Aguado 170 years later and the Ramírez Collection

Feb 2, 2023

Aguado 170 years later and the Ramírez Collection

It is no coincidence that the guitar found its place in the circles dedicated to salon music, cafés, small theatres and serenades in the palaces of noble amateurs, a phenomenon which, following the line marked by the French Revolution, took place in Vienna and Paris under the influence of Italian musicians who emigrated from Naples in search of fortune.

Filippo Gargnani died in Paris in 1812 with the premiere of Beethoven’s Heroica, much to the liking of revolutionary Paris. Ferdinando Carulli also settled in Paris and in 1826 he applied for his Brevet d’Invention, which, according to the Royal Decree of 7 January and 25 May 1794, together with René Lacôte, was a 10-string guitar with five of them “thiorbed”.

Dionisio Aguado emigrates to Paris

Paris, which was bidding to become the Mecca of the guitar, is where Francesco Molino’s Concerto Op.59 appeared. Another guitarist, Fernando Sor, exiled from Spain after the rise to power of Ferdinand VII in 1813, provided the guitar with the best repertoire in terms of musical form, philharmonic training and harmonisation of his works. He died in Paris in 1939, where he had lived since 1813.

The bad atmosphere generated in Spain after Riego’s uprising in 1820 and Ferdinand VII’s return to power in 1823 led the rest of the Spanish intellectuals, including Dionisio Aguado in 1825, to emigrate to Paris.

The first Carlist War, in the period 1833-1840, caused many of them to die in exile and others, such as Dionisio Aguado, returned to Spain in 1839 after the end of the war following the death of his inseparable friend Fernando Sor.

The guitar proportions of Dionisio Aguado

Dionisio Aguado’s main contribution, despite his virtuosity and the undeniable quality of his music, is centred on organology and the development of new proportions for the guitar, establishing himself as responsible for a new conception of sound in guitar music and being ahead of his time in a clear modernist evocation.

As early as 1830 he fixed the guitar on a chair to sit on. With this system for holding the guitar in position, he separated it from the seat with a rudimentary but effective mechanism that allowed him to leave his hands free, as if it were a piano.

He said:

“This beautiful instrument would one day delight the philharmonic public, but it has not been well studied because of its mobility and the new proportions according to the physical harmonic system. A guitar must be harmonic, which means that the sounds of the chords must be very long, that the bass and treble must have a perfect balance, that the right proportion in all parts of the guitar contributes to the quality and quantity of its sound.

Among the many tests I have carried out, sometimes enlarging the proportions of the body and others making the sides wider or narrower, I thought I had found the middle ground in the proportions of the guitar that Mr. Lacôte is now making for me. It has a soundboard, built with a different system, with another soundboard placed in the middle of the case (the one he brings to Madrid has it glued to the back or floor) and serves to prolong and even out the vibrations”.

The tuning of the guitar and its harmonic proportions

The guitar must be tuned to the “A” of a tuning fork (a steel instrument that produces this sound). The tuning in Paris, according to a decree of 1858, must be “A 435HZ”. In Spain it would not be published until (1879) Diccionario de la Música, by Higinio Anglés.

Aguado already used it in 1838 and it was used to apply harmonic proportions to the width of the hip, that is, ¾ parts of that frequency according to the physical harmonic system. Torres would apply the geometric proportion: ¾ parts of the length of the body, not of the tuning frequency. So today we have an even wider guitar with more low registers, but probably with less luminosity.

We must not forget the “romantic Parisian” atmosphere with pianists such as Chopin and other musicians such as Berlioz. That is why he refers to his conception of the instrument in this way:

“The guitar has nothing to do with the harp or the mandolin, the guitar has a different sound from the rest of the instruments. It is sweet, harmonious, melancholic and sometimes majestic, it does not have the grandeur of the harp or the piano, but nevertheless, it possesses delicate nuances that make it a mysterious instrument. That is why the fingering with the fingernails produces a clear, metallic sound with many nuances full of sweetness”.

On 12 October 1836, Aguado applied for another Brevet, as he had done in 1830, authorised in February 1837, for his Tripodison or Fixateur for the guitar.

Let us imagine that tripod with the guitar mounted on its fork, on the silence of a stage awaiting the soloist’s exit, listening to the murmurs of the audience waiting for the artist to sit behind the tripod in an allegorical imitation of a keyboard instrument or harp, as F. Sor referred to in that preamble of the Fantasia Op 59.

Strange sight, isn’t it? It is like inviting us to discover a strange contraption and the true reality created around it, as well as its impact on the philharmonic world and on the instrument itself.

The return of Dionisio Aguado to Spain

Once the liberal period had settled in Spain around 1839 / 40 and, after the death of his friend Fernando Sor, Aguado returned to Spain carrying two maple and spruce-spruce top guitars. One with an oval soundhole, always silkscreened in all the images with the tripod, Ètienne Laprevotte, Paris 1838, and the other also dated 1838 by René Lacôte.

Enthusiastically welcomed in Madrid, the guitar maker Benito Campo, heir to Manuel Muñoa’s workshop, married the latter’s daughter and became a publisher and distributor of Aguado’s music and a dealer in tripods.

Later on, his two sons, Ignacio Agustín Campo Castro and José Campo Castro, were to play a leading role in the last stage of the Maestro’s life, one as a guitarist and harmony teacher at the Conservatory and the other as a manufacturer and seller of all kinds of guitar accessories, sheet music, pianos and in charge of the shop in Majaderitos 16.

Aguado mentions them as his pupils when he speaks of the reliability of his tripod, but there is a detail that has gone unnoticed until today.
On the page dedicated to the title page of the 1843 method, published by Chantarelle 802, one can see a guitar mounted on the tripod with the head in the shape of an “eight” and French-style pegs (probably a guitar ca. 1830) which is engraved and stamped by Lodre.

At the bottom of the page it is noted:

“It will be on sale in Madrid in the guitar shops of González y de Campo, Calle Angosta de Majaderitos, and in the music store of Lodre, Carrera de San Jerónimo today Calle de Zayas, price 90rs”.

Aguado’s mention of the guitar shops of González and Campo in Calle Majaderitos suggests that, according to González’s date of birth in 1820, he would have been 23 years old in 1843 and would either have shared the guitar shop with Campo, or would have been an officer in advance of him.

In the Diccionario The Vihuela de Mano and the Spanish Guitar edited by J.L. Romanillos and Marian H. Winspear, there is no mention of any event in this period of González’s life until 1849 in a rental of a flat. It coincides with Aguado’s death, why?

Seeing the splendid work of the Maestro de José Ramírez I and the outer border of the soundhole, besides confirming my suspicion, further supports my theory of González’s direct descent from the old Madrid school. This, in turn, came from the association “noble art of violeros, guitarreros and all kinds of stringed instruments” founded in 1761 by Lorenzo Alonso and the viol player Julián Fornieles with a financial contribution from its members.

The examiners, Alonso, who died in 1796, and Marcos Antonio González (1736-1809), examined the future members by drawing their templates. M.A. González’s daughter married Manuel Muñoa (1779-1815) and later Muñoa’s daughter married Benito Campo, who worked with or taught Francisco González, the future master of José Ramírez I. This is the hallmark of the Madrid school, to which Juan Moreno (1792-1836) was also added.

Sharing the same association with violin players, the strings of the guitars are related to those of the violin, hence the 580mm or less of the guitars and the contribution of the ebony fretboard to the guitars of the period.

The Ramirez Collection

Aguado’s 1820 collection of studies was distributed in the guitar shop where Manuel Muñoa, his brother Juan and his son Antonio worked busily. It was in this same establishment that they gave the guitar the shape of lobes, lower and upper, with a stylised figure at the waist, which would mark the Spanish school.

Guitar by Manuel Muñoa

The Muñoa from the Ramírez collection is a beautiful instrument that already begins to show a slight increase in hip width, green tints in the borders with strong and soft tones up to black, as well as its main contribution: the first ebony fingerboard up to the soundhole.

The position of the second 5th above the mouth is marked, although still without harmonic relationship and an outer border surrounding the mosaic of the mouth that will extend throughout his vast school: Juan Moreno, Benito Campo, Francisco González and even members of the Granada school who settled in Madrid, as in the case of Francisco Ortega.

Guitar by Juan Moreno

In addition to Manuel Muñoa’s guitar, another definitive guitar is the Juan Moreno of 1830. It already has the exterior border in the mosaic of the soundhole and the ebony fingerboard up to the edge of the soundhole itself.

Also from the 12th fret is taken the reference of what could be the first bridge with capo developed by this guitar maker, as well as six single strings. As we have said before, it has a stylised template, along the lines set by the Muñoa family in 1807 (I say this because of the Manuel Muñoa that belonged to Marcelino López Nieto before it was auctioned by Durán in October 2018).

Guitar by José Pagés

A unique and extremely valuable guitar in the Ramírez collection because of the information it contains is the José Pagés (letter J of the surname modified in various grammars of 1823 and 1843 in Spain and Latin America and printed by order of Isabel II in 1854) originally of six courses and dated 1818, in which, thanks to this grammatical modification, we can fix the date of transformation in 1840. Attributed to Benito Campo, it is a guitar “reconstructed in two”.

The 12-pin headstock has been replaced by a six-pin one, adding an ebony fingerboard over the point up to the soundhole. What definitely marks the value of this transformed instrument is the bridge with capo, definitively adopted at that time, the same or similar to the one used on the Laprevotte and Lacôte guitars that Aguado brought to Madrid in 1839.

Guitar by Antonio de Torres Jurado

The Antonio de Torres Jurado (1854), belonging to the Ramírez collection, is a unique instrument that has undergone several transformations: it has a non-original head, but probably of the style or even by Torres, and it shows the drills from the installation of Aguado’s tripod in the butt and the front part of the heel of the buttplate.

As is characteristic of this great Master, he has perfected all the expectations of the drilling of the tripod points, protecting them with circular mother-of-pearl plates to avoid the slipping and subsequent scratching and deterioration of the wood, produced by the steel piton when trying to introduce it into the drill holes. The location of the piton’s attachment to the heel has been improved, lengthening the tip of the heel as if it were the spur of a Roman warship; heels which, until now, were narrow, rounded or flattened at the tip.

This new design modifies and predicts the new heel that will shape the modern guitar, although Torres does not use it immediately in his later models. For the time being, Torres’ relationship with the Madrid school of guitar makers seems to be confirmed according to this instrument and the article in La Crónica Meridional de Almería published by “El Cronista local, Antonio Sevillano”.

One of the internationally recognised facts of the transition to modernity in Spain, even before Antonio de Torres, is the Master of José Ramírez I. The label of a guitar by Francisco González (1820 / 1879), which we date to around 1868, reads: “Awarded the 1st class medal at the Paris exhibition of 1867”. The eagle and cord with the coin of Napoleon III and the medal of the expo flanking the “Aguilucho” of the royal flag on the label attest to his high consideration.

It is from this moment onwards that the transition period of the guitar is considered to have passed: its eight-shaped head, with a 630mm neck, but with the harmonically related soundboard, which Ramírez I probably took with him when he left González’s workshop in 1870 (hence the erroneous dating) as an instrument for “examination” before his Master.

González Guitar

There is a Gonzalez, ca. 1871-73, from the Musée de la Cité in Paris, with a mechanical pegbox, which I prudently interpret as possibly having been awarded the prize of the Order of Queen Victoria, consort of Amadeo I of Savoy.

The mosaic inlay on the soundhole of a shield flanked by two symmetrical guitars with symbols and always with the exterior border of the Muñoa school, the division into three sections of the hoops in the manner of the Spanish flag and background, make this instrument unique.

Arias Guitar

The Arias from the Ramírez collection, 1838 / 1914, could be dated around 1874. With a good harmonic relationship, 650mm throw, external border to the mouth mosaic (Muñoa school), with carob back and rosewood sides, as an example and continuation of that modernity.

A relationship with the Madrid school is not surprising once the correspondence with Ramírez I in 1890 became known. Anselmo Lanzas Al Amín, owns an Arias with bindings from the Trípode de Aguado which could be dated ca. 1860. After this date, no more guitars with bindings have been found for the moment.

Guitar by Agustín Altimira Codina

The jewel of the Collection, for my taste, is the transformed guitar by Agustín Altimira Codina (1805 / 1882). I have definitively re-dated the guitar to ca. 1837 / 38. It is a guitar possibly made in the workshop of Ramírez I.

It has a sycamore wood diamond in the butt as if the tripod attachment had been covered; the back is a beautiful eye maple; the neck, probably original, but from another guitar, has a rosewood fingerboard added over the point; the rough and stilted bridge hides the bores of an original button bridge under the spruce top. The headstock mounts a mechanical headstock, ca. 1920, and you can see how this “non-original” headstock is attached by a French peg to the neck.

So where is the secret of so much effort with the guitar? The label shows Aguado playing on the tripod, a score on the round table and a heater in the background. The name of the engraver on the right: Xaxarc Boria.

No other guitar by Altimira has this original silk-screen printed label as if it were a dedication. It reads:

“This artist has worked in the most reputable workshops in Paris”.

There is no doubt about his previous relationship with Dionisio Aguado and his influence on the Spanish guitar scene.

The guitar of Agustín Campo Castro and Dionisio Aguado

In 2008, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, wrote a splendid article in the 22nd edition of the Andrés Segovia International Festival about Ignacio Agustín Campo Castro in which he says:

“It is a pity that we do not find any light on Ignacio Agustín’s relationship with Aguado’s guitar, beyond the Maestro’s will. How is it that the guitar bequeathed by Aguado becomes two in the Archaeological Museum? What do we know about the donation apart from Aguirre’s affirmation? The information given by Enrique Prat about the supposed sale of Aguado’s guitar by the Campo brothers to the guitarist Francisco Paz only adds to the confusion”.

Ignacio Agustín Campo Castro died in 1915. His sister-in-law, Felisa Vallejo, was responsible for carrying out the express wish of the late brother-in-law in a letter addressed to the director of the Archaeological Museum of Madrid. It is worth knowing at this point what Appendix says about Aguado’s method of 1843 in a footnote warning:

“This interesting work having been corrected by so distinguished and celebrated an author, and in the power of the printer to bring it to light, his unfortunate and unfortunate death occurred on the 20th of December of last year, at the age of 65 and 8 months. In fulfilment of his last will, the executors have resolved to publish without delay the said appendix, worthy by all titles of high reputation of the modest and eminent composer, whose incalculable loss is highly sensitive for the true artists and admirers of the guitar”.

It appears that the Campo family were the heirs to Aguado’s estate, including the guitars, and it seems that there were three guitars. One was given as a gift to Ignacio Agustín, the label of the Altimira ca. 1836 / 38 being evidence of this, and it was sold by the Campo family, according to the dictionary of Domingo Prats in 1933, to Francisco Paz.

The Campo family (through Ignacio Agustín, the last heir) took the guitars, La Prevotte and Lacôte, to the National Archaeological Museum on 17 August 1918; according to the Museum’s entry file 43-918 to which I have had access, but which I cannot logically publish.

La Atimira and José Ramírez I

This Altimira 1836 / 38, transformed, was taken, as is logical, to the guitar maker José Ramírez I, heir to the line of succession of the Madrid school, at the dawn of the 20th century.

Nowadays, the Ramírez family is already five generations old. We have seen how one after the other all the vertebrations of the school, created in 1761 by Alonso y Fornieles, have been extinguished in two generations and in many cases in one. However, for the good of the heritage of the guitar and its projection into the future, we only have to look at the work of this great family: Carmencita 1902, the Tablao of 1912 / 13 and the Manuel Ramírez of 1900, 1911 (which has a bridge in the style of Francisco González ca. 1868); as well as its relationship with Argentina following the trip of Domingo Granados in 1876 with the orchestra “El Estudiantino” and that made by the “Trío Español”, composed of José Simón and Luís Ramírez I in the 20th century.

Andrés Segovia was born in 1893 and José Ramírez III in 1922. Both will give it a great commercial and musical projection in terms of form and philharmonic public, as Aguado dreamed, unprecedented. Ramírez III designed for Andrés Segovia a 664mm. flute which is related to the current 442Hz tuning of chamber ensembles and orchestras. Hope prevails in the world to this day.

I have to declare openly that Joaquín Pierre, technician of Patrimonio Histórico, has copied a perfect version of the Tripod in steel and bronze (as the prototype that it is) with an accuracy and precision in the proportions of this one, worthy of a true talent with extraordinary concreteness of criteria. Moreover, I have had the great privilege of being presented with such a magnificent example.

The copy and the re-edition date from 9 – 10 February 2011. Pierre already has several commissions for the Museo de la Ciudad de Almería and several guitar makers in Granada, already with the wooden structure! The one I have is an exact copy of the one that appears in several lithographs of Op. 6, which, thanks to the Brevet of 12 October 1836, we have been able to date to between 1836 / 37.

Pablo de la Cruz
Torre del mar 11 June 2019

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