‘Soundboard Scholar’ #4 Digs Deep into ‘la guitarre en France’
We’re always happy to give a much-deserved mention to the annual appearance of the Guitar Foundation of America’s wonderful publication, Soundboard Scholar, edited by the esteemed Thomas Heck. I always enjoy the magazine’s deeply researched and clearly written historical features, which on the surface sometimes seem like they’re going to be delving into obscure arcana and esoterica that only a historian could appreciate, but without fail turn out to be fascinating and revealing nuggets that add so much to our knowledge of the history and personalities of the guitar world.
Chances are many of you have encountered the whimsical print above, which graces the cover of Soundboard Scholar #4. True, it could well be a depiction of the melee that unexpectedly broke out at this year’s GFA when the competition results were announced on the final day—just kidding, folks… But in fact it is a satirical French lithograph dating back to the late 1820s, one of six illustrations that were included in an 1829 book called La Guitaromanie, which consisted of a number of simple guitar pieces composed by a mostly forgotten composer and music publisher named Charles de Marescot (1790–1842). The proper title of the lithograph is Discussion entre les Carulistes et les Molinistes (referring to rabid adherents of Carulli’s and Molino’s respective “methods,” I presume).
Well, leave it to Soundboard Scholar—and more specifically guitarist and musicologist Dámian Martín—to flesh out the hitherto unexamined life and career of Marescot to 12 pages, including an exhaustive list of all the guitarist’s compositions, reproductions of title pages from his works (as well as his death certificate), excerpts from letters about music publishing, and ample discussion of Marescot’s place in the musical world of early to mid-19th century Western Europe, when there truly was a “guitarmania” of sorts. The apparent feud between the great French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz (1803–1869) and Marescot is a particularly juicy episode!
The other major feature in SS4 is an examination of the career of another relatively unknown French guitarist/composer from the late 18th century, Barthélmy Trille Labarre (1758–1797), who was also author of a popular method, Nouvelle méthode pour la guitare, hailed at the time as “perhaps the most detailed work in this field.” The article’s author, Swedish musicologist Kenneth Sparr, goes into considerable detail about the specifics of Trille Labarre’s method—designed for the five-course guitar that was still in vogue at the time; a facsimile of two of his arrangements for that instrument is included—and also covers his move to the United States following the French Revolution, and the years until his death in Boston at the age of just 39.
And while we’re talking about GFA publications, the September issue of their superb quarterly journal, Soundboard (edited by Robert Ferguson) is devoted to “Pedagogy of the Guitar,” with incisive articles on such topics as “The Psychology of Learning for Effective Practice,” “Teaching Beginning Guitar: A Comparison of Two Methods,” and “Guitarists and Injuries: How Big a Threat?” Plus, the issue contains the most detailed reportage anywhere of the GFA convention in Louisville this past summer, reviews, and more; it’s always a vital read! —Blair Jackson