Breaking In

Fernando Sor

In his native land Fernando Sor learned how to make music and developed a career as a performer and composer. He was a gifted guitarist and also wrote an opera, a motet, and songs. But Spain wasn’t in the mainstream of music making and so in 1813, at the age of 35, Sor went to Paris to become an opera composer.

Despite his versatility, Sor was still known as a composer of guitar music, and the guitar was thought of as a purely Spanish instrument. There was no telling how well guitar music would go over in Europe beyond Spain.

Sor listened carefully to the operas being performed in Paris and felt that he could do justice to the genre, and in fact, thought that he could help to turn grand opera away from some trends that he didn’t care for. He started looking for a libretto and discovered that the best librettists, prizing their reputations as great poets, were not easy for a composer to approach unless he had already done well with an opera in Paris. [On the other hand, the same librettists would go out of their way to court proven composers.]

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Sor went to visit one of them, the poet Marollier, who opened Sor’s portfolio and listened to some portions of an opera by the Spaniard. He said that the music was thoroughly Italian and not at all suitable for the French theater. He suggested that Sor take some time to study with an expert so that he might become more capable of writing for the theater.

The young Spaniard blew his top. He counted off everything that he thought was wrong with works that were being praised to the sky in Paris and he launched into an attack on dilettantes who could listen to truly beautiful music without recognizing it.

The poet closed the composer’s music portfolio, and to this day Fernando Sor, composer of operas, is best known as the writer of outstanding works for the guitar.

Related Stories