten-string guitar.

The instrument that I tested could not be faulted on the usual issues of poorly-made ten-string guitars. The neck is constructed from Spanish cedar (its darker appearance is due to Neumann’s custom finish) and thus it is properly balanced in relation to the mass of the body. The compact, minimalist headstock further reduces the mass on the neck-side; it’s a feature I highly recommend other luthiers to adopt. Another pleasant surprise is that the fingerboard on this particular instrument has an adequately ‘high’ action (upon the request of the owner) and thus facilitates not only a genuine dynamic range but also nuances of timbre produced not just by shifting the right hand along the strings but ‘in place’, by varying the type of touch, e.g., being able to play various types of soft, medium, and strong rest strokes without a ‘buzz’. As we come out of the formalist era and the inevitable swing of the historical pendulum begins to move in the opposite direction, I believe that more classical guitarists will again recognize the primacy of such musical desiderata and not predominantly the ease of the left hand.

Of course, the most important consideration is tone quality – because the timbre is present first and throughout any performance. If the tone quality is low (percussive, ‘bright’, ‘tinny’, ‘thin’, lacking ‘voice’), the performance is a mistake from beginning to end, no matter how ‘perfectly’ executed in the formalist sense. While tone quality varies from one guitar to another, it does also vary from player to player, from touch to touch – a fact that has sometimes been overlooked in these difference-reducing times. With some guitars a performer attentive to tone quality will work harder to make them ‘sound’, by which I don’t mean simply to play louder! I mean to give it ‘voice’, to make it ‘sing’ – in acoustics jargon, to produce a sound recipe that is richer in fundamental and lower partials and poorer in upper partials, or, to put it differently, a tone colour that approaches that of the voice, piano, or woodwinds rather than the ‘tinniness’ of the harpsichord or steel-string guitar. Such careful mastery of timbre is what makes the difference between a classical guitarist’s projection or non-projection in the concert hall, not mere decibels.

Thus I was pleased to find that Neumann’s ten-string guitar is not only resonant and very powerful but, more importantly, that there is for the most part nothing inherently ‘tinny’ about it. In fact, it was a rare and unusual pleasure to play. I would, however, prefer a slightly ‘darker’ (more ‘singing’) timbre on the first string. But this might be remedied by using a (non-carbon) first string with a greater gauge. (I would, for the same reason, also be interested to hear Neumann’s work in a cedar- as opposed to spruce-top model.)

The only other small caveat is that I hope luthiers in general will solve (for serious post-formalist artists) the problem of raising the action, not (as seen on another luthier’s work) by bulking up the bridge, or even by gradually sanding down the fingerboard, but by setting the neck at a slightly different angle to begin with, plus, of course, recalculating the fret spacing to compensate for the greater displacement of the strings by the left hand. (Who is up to the challenge?) With respect to action (for dynamic range), as with the 664mm scale length (for projection), I’m convinced that Ramirez III and Bernabe Sr were onto the right track by the early 1960s, that is, before a technocratic (‘plugged-in’) and miniaturizing formalism rose to dominance. With waning interest in the formalist ‘classical’ guitar, it’s time to pick up where the old masters left off.

Neumann clearly made a thorough study of a Bernabe ten-string guitar before building his own instrument. On the whole he has made a great ten-string guitar.

For information about the luthier or inquiries, visit:

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Suite Popular Argentina (Miguel Angel Cherubito)

Miguel Angel CHERUBITO (*1941) - Suite Popular Argentina (1989)
dedicated to Narciso Yepes

• Zamba [00:00]
• Milonga [04:45]
• Chacarera [09:11]
• Vidala [11:18]
• Tango [14:32]
• Malambo [20:43]

Miguel Angel Cherubito was born in Buenos Aires in 1941. He studied the guitar and composition. Between 1974 and 1989 he lived in Barcelona where he was active as concert guitarist, composer and conductor. He subsequently returned to Argentina where he became the director of a music school. He has written music for guitar as well as orchestral music. His herculean Suite Popular Argentina (1989) was written for Narciso Yepes, who gave the première in Tokyo.

Yepes said the following about this work and its composer: “Cherubito has the gift of…refinement and creative vein of a man who has much to say to us through music and especially the guitar. His Suite Popular Argentina is an example of this. I play this work in all my recitals, being one of the most applauded of my vast repertoire.” (1992)

Cherubito has written the following about the folkloric movements of his suite:

The Zamba is a pair dance with a slow tempo and courtly, galant character. It is danced in all Argentinean provinces. Its origins may be traced back to a Spanish dance known as the Zambacueca, from which two different dances developed: the Argentinean Zamba and the Chilean Cueca. The Zamba can also be sung.

The Milonga also comes originally from Spain and can be danced as well as sung. It resembles the Habanera but is faster-moving. There are two kinds of Milonga: the country version, which is sung and in which the interpreter improvises; and the town version, from Buenos Aires, which may be sung and danced. This is faster than the country version and may contain various themes: melancholy, romantic or amusing. The Milonga from my suite has a dramatic character and belongs to the country type.

The Chacarera is sung and danced in the northern provinces of Argentina. There are three forms: the simple, the double and the long Chacarera. The most important composers of the dance come from Santiago del Estero. The Chacarera in my suite belongs to the simple form. In keeping with tradition, the guitar plays two parts: in thirds or in sixths.

The Vidala comes from Bolivia and the north of Argentina, and has its roots in [First Nations] culture. It is not a dance, but a musical form – sung or purely instrumental – whose melodies are reminiscent of the plateaus and mountains of the Andes.

The Argentinean Tango may also be sung. It came into being at the end of the nineteenth century in Rio de la Plata, and combines elements of African dance and European music. As a town dance, the Tango is now associated mainly with the area of Buenos Aires.

The Malambo, though to be found throughout Argentina, is cultivated mainly in the Andes and Central Pampas. It has a very dynamic character and continuous rhythm from beginning to end. It is danced principally by men – alone or in groups -, and the movements are limited to the feet. The origins of this dance are not known exactly, but I believe that it comes from Spain, where this footstamping represents an important feature of dance.


The sheet music is available to purchase from the Schott Shop:,49575,cmss,3210.html

It should be mentioned, however, that the composer revised the work in 2014. Changes (most extensively to the Chacarera and repeats) are not reflected in the Schott edition.

‘Remembranza de Juan de la Cruz’ by Concepción Lebrero (composition for 10-string guitar)

Concepción Lebrero
Remembranza de Juan de la Cruz (1989) for ten-string guitar (dedicated to Narciso Yepes)

1. Soñando [Dreaming]
2. Despertando [Awakening]
3. Cantando [Singing]
4. Tocando la guitarra [Playing guitar]
5. Arriesgando [Risking]
6. Pensando [Thinking]
7. Ascendiendo [Ascending]

María de la Concepción Lebrero Baena (*Toro, Zamora, 24-VII-1937) received First Prize in Piano at the Conservatory of Salamanca at the age of 10. At the age of 13 she graduated in Piano, in Madrid, with another first prize. She continued her musical studies in Madrid, studying piano virtuosity with José Cubiles, harmony with Jesus Arámbarri, counterpoint and fugue with Francisco Calés, accompaniment and piano transposition with Gerardo Gombau, organ with Jesus Guridi and composition with Cristóbal Halffter, obtaining at the end of all these matters the respective First Prizes and various other awards.

Her compositions include music for children, several song cycles for voice and piano, choral works, piano and organ works, cantatas and oratorios.

Narciso Yepes wrote the following about Lebrero and her only composition for guitar:

“Concepción Lebrero is an outstanding Spanish composer, pianist and teacher. She has taken over the musical education of my children during my absence. Many times, over many years, I asked her to compose something for me, but she never agreed, with the excuse of not knowing the resources of the guitar. She composed cantatas, oratorios, works for orchestra and piano, voice and piano, but never anything for guitar.

“A few days after the death of our son, Juan de la Cruz, whom she had taught music and cherished from an early age, Concepción gave me this work Remembranza de Juan de la Cruz and said tersely: ‘I’ve written it thinking of Juan, as if he had dictated it to me. Do what you want with it; I do not even know if it is playable on the guitar.’ From the first note I felt overwhelmed. Movements: Dreaming, Awakening, Singing, Playing guitar, Risking, Thinking and Ascending, are an interior glimpse of the eighteen years of our son on this earth, from his first steps in life and music through teenage risks to the fullness of true life. I put my guitar and my love in the service of this work, because it is not just art, it is also a message of timeless beauty.” (Narciso Yepes)

Excerpts from Yepes’s autograph manuscript:





3 Baroque Lute Sonatas (Falckenhagen, Straube, Weiss)

‘We can say that the lute is to the guitar as the harpsichord is to the piano. And if this is true, how can we take the music written for these eight, nine, or 10-course instruments – even [eleven,] thirteen and fourteen courses, in the case of the baroque lute – and transcribe it for a guitar, which has only six strings? [...] I want to be able to make “legitimate” transcriptions in which the music loses nothing, but rather improves in quality.’ (Narciso Yepes. 1978. “The Ten-String Guitar: Overcoming the Limitations of Six Strings”. Interviewed by L. Snitzler. Guitar Player 12, p. 26.)

Sonata no. 2 by Adam Falckenhagen (live in Buenos Aires):

Sonata no. 1 by Rudolf Straube:

Sonata no. 2 by Silvius Leopold Weiss:


“With the ten-string guitar I have many possibilities, and I do not need the baroque [lute] tuning exactly.” (Narciso Yepes. 1983. “Conversation with Narciso Yepes”. Interviewed by J. Schneider. Soundboard , Spring: p. 66.)

Scordatura: String 7 = B1 (low B)
Scordatura: String 7 = B1 (low B) – other low basses (C#2, D#2) are fretted on string 7


“Wayward Tempo”: How an Incompetent Critic Prejudiced Guitarists

“When a great genius appears in the world the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” (Jonathan Swift. 1841. The Works of Jonathan Swift. Vol. 2. London: Henry Washbourne: 206.)

The London debut of Narciso Yepes took place on 17 February 1961, in Wigmore Hall. This is the programme that was presented:

Mudarra Fantasia que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico
Sanz Suite española
Scarlatti Sonata
Albeniz, M. Sonata
Sor Theme and Variations
Bach Chaconne
Villa-Lobos Prelude no. 1
Ponce Sonatina meridional
Albeniz, I. Rumores de la caleta
Falla Homenaje
Rodrigo En los trigales
Ruiz-Pipó Canción y danza no. 1

I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the first work Yepes performed on that day was Mudarra’s Fantasia, and as they say, “first impressions last.” It elicited the following response from John W. Duarte, published in the April ’61 edition of B.M.G. (Banjo, Mandolin, Guitar Magazine):

“The recital began soberly with an interesting and, to us, new Fantasia by Mudarra, alternating between sparse counterpoint (and even monody) and arpeggiated passages of surprising dissonance for their period. A certain waywardness in the soloist’s rhythmic pulse was disturbing.”

Five details and historical facts should be pointed out:

1) The original criticism of Yepes’s alleged “waywardness” of tempo – or “rhythmic pulse” in its earliest formulation – applied specifically to Alonso Mudarra’s Fantasia que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico.

2) This piece was unknown (“new”) to Duarte at that time, yet he chose to denigrate the soloist, not the piece, for a “rhythmic pulse [that] was disturbing”. In fact, the “wayward[]” pulsation is a characteristic feature of Mudarra’s piece, rendered faithfully by the performer. As we can see in the example below, the piece features numerous syncopations and fluctuating phrase lengths.

Mudarra's Fantasia que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico
Mudarra’s Fantasia que contrahaze la harpa en la manera de Ludovico

Considering that we are dealing with a critic so ignorant [1] as to be “surpris[ed]” by dissonance in Renaissance music, it is unsurprising that he blamed the “disturbing” qualities of such rhythmic complexities on the performer instead of the piece, or, indeed, his own prejudice and ignorance.

[1] (What about the dissonance of Gesualdo’s Madrigal Books 5-6? Or Monteverdi’s seconda prattica? No wonder Duarte’s error-ridden transcriptions – laughably described as “impeccable editions” by Graham Wade (Soundboard) – omit the characteristic dissonances of baroque music, turning dissonant baroque trills into consonant and anachronistic “inverted mordents”. See an example below.)

An example of Duarte’s incompetent editing in which characteristic baroque dissonances (appoggiature, trills) are rendered as consonant mordents and anachronistic (non-baroque) “inverted mordents”, among other errors. (Published by Universal Edition, Australia, 1977.)

3) The part-time critic and full-time chemist Duarte’s musical training was limited, in his own words, to “about eighteen months of sporadic jazz guitar lessons” during which he learned “the basic technique” and elementary musical notation. (It would be delusional to assume that this is remotely adequate training for a classical music professional, not that it inhibits those under the influence of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.) The virtuoso guitarist Philip Hii, a former student of Duarte, has attested to the fact that the critic  spent lessons dropping names without conveying any artistic insight, concluding that “He [Duarte] could hardly hold the guitar properly and what came out of his fingers were a few scratchy sounds.” (Hii, P. 2011. ‘A Lesson with John Duarte‘)

4) By the time that he initiated what would become a persistent assault on the “wayward” artistry of Narciso Yepes, John Duarte had already “tak[en] over the musical education of John Williams” (‘London’s Gain,’ B.M.G., Vol. L, No. 576, April, 1953, p. 171). Far from the so-called “dispassionate observer” (Soundboard), his vested interests did not end with promoting the career of his pupil, and by association his own – a business that necessarily involved denigrating rivals, most notably Narciso Yepes. In addition, Duarte’s “friendship” or association with Andrés Segovia dated back to c. 1948.

5) Yepes’s London debut also included Bach’s famous Chaconne as transcribed not by Segovia, but by Yepes, after considerable musicological research and work with his then teachers, the legendary Nadia Boulanger and the violinist/composer George Enescu. As Yepes recounted:

“The Chaconne is a piece I worked on a lot when I studied with Enesco in Paris [in the early '50s]. He was a great specialist in Bach. [...] I studied all of the transcriptions of the Chaconne, the one by Brahms, by Mendelssohn,  by Busoni. Busoni’s was of course too romantic, but I was interested in every version. [...] Enesco said, after I worked on the piece, that he preferred the Chaconne on the guitar. [...] I studied all of the transcriptions that Bach made of his own music. I wanted to see what Bach would have written if he had made a version for lute or for guitar. If I have a phrase that I cut because the violin cannot play it, I am sure that Bach would not cut it if the phrase could be played on the organ or the harpsichord; he would continue the phrase until the end. In the violin, he is obliged to cut the phrase because the violin cannot play the polyphonic voices together. But on the guitar, I don’t cut the phrase; I continue the phrase. There were many situations where I put something that I imagine that Bach would have written, and this is the transcription that I play, the one I worked on with Enesco.” (‘Conversation with Narciso Yepes’ by John Schneider, Soundboard, Spring, 1983)

Not only did Yepes’s approach represent a new scholarly standard, it introduced a revolutionary and conscious approach to right hand fingering that necessarily posed a challenge to Duarte and co’s vested interests. Was Segovia the ventriloquist behind Duarte’s attacks on Yepes? We may never know, but we have eye-witnesses to “the contempt of Segovia towards Yepes [...] at Santiago de Compostela. Yepes attended as a student a master class by Segovia and performed his own transcription of one of Bach’s chaconnes. Segovia showed openly his disapproval of Yepes’ transcription. Yepes very humbly excused himself saying that all he wanted by attending Segovia’s master class, was to learn something and not [to be] embarrassed.” (Leonardo Balada, personal correspondence)

Segovia’s Procrustean [2] contempt for authentic artistry (from the Greek autos “self” + hentes “doing”, in other words, “acting on one’s own authority”) and expectations of unquestioning conformity were also recorded in the now infamous Segovia-Chapdelaine Incident:

Procrustes violates alterity that does not conform to his ruthless, authoritarian framework
[2] Procrustes (Greek mythology) violates alterity that does not conform to his ruthless, authoritarian framework. He laid his victims on an iron bed: if they were too short he stretched them out to fit the bed frame; if too tall, he cut off their extremities.
* * *

Let us move ahead to a later example of John Duarte’s questionable denigration of Narciso Yepes. I quote below from two reviews that appeared in the British magazine Gramophone, in 1978 and 1989. It should be noted that both reviews are concerned with the same recording by Yepes of the music of Villa-Lobos (for its vinyl and CD releases respectively). Both reviews are in the odious and, by now, expected formula of an adversarial comparison between Yepes on the one hand and Bream/Williams on the other (a critical means of avoiding genuine intellectual engagement with either the work or the different insights offered by different musical personalities).

Duarte’s 1st review: “He [Yepes] gives an accurate account of the surface of the music [of Villa-Lobos ... ]. There is in Yepes’s playing none of the [...] rubato that Bream deploys and even his well known waywardness of tempo is absent.” (John W. Duarte, Gramophone, December, 1978, p. 1136)

Duarte’s 2nd review: “[In Yepes's playing of Villa-Lobos] there is [...] a kind of sentimentality, marked by slow tempos [...] and note-values that are too distorted to pass as rubato“. (John W. Duarte, Gramophone, April, 1989, p. 1587)

Note the following contradictions between Duarte’s first and second reviews of the same recording:

  1. an “accurate account” of the text vs. “distorted” note-values
  2. no rubato vs. excessive rubato
  3. absence of wayward tempos vs. markedly slow tempos
Duarte's conflicting 'reviews'
Duarte’s conflicting ‘reviews’

Considering these antithetical claims, one has to ask whether Duarte’s reviews were intentionally dishonest and intended simply to traduce the artistry of Narciso Yepes – indeed, Duarte displays dehumanizing violence when at one point he reduces Yepes to an “[in]sentient” object – or whether (as per the Dunning-Kruger Effect) the critic was too incompetent, and too unaware of his incompetence, to judge reliably any genuinely skilled and artistically educated performer. The 2006 edition of Soundboard that absurdly and dedicated 24 pages to Duarte’s obituary makes a point of emphasizing the critic’s “honesty” – perhaps protesting too much? – since at least three contributors to that edition insist on said “honesty”. In that case, I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. Then we need to look to the Dunning-Kruger Effect to explain Duarte’s contradictory reviews. This conclusion is supported by the chemist-cum-critic’s lack of an adequate artistic education (amounting to 18 months of sporadic jazz guitar lessons).

As for the comparative tempos between Yepes and Bream’s recordings of the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos, an empirical evaluation is revealing. Bream is found to have for the most part two generic tempos: a pulse of c. 132-146 and a pulse of c. 84-90 ticks of the metronome per minute. Yepes’s tempos, on the other hand, span a gamut of different expressions (a genuine expressive range): 44, 56-58, 61-68, 74-76, 96, 110, 127-130, 135, 144, 165, and 198. (See the table and graphics below.)

Villa-Lobos: 12 Études Julian Bream Narciso Yepes
No. 1 Allegro non troppo [animé] crotchet = 146 crotchet = 165
No. 2 Allegro crotchet = 135 crotchet = 127
No. 3 Allegro moderato [un peu animé] crotchet = 132 crotchet = 96
No. 4 Un peu modéré crotchet = 90 crotchet = 56
No. 5 Andantino crotchet = 135 crotchet = 61
No. 6 Poco allegro [un peu animé] crotchet = 89 crotchet = 65
No. 7a Très animé crotchet = ? (immeasurably distorted) crotchet = c. 76 ? (distorted)
” “b Moins crotchet = 84 crotchet = 74
” “c Più mosso crotchet = 132 crotchet = 110
No. 8a Modéré (80=crotchet) crotchet = 50 crotchet = 44
” “b [b. 15-] crotchet = 57 crotchet = 65
No. 9a Très peu animé [un peu animé] crotchet = 115 crotchet = 58
” “b [b. 30-] ” “ crotchet = 68
No. 10a Très animé [Très animé] quaver = c. 86 ? (distorted) quaver = 198
” “b Un peu animé crotchet = 145 crotchet = 135
No. 11a Lent quaver = 132 quaver = 126
” “b Più mosso crotchet = 132 crotchet = 126
” “c Animé minim = 89 minim = 76
” “d Poco meno crotchet = 133 crotchet = 127
No. 12a Animé dot. crot. = 134  dot. crot. = 130
” “b Più mosso dot. crot. = 134  dot. crot. = 144
” “c Un peu plus animé dot. crot. = 134  dot. crot. = 149


Yepes and Bream's Comparative Tempos in the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos
Yepes and Bream’s Comparative Tempos in the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos
Bream's Tempos in the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos
Bream’s Tempos in the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos
Yepes's Tempos in the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos
Yepes’s Tempos in the 12 Etudes by Villa-Lobos

To mention just a few additional points of interest that can be drawn from this data:

No. 10’s Très animé , which Yepes genuinely plays “very lively” at a quaver = 198, Bream takes at a truly wayward, snail’s pace of a quaver = c. 86. (In fact, the note values here are too distorted to determine an accurate tempo for Bream, precisely the ‘flaw’ that Duarte ironically attributed to Yepes).

No. 12’s increasing intensity of tempo, from Animé to Più mosso to Un peu plus animé is absent from Bream’s performance, which remains essentially around a dotted crotchet = 134, within one of Bream’s two generic tempo ranges. Yepes, on the other hand, increases the intensity of the tempo as Villa-Lobos indicates, from 130 to 144 to 149 beats per minute. This too ironizes Duarte’s claim that “nowhere is there genuine tension” (1989). (What then of Bream who flouts the instructions and keeps to one tempo?)

Yepes evidently deemed No. 8’s Modéré (80=crotchet) to be an error that should have read 80=quaver (in other words, 40=crotchet) and he takes the tempo almost imperceptibly faster at 44 crotchets per minute. Here Bream’s choice of 50-51 crotchets per minute seems not to be based on a similarly discernible intellectual engagement with the text. The same goes for many of his tempo choices: His Allegro (No. 2), Allegro moderato (No. 3), Andantino (No. 5), and Animé, Più mosso and Un peu plus animé (No. 12) are all essentially one and the same tempo. Evidently technical difficulty was the major determinant of Bream’s tempos: With the exception of No. 8, Bream seems to play each Etude as fast as he can manage (simply to “impress” or to outdo Yepes?) regardless of authorial instructions.

Many similar criticisms can be raised regarding Bream’s limited dynamic range and thus limited range of genuine musical expression (as opposed to facial histrionics). Indeed, he can be counted on to flout many of Villa-Lobos’s meticulous dynamic indications, e.g. dynamic accents rendered by Bream as tempo-distorting ‘agogics’ in No. 3 and elsewhere. Then there is the bass melody in No. 10 that flounders beneath the over-played accompaniment on the trebles, the performer evidently being incapable of foregrounding a melody in the bass as Villa-Lobos instructs. (The text shows both accents on the bass notes and the verbal instruction “en dehors”, meaning “to stand out”.) In fact, many of Villa-Lobos’s expressive indications (ritenuto, ritardando, allargando, dynamics, articulations, etc.) suffer a similar fate. There is even video footage of a masterclass in which Bream derides a learner for dynamically separating melody and accompaniment in Villa-Lobos’s Prelude no. 1, and condescendingly ‘instructs’ him to “take [more] care”. (Click here for the video.)

Contrary to Bream’s ‘instruction’ we now know that Villa-Lobos originally notated his works with different sized note-heads indicating different dynamic levels (as shown in the example below). Villa-Lobos unequivocally did not write the accompaniment of Prelude no. 1 as a prominent feature (as Bream would have it), nor did he write uneven quavers, as distorted by Segovia and mindlessly imitated by others from Bream to Karadaglic.

Villa-Lobos, Prelude no. 1, showing the composer’s original dynamic notation with small note-heads indicating parts to be played more softly in the (musical) background, normal note-heads indicating a louder dynamic (in the foreground). (Published by Eschig, ed. F. Zigante.)

As if that is not proof enough, Villa-Lobos’s own performance of his Prelude no. 1 conclusively shows that the accompaniment should be less prominent than the melody and the quavers should be even. (Actually, it is common sense to any real musician except a guitarist.)

Here it should be noted that Yepes had the instinctive musicality to intuit Villa-Lobos’s dynamic intentions (playing the accompaniment of Prelude no. 1 softer and not “pulsing” as Bream would have it) and that at a time when only the old Eschig text was available, without the small note-heads. That speaks volumes about Yepes’s innate musical sensibility.

While Yepes also flouts a few authorial indications (e.g. the Poco meno in No. 5), most of Villa-Lobos’s expressive nuances are present in Yepes’s recording, but demonstrably absent from Bream’s (12 Etudes) and Williams’s (5 Preludes). (What happened, for example, to the rit. in b. 4 of Prelude no. 1, the poco allargando in b. 27, the rit. in b. 32, the allargando in b. 38, the rall. in b. 40, the rit. in b. 51, the rall. in b. 69, the poco meno in b. 70, the allargando poco a poco in bb. 73-4, the rall. in b. 79…?)

That Duarte chose to censor his associates’ shortcomings while censuring Yepes’s strengths is a scandal. We have to ask what so affronted him? Or was he simply too incompetent to discern these important, expressive nuances, and too ignorant of his own ignorance?

John Duarte with Julian Bream

Such condign meta-criticism comes in response to decades of tendentious and suspect ‘reviews’ like those of Duarte, filled with indemonstrable, meretricious panegyrics to the Anglo-Iberian ‘gods’ of the guitar (Bream, Williams, Segovia) while underhandedly belittling non-conforming and thus not hierarchically stratifiable artists, like Yepes but also others.

Having looked at some contradictory details, let us consider other aspects of the above mentioned Gramophone reviews by Duarte:

1978: “If Williams has provided the definitive recording of the five Preludes … Bream has now done so with the Etudes. Yepes offers equal proficiency, coupled with a good recording [3] and friendly acoustic, but his approach is academic rather than sentient, which shows at both ends of the expressive spectrum. He gives an accurate account of the surface of the music whereas Bream carries us into its heart, and there we find the heart of Villa-Lobos, who loved both the guitar and music deeply. There is in Yepes’s playing none of the subtlety of nuance and rubato that Bream deploys and even his well known waywardness of tempo is absent. / Bream will record nothing he does not believe in or in which he cannot find something worth expressing.  … He has the special kind of magic (I think it is called affection) that persuades one to consider trifles and to do so in their favour. By now you must have gathered that, unless you hate the guitar or Villa-Lobos, you must waste no time in buying this marvelous record [i.e. Bream's Villa-Lobos record].” (Duarte, Gramophone, December 1978)

[3] Note: If there is something deserving criticism here, it is the uneven recording quality – editing different takes together that were clearly recorded with different microphone placements or on different days – but Duarte evidently could not perceive these obvious inconsistencies of nuance, describing the recording quality as “good”. Ultimately, however, this lukewarm ‘compliment’ of the recording, not the artist, is nothing but a ruse to mislead readers, to appear to be “objective”.

1989: “Yepes has never lacked facility and none of these recordings was made on a technical off-day; indeed, most guitarists would be happy to be able to match some of his quick-fire passages on their best on-days. What he does here lack, especially in comparison with Bream, is charisma and warmth, let alone temperamental fire; in their place there is too often eccentricity of phrasing (the central section of Prelude No. 5 is reduced to rubble) and a kind of sentimentality, marked by slow tempos, overcooked vibrato and note-values that are too distorted to pass as rubato—Prelude No. 1 is a compendium of all these things. Elsewhere there is too much that is wooden and stilted, e.g. Etudes Nos. 5 and 9, and nowhere is there genuine tension. I regret that I can raise little enthusiasm for this new compilation [i.e. Yepes's Villa-Lobos recordings].” (Duarte, Gramophone, April 1989)

There are motives (egoic motives? financial motives?) and historical undercurrents to be considered here. For example, the ideological shift that took place around 1980. Before that, under the influence of the “Romantic” or, rather, the proto-modernist Segovia, other rival artists like Yepes, whether justifiably or not, could be denigrated on the grounds that they were “academic” (a derogatory euphemism for intelligent, knowledgeable, profound, philosophical)  and thus supposedly not “sentient” (as if depth and sensitivity are necessarily mutually exclusive). By 1980 a stronger (not merely guitaristic, but a larger musical) shift had taken place toward a Modernist (anti-expressive, or’academic’) ideology represented in performance by the so-called “historically informed” or “authenticity” movement – an ideological shift that forced tendentious figures like Duarte to reinvent their criticism of Yepes who now became suddenly not “academic” (a pro) but overly sentimental (an anti-Romantic con).

There is also much more to be oppugned in such reviews as mere truisms, gabble that can either be believed or not, but that cannot be proven. There is the rhetoric: the conditional being used to present underhandedly a propagandistic truism as if it were the truth (“If Williams has provided the definitive recording” – “if” indeed;  there is anyway no such thing as “the definitive” in music, except for those who would choke it as a living art and turn it into a religion or archaeology with their “definitives” and “perfectives”). Or, to take another example of underhandedness, there is Duarte’s tacit implications of ‘mere’ proficiency or ‘mere’ facility (why not call it virtuosity?) as if to imply that virtuosity necessarily precludes expression, another truism, and a snobbery smacking of Baldassare Castiglioni’s Book of the Courtier. Moreover, what does it mean for Bream supposedly to penetrate the “heart” of Villa-Lobos when, unlike Yepes, he does not scratch the surface of the composer’s text, does not get the surface details right but flouts them, distorts them? Does getting to the “heart” of Villa-Lobos mean ignoring his painstaking notation of dynamic differences, different articulations and fluctuations of tempo? Or does getting to the heart of the music mean observing most, if not all, of these indications, and then adding to the indeterminate spaces they delimit, other, additional, ineffable expressive nuances?

There is much more to be said here, but a deeper analysis is for another day and another, more weighty medium.

* * *

Let us turn now to a few additional examples of critical bêtise concerning Yepes’s alleged “waywardness” of tempo.

This write-up appeared in The New York Times: “The suite [sic] by Falckenhagen [...] seemed burdened to the point of stumbling by Mr. Yepes’s rhapsodic pauses and surges.” (Bernard Holland, ‘Narciso Yepes Plays a Guitar Recital at Met’, New York Times, November 10, 1986)

The Sonata op. 1 no. II by Falckenhagen, in fact, contains these “rhapsodic pauses and surges” as a feature of the composition, two examples being marked in red below. Again, as with Duarte’s first impression of Yepes in 1961, the criticism is unjustified and stems from ignorance of the work in question.

Falckenhagen's Allegro un poco (Sonata 2)
Falckenhagen’s Allegro un poco (Sonata 2)

The other side of the coin has seen a tendency to denigrate Yepes for not submitting obediently (in an authoritarian climate) to the slow tempo at which Segovia, Bream, Williams and their imitators have taken Tárrega’s famous Recuerdos de la Alhambra. That it is their tempo that lacks an awareness of phrasing (rather than Yepes’s that is too fast) can easily be shown by means of a little experiment: Sing the melodic line (implied by the tremolo and shown below) with a single, natural breath per phrase – in other words, without disrupting the cohesion of the phrase. Can it be done at the slower tempo? Does it feel natural? What about singing the melody at Yepes’s faster tempo? Alternatively, ask a pianist, flautist, violinist cellist, oboist or any other trained (non-guitarist and therefore not already prejudiced) musician to play the melody as they deem best and most expressive. The results should be illuminating.

Tarrega's Recuerdos de la Alhambra
Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Melodic line only)

As C. P. E. Bach once couched an antidote to the waffling ‘arguments’ of some of his father’s critics:

“One should miss no opportunity of hearing capable singers; from this one learns to think in terms of song. And it is a good idea to sing musical themes to oneself in order to find out how they should be played; this will in any case be more useful than relying on long-winded books and tracts, in which all the talk is of Nature, Taste, Song, Melody, notwithstanding the fact that their authors are often incapable of composing two notes naturally, tastefully, songfully or melodiously, since they attribute all those gifts and qualities to this and that according to their whims, but most injudiciously.” (Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen,Trans. Piero Weiss)

That a video of Yepes performing Recuerdos de la Alhambra has been viewed c. 3 million times speaks to the irrelevance and antipopulist prejudice of some guitar critics’ opinions.

* * *

Lastly, let’s look at the famous Fantasie by Weiss. The Urtext is shown below:

Weiss's Fantaisie
Weiss’s Fantasie

Note, first, that the introductory section is written in quavers (marked B in red and restated at the top left of each new system) and not in semi-quavers as mis-transcribed in many guitar editions, presumably to conform to the faster tempo in Segovia’s recording rather than for legitimate musicological reasons. Second, this section is written without bar-lines, implying a rhythmically flexible, improvisatory (“fantasy”) style characteristic of 17th and early 18th century unmeasured preludes. Considering just these two points already, it is Segovia and Bream’s perfunctory tempo that is wayward in relation to Weiss’s actual instructions, and not Yepes’ slower, more flexible tempo.

Third, note that the initial tempo is indicated by a C (marked A in red in the above example), which was not just a time signature in early music. This is followed by a fugue-like alla breve whose proportional tempo is indicated – as per the conventions of that historical epoch – by the C with a stroke drawn through it (marked C in red in the above example).

In music of this period there are two categories of tempo for duple meters. Common time, indicated with C and alla breve indicated with a C with a stroke drawn through it. According to the conventions of the time, alla breve is more or less twice as fast as common time, but the note values used in alla breve are twice as long. In other words, if common time Allegro consists mainly of semi-quavers, an alla breve Allegro consists mainly of quavers. But since alla breve is twice as fast, the quavers in that tempo are to be played as fast as the semiquavers in common time. In other words alla breve indicated tempus imperfectum diminutum, a 1:2 proportion, or double the previous tempo. Here is some of the period evidence for this convention:

Alexander Malcolm (1721): alla breve “is brisk”.

William Turner (1724): C with the stroke “denotes the Movement to be somewhat faster than the former.”

Joachim Quantz (1752): “In four-crotchet time it must be carefully observed that when a stroke goes through the C . . . such a stroke signifies, that all the notes, so to speak, become a different value, and must be played [twice] as fast again, than is the case when the C has no stroke through it. This measure is called : allabreve, or alla capella. But since with regard to the aforesaid measure many have fallen into error through ignorance: it is most desirable that everyone should become acquainted with this difference. The measure is more frequent in the galant style, than it used to be in former times.”

Georg Muffat (1695): C without the stroke should be “almost always more moderate than” C with the stroke. In other words, C with the stroke indicates a faster tempo.

Christopher Simpson (1665): alla breve “is a Degree faster” than Common time without a stroke.

Henry Purcell (1696): “ye first [C] is a very slow movement, ye next [C with a stroke] a little faster”.

John Playford (1654): “The second sort of Common Time is a little faster, which is known by the Mood, having a stroak drawn through it”.

In conclusion, an awareness of this tempo convention can be observed in the recording of Narciso Yepes, who advised his students to study cutting edge musicological publications. The same stylistically informed treatment of tempo can be observed in the recording of the lutenist Hopkinson Smith. (See the videos below.) Segovia and Bream’s recordings, however, display no such historical knowledge. Instead of the slow, unmeasured common time section, they move perfunctorily through its arpeggios. Instead of intensifying the tempo at the alla breve, they drag it out through ignorance of a relevant historical performance convention. I posit therefore that it is their tempo that is wayward, not Yepes’s, and that classical guitarists have been taken for a ride by some opportunistic but incompetent guitar ‘critics’ and ‘historiographers’. Not everyone is willing to pretend anymore that the Emperor or his “Princes” wear incomparably magnificent robes that must be held in awe. Art should be a meritocracy, not a monarchy in which careers are inherited by conforming to London’s ways. As the Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee said, the responsibility of the true artist is “toward something that has not yet emerged” (Doubling the Point: 246), something outside the enclosure of history, something as yet unknown, and not a responsibility toward imitation and conformity.

The indeterminate spaces of all musical works allow for an infinite number of differently nuanced interpretations, most (if not all) of which are valid, not only those that conform mindlessly to the way imposed by a Procrustean oligopoly or kleptocracy.

Smith’s version starts at 2:26. Click here:

2 South African Sonatas for 10-String Guitar


Cromwell Everson (1925-1991): Sonata (1984) for ten-string guitar (dedicated to David Hewitt)

1. Allegro Energico
2. Mesto
3. Rondo

Sonata for 10-string guitar by Cromwell Everson
Sonata for 10-string guitar by Cromwell Everson (excerpt from p. 1)
Sonata for 10-string guitar by Cromwell Everson
Sonata for 10-string guitar by Cromwell Everson (excerpt from p. 7)
Sonata for 10-string guitar by Cromwell Everson
Sonata for 10-string guitar by Cromwell Everson (excerpt from p. 17)
Cromwell Everson
Cromwell Everson (1925-1991)

Oliver Cromwell Everson (1925-1991) was a pioneer of modernist and electro-acoustic music in South Africa, and composer of the first opera in Afrikaans. His oeuvre includes, among other works, five sonatas, a trio, the opera Klutaimnestra (1967), a set of inventions, four song-cycles, a piano suite, miscellaneous pieces for the piano and the guitar (Cantūs Tristitiae for ten-string guitar), as well as an incomplete symphony and string quartet. He received his Doctorate in Music from the University of Cape Town in 1974.

Here is a sample of Everson’s music, from Vier Liefdesliedjies (1949):



David Hönigsberg (1959-2005): African Sonata (1990, rev. 2004) for ten-string guitar (dedicated to Viktor van Niekerk)

1. Amiably, with a sense of walking (A Basutu Tune)
2. A quiet summer evening…
3. Fast and play very rhythmically
4. Energetically

African Sonata for 10-string guitar by David Hoenigsberg
African Sonata for 10-string guitar by David Hoenigsberg (excerpt from p. 1)
African Sonata for 10-string guitar by David Hoenigsberg
African Sonata for 10-string guitar by David Hoenigsberg (excerpt from p. 11)
African Sonata for 10-string guitar by David Hoenigsberg
African Sonata for 10-string guitar by David Hoenigsberg (excerpt from p. 15)
David Hoenigsberg
David Hoenigsberg (1959-2005)

David Hönigsberg (1959-2005) was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, to German-Jewish and Afrikaner parents. He studied with the most prominent South African piano teachers (Peggy Haddon, Annette Kearney, and Pauline Nossel). After graduating with a B. Mus. in Composition from the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, he attended the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst, Vienna, as a composition student of Roman Haubenstock-Ramati. He emigrated to Switzerland in 1993, working as a freelance composer, conductor, and pianist. Hönigsberg’s oeuvre includes, among other works, 4 Symphonies, an Orchestral Suite, 2 Violin Concertos, a Piano Concerto, a Viola Concerto, a Guitar Concerto,  a Piccolo Concerto,  Soliloquy for Violoncello and String Orchestra, 5 String Quartets, Missa Brevis, two cantatas, numerous songs and chamber music, notably, a number of African Dances for piano, African Sketches (1988, for flute or oboe, ten-string guitar and optional African shaker or tambourine), and Antique Suite (1988 rev. 2004, for ten-string guitar and harpsichord).


Lastly, it should be mentioned that these sonatas exist thanks to the late David Hewitt (1947-2001), an accomplished ten-string guitarist and composer in his own right.

Hewitt started his career as a rock guitarist and only turned to the classical guitar after finishing his schooling and meeting Fritz Buss, who became Hewitt’s mentor of many years. Through Buss, Hewitt later also attended master classes with Narciso Yepes.

Hewitt never lost his ear for African music. He inspired numerous South African composers to write new works for the guitar and eventually contributed many of his own compositions to his two African guitar albums (An African Tapestry from 1989 and The Storyteller from 1990). He also recorded duets with fellow Buss/Yepes alumni Tessa Ziegler and Simon Wynberg, including the guitar duets of J. K. Mertz and Napoleon Coste.

With the terrifying early onslaught of Alzheimer’s, David refused to capitulate. He knew his memory was failing him with ever increasing frequency, yet he bravely battled the debilitating symptoms. At last he was unable to play, or articulate his appreciation of excellence, but still continued to enjoy other guitarists’ concerts.

David Hewitt
David Hewitt (1947-2001)

Here is David Hewitt performing both parts of his composition Street Beat (c. 1989) for guitar duo:

And here is David Hewitt performing the Five African Sketches (1990) by Jeanne Zaidel-Rudolph:

Gigue by François Dufault


Dufault2François Dufault’s Gigue (Souris no. 72) transcribed for 10-string guitar after the tablature for 11-course baroque lute (Berlin, Pr. St. Bibl., Mus. Ms. 40149 pp 42-3).

Gigue (Urtext) by Dufault
Gigue (Urtext) by Dufault


François Dufault (or Du Faut) was a French lutenist of the seventeenth century. He studied with Denis Gaultier and became in his own right one of the most celebrated representatives of the lute’s golden age in France.

His playing was described as “very grave and learned” by the author of Mary Burwell’s lute book, while the Dutch lute-enthusiast Constantijn Huygens referred to Dufault as “the rarest man I ever hope to see [sic] upon the lute” and “the rarest compositor [sic] that I ever heard, and the sweetest humor of a man.”

For more about Dufault’s reception and historical significance, see:

‘The historical importance of François Dufault and his influence on musicians outside France’ by  Tim Crawford

For an interview germane to the interpretation of French music of the 17th century, see:

New Composition: ‘Pièce bulgare’ by Siegmund Schmidt

A new virtuoso movement, Pièce bulgare (2013), has been written for 10-string guitar solo by the German organist/composer Siegmund Schmidt (*1939).

Schmidt has also written chamber music with 10-string guitar, including:

  • HOMMAGE für Trio (Querflöte, Viola und zehnsaitige Gitarre) (mit dem Titel HOMMAGE ist Johann Sebastian Bach gemeint) 2008
  • „WOLLE DIE WANDLUNG. O SEI FÜR DIE FLAMME BEGEISTERT.” (Rilke) -METAMORPHOSEN III für Kammerensemble (Flöte, Viola, 10-saitige Gitarre) und Orchester (Oboe, Englischhorn, Fagott, Horn in F, Trompete, 3 Pauken, Tamtam, Violine I, Violine II, Viola, Violoncello I, Violoncello II, Kontrabass) Satzfolge: Prolog – Passacaglia – Epilog 2009
  • HUMORESKE für Flöte, Fagott und Marimbaphon und in erweiterter Fassung für Flöte, Viola und 10-saitige Gitarre. (Vorgesehen als dritter Satz vor dem Rondo – Finale der SERENADE für Flöte, Viola und 10-saitige Gitarre) 2010
  • “ABEND WIRD ES WIEDER” Variationen (in der Fassung) für Flöte, Alphorn und zehnsaitige Gitarre 2013
  • INTERMEZZO GIOCOSO Fassung für Flöte, Viola und 10-saitige Gitarre 2014

Composer’s website (click here).

Here are some examples of Schmidt’s music:

New Composition: ‘The Dying Tree’ by Julian Bertino

Canadian guitarist/composer Julian Bertino (*1991) has written a new work for 10-string guitar. The score for The Dying Tree (2014) is available to download here:

Please inform the composer of any performances at:

Julian Bertino "The Dying Tree" for 10-string guitar (2014)
Julian Bertino “The Dying Tree” for 10-string guitar (2014)

Roman Ingarden: The Work of Music and the Problem of Its Identity

The Work of Music and the Problem of Its Identity by Roman Ingarden

(Click here to read the full text of the book online.)

This is an essential read for the classical musician in the 21st century, considering an inane literalism and fatal reificiation undergirding modernist/historicist notions of the “authentic” musical work. As Richard Taruskin writes: “There are three schools of thought” today about what the “original” musical work is: “One holds that the musical work is the score, another that it is whatever the first performance was, and the third holds the question to be absurd. Anyone who has really thought about the problem will be found in the third camp. Foremost among them is the Polish philosopher Roman Ingarden” (Text & Act 1995: 205-6).


The header image: A scene from the 2nd century Berber writer Apuleius’ novel, The Golden Ass, where Psyche lights a lantern to see who/what visits her bed at night, finding the god Eros (actually manifested as a mortal form of the winged Spite the Romans called Cupid). This mythologem (like Orpheus’ gaze, or the Japanese creation myth of Izanami and Izanagi), allegorically speaking, has much to teach us about the nature of the ‘things’ (or non-things) we call musical works, beyond what Ingarden has argued. But the explanation will have to wait for another day…

(Painting, Eros and Psyche, by Louis Jean Francois Lagrenee)

Pascal Jugy’s compositions for 10-string guitar

Noms d’oiseaux
for 10-string guitar by Pascal Jugy, performed by Andreas Hiller

“Sometimes very freely, if you wish these birds to be free…”

“This invitation to freedom is a paradoxical one, in the sense that it is immediately tempered by the rigour of the notation, the precision of the tempi and the complexity of the metric. But is it really a paradox? What if all these elements were merely a cage where the Musical Bird safely dwells? Then, it is up to the interpreter to open the cage and let the Bird spread his wings and soar. However, freedom does not go without danger, and the interpreter may want to hold the Bird captive to preserve its life. Modern in its writing, this piece keeps a tonal foundation, more or less obvious according to the different parts. This ten-string guitar version was written at the guitarist Andreas Hiller’s request.”

Adios Latinos for 10-string guitar by Pascal Jugy, performed by Andreas Hiller

(Header art: Detail from ‘A boy with a birdcage’ by Abraham Bloemaert, 1566)

Hans van den Berg builds a masterful 10-string guitar

Today we had the pleasure of hearing the doyen of the ten-string guitar testing out a new instrument from a rising, master luthier.

Fritz Buss (longtime alumnus and teaching assistant of the legendary Narciso Yepes) hailed Hans van den Berg‘s first ten-string guitar was as a “masterly” accomplishment.

Buss’s praise coincides with laudatory reviews of Berg’s six-string guitars from Guitar Salon International:

Berg’s ten-string guitar combines elements of the Friederich, Ramirez and Bernabe schools of luthiery and features a composite, cedar soundboard as well as Berg’s own masterly sense of aural and visual aesthetics and impeccable craftsmanship.

The sonority of the instrument, in its own right, is every bit the equal of the Spanish ten-string guitars associated with Yepes, and may (developed by the touch – and the ears – of a sensitive artist) mature to surpass its illustrious predecessors.

I have no reservations about recommending Hans van den Berg as my first choice to anyone wanting to take the leap to the ten-string guitar, or to upgrade to a new, masterful instrument. (For orders, please contact Hans at

-Viktor van Niekerk, Johannesburg (2014/10/25)

Fritz Buss tests Berg (2014) 10-string guitar
Fritz Buss (alumnus and teaching assistant of Narciso Yepes) tests the first 10-string guitar by master luthier Hans van den Berg (25 October 2014)
Fritz Buss tests Berg (2014) 10-string guitar
Fritz Buss tests Hans van den Berg 10-string guitar
Fritz Buss tests Berg (2014) 10-string guitar
Hans van den Berg (luthier) with Fritz Buss
Hans van den Berg (luthier) with his new ten-string guitar
Master luthier Hans van den Berg unveils his ten-string guitar with composite soundboard (25 October 2014)
luthier, student and teacher
Hans van den Berg (South African luthier) with Fritz Buss (master 10-string guitar teacher) and Trish (a student of Fritz and proud owner of the new 2014 Berg 10-string guitar)


Specifications for BERG 10 string Classical Guitar

UPPER BOUT: 280 mm
LOWER BOUT: 370 mm
BODY DEPTH: at HEEL 100 mm
SCALE: 664 mm
NUT WIDTH: 86 mm


Berg 10-string guitar

Berg 10-string guitar, under construction
Berg 2014 ten-string guitar, under construction







Lastly, here is a video of Berg’s newest six-string guitar, played by the wonderful American guitarist Jon Mendle (for GSI):


by Viktor van Niekerk