by Gerry Saulter
Agustin Barrios was one of the greatest virtuoso guitarist/composers of the first half of the 20th century. This legend of the guitar was recognized as a prodigy in his native Paraguay by the age of 13. He was of gifted intellect, receiving full scholarship to the national college. In addition to music, Barrios studied mathematics, journalism, graphic arts, language, and literature. He composed over 300 works for guitar.
What separated Barrios from so many of the 20th century virtuoso players were his skills as well as his compositional abilities. Barrios could play and write in every style: popular song, tango, zamba, milonga, baroque, classical, and romantic. It is my opinion that he introduced the concept of “world music” by creating compositions from improvisations that reflected a cross-pollination between European harmonic and melodic structure with native South American Indian rhythms. The master guitarist John Williams describes Barrios’s compositions to be “Django-like” in the way he can create such smooth jazz-like chromatic transitional harmony to support melody.
This month I’d like to share with you one of my favorite song selections by Barrios. A Barcarola or “boat song” is usually in 6/8 steady rhythm, reminiscent of songs of the Venetian gondoliers. I have included the original edition of Richard Stover. Stover compiled four volumes of Barrios’s works as well as many other guitar archives. He is one of the foremost personalities in guitar publishing. The fingering here is very good. I only have a handful of modifications to suggest. They are as follows:
1.) Measure 9. Change the bass B to a low G 6th string, move the 4th string G# to the 6th string, dropping the bass an octave, using the 3rd finger for both notes.
2.) Measure 28. The C#m7 chord is most effective when the index plays the 4th fret root on the 5th string, with the B and E strings played open. The chord will sustain better.
3.) Measure 47. An example of the element of jazz in Barrios’s writing. Here he uses E9/G# to build tension heading into a long transition which ultimately goes back to the de capo. Try using your 2nd finger on the 6th string and your 3rd finger on the 5th string, and play the high E with the open 1st string.
4.) The last 4 measures — they are correct! Follow the fingering carefully. The touch harmonics of the A and D notes that end the 1/8 note run are nasty to play clean, as you will need to use the right hand touch-harmonic technique over the sound hole.
There is a tremendous amount of musical detail in regard to dynamics and tempo in this edition. Pay attention to the details and the formal structure, and above all make the most of your lyrical phrasing. I suggest trying to develop dynamic contrast by using the color of your guitar sound, and build a musical dialogue between the bass and treble melody. While this is a challenging read, it is not impossible. It’s been a long cold winter; if need be, spring into your local classical guitar instructor for some encouragement!