Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Does Guitar Based Classical Music Still Exist?

Given that most of us harbors several surprisingly “wrong” versions of the topic, but is Classical Music (Western European Classical Music) played on a guitar – for all intents and purposes – already dead in the 21st Century?

By: Ringo Bones

I used to think that it is so, but the funk metal band Scatterbrain playing WA Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca using electric guitar, bass, and a Rock drum kit on their Scamboogery album doesn’t really pass muster as true-blue Classical music played on guitar. Neither does Taylor Swift with her custom 12-string guitar played through a 10,000-watt PA system connected to a 130dB sound pressure level-capable speaker system so that she can be heard throughout the 10,000-acre venue of a state fair qualify as Classical music. Nor does Yngwie Malmsteen playing a heavily arpeggiated Nicolò Paganini piece through his custom Fender Strat and a bank of Marshall stacks when the same piece of music should be played through a “Balokovic” Guarneri del Gesu violin to qualify as true Classical music. And so does Jennifer Batten playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee using her electric guitar through a Marshall amp. Given that the Classical music previously mentioned will probably the only ones likely to be played on mainstream FM radio, is guitar-based Western European Classical Music really dead in the 21st Century?

When Andrés Segovia first popularized what is now referred to as the classical guitar more than a century ago, folk and Classical Music were only the genres of music played on such instrument. Most Western European Classical Music that were played on Segovia’s newfangled guitar were often compositions from previous great composers like Mozart and Bach (Bach Guitar Recital) are “rearranged” to be played on Segovia’s newfangled musical instrument. Even the Vivaldi Guitar Concerto in D Major music piece was probably composed way before the invention of Segovia’s guitar.

The first guitar virtuoso to popularize guitar-based Classical Music in the 20th Century is Julian Bream whose debut guitar recital at Cheltenham in 1947 aged 13 also probably made him as the first bona fide post World War II teen idol as he played with the London Symphony Orchestra. Influenced by Andrés Segovia and Francisco Tàrrega and recognized as one of the most important classical guitarist of the 20th Century. Julian Bream was also very successful in renewing popular interest in the Renaissance lute. Though from the perspective of today's teen-aged girl groupies, Julian Bream's post-war teen idol status is about as far removed from the Jonas Brothers as you can get.

During the early 1990s, Nicola Hall, a female Classical Music guitarist using an Andrés Segovia-style nylon stringed guitar did manage to briefly make guitar-based Classical Music register in the late 20th Century's music industry’s radar. With the release of her Virtuoso Transcriptions for Solo Guitar, some “brave” FM stations in my neck of the woods often played this particular Nicola Hall album on air after Yngwie Malmsteen popularized the high-decibel side of guitar-based Classical Music back in 1992. Given the dearth of “Classically-trained” musicians using the guitar to play Classical Music, is the guitar for all intents and purposes a “Rock n’ Roll” instrument?

From my point of view, I think it is unfair to blame the Rock n’ Roll musicians, given my rather very eclectic taste in music. Though it is safe to squarely put the blame on the music industry executives for not doing their part for popularizing guitar-based Classical Music. Maybe Classical Music lovers will just be resigned to hope that the suave, bearded Italian named Andrea Bocelli – who despite of having an excellent voice – is yet to pick up a Segovia-style guitar. Or maybe someone should give some half-Ukrainian half-Uyghur red haired green-eyed 13-year-old girl who plays a blisteringly fast version of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee on a Segovia-style Classical guitar a recording contract.


  1. Believe it or not, acoustic music -like guitar based classical Andres Segovia style guitar music - can be very hard to play in front of 10,000 or so people. This is probably the reason why during the Tibetan Freedom Concert back in 1998, those Tibetan Buddhist monks chose instead American rock musicians like those Jetsun Milarepa Fund supporters the Beastie Boys to let their voices be heard.

  2. Isn't Nicola Hall the same woman on that Linn Hi-Fi advert when her ex-husbant got to keep his sanity because of the Linn Hi-Fi?

  3. Always keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.............................................

  4. Folks are now more interested in guitarist John Mayer masturbating his problems away.

  5. I think I saw a Discovery Channel documentary back in 1995 about Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart being a FOH engineer to a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks. They used a dedicated surround sound hi-fi sounding PA system that's probably sound magnitudes better than your typical Rock concert PA system - and probably costs 50 to 100 times more - just to make the musical presentation natural. Then and now, this is the sort of challenges concert organizers face when they want to present live to 10,000 or more concertgoers natural acoustic music - especially guitar-based classical music.