Article: Piano Guitar Music

Background and significance of guitar-piano Chamber Music

Guitar chamber music repertoire from the twentieth century marks the first period in the instrument’s history when the quality of its ensemble literature equals that of its solo literature. The diminishing role of the harpsichord and figured bass in ensemble music in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries created opportunities for the guitar to function as the continuo. Later, together with the shift in notation of guitar music and the development of the six-string guitar, composers started experimenting with writing chamber music for the guitar. But why is it that only a small amount of chamber music repertoire has been written for this duo in the last hundred and fifty years?

During the first half of the nineteenth century, referred to as Biedermeierzeit, the repertoire for guitar-piano duo had its heyday. The piano of that time had a much smaller volume of sound, very often not much stronger than that of a good guitar.

In the next fifty years the piano underwent a metamorphosis: the hammers became heavier, the thickness of the strings was increased, more string tension was added and this required an iron frame. All this resulted in a much larger volume of sound.

Composers now face different challenges when writing for a guitar-piano duo.

Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Jules Massenet, Igor Stravinsky, Hans Werner Henze and Pierre Boulez all wrote chamber or orchestral works featuring the guitar.

The way of writing for the guitar in these works is dramatically different from the style of the nineteenth century. The historical development of chamber music for the guitar in the twentieth century makes it clear that the guitar gained favor as an ensemble instrument.

This certainly represents a complete reorientation, with the guitar now fully functioning as a solo instrument.

For example, in Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, a comfortable balance is established between the guitar and orchestra.


In single-line music the guitarist has the widest control of sonority. However, many composers think of the guitar primarily as a harmonic instrument. Some composers avoid writing for two harmonic instruments that could interfere with each other. Not only this misconception but also the dynamic imbalance between the two instruments might lead one to completely abandon the idea of composing for a guitar-piano duo.

Composers who consult the thesis will be able to learn something about the capabilities and limitations of both instruments as well as about the history of the guitar-piano duo. They may also gain insight into several compositions for this setting and learn how to overcome certain barriers when writing for this duo.

Arguments by musicologists and musicians quoted in this thesis will clarify that chamber music is a serious occupation that deserves the attention of guitarists and that, rather than diminish a solo career, a carefully chosen, well-played recital of guitar chamber music may well enhance it.

The main purposes of this thesis are: to promote chamber music repertoire for guitar-piano duo, offer a performance guide to its musicians and make suggestions to composers who consider writing for this duo.


The method will be divided into five chapters. The first deals with the importance and benefits of playing chamber music. It will explain why it contributes to the recognition of the guitar and explores the advantages of combining a solo career with playing chamber music.

The next chapter provides historical information.  It highlights the shift of the guitar from its role as an accompanying instrument at the end of the eighteenth century to a more solistic instrument in the twentieth century and includes a history of the guitar-piano duo.

Chapter Three will focus on the instrumentation and orchestration possibilities of the piano and the guitar, and will outline the capabilities and limitations of both instruments. By taking a closer look at pitch range, dynamic range, texture, style, articulation and the ability to sustain on both instruments, a composer can make well-founded decisions when writing for this particular duo. The chapter will conclude on the possibilities available to the composer when combining the two.

The next chapter presents score analysis as a means of facilitating composition for the guitar-piano duo. This will create insight into how composers deal with the limitations of the guitar, particularly in a chamber music setting. The analysis will focus on: use of dynamics, melody, harmony, rhythm, use of color and solo vs. ensemble sections.

The guitar seems to have the reputation among non-guitarist composers of being difficult to write for. For this reason, this thesis will mainly focus on scores by composers who have a great amount of experience in composing for the guitar. Ferdinando Carulli and Mauro Giuliani, who successfully composed chamber music works for the guitar and piano during the nineteenth century, were highly regarded as concert players and composers.

Both Heitor Villa-Lobos and Hans Haug had experience in composing chamber music or orchestral music for the guitar and worked closely with renowned guitarist Andrès Ségovia. The following works have been selected for analysis:

Grand duo in E minor, Op. 86 by Ferdinando Carulli

2 rondos op. 68 by Mauro Giuliani

Fantasia by Hans Haug

Fantasia by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco

Sextuor mystique by Heitor Villa-Lobos

The selection contains works written for the guitar-piano duo (two fantasias, rondos and the Grand duo) but also scores written for a larger guitar chamber music setting (Sextuor mystique forflute, oboe, saxophone, guitar, celesta and harp).

Although transcriptions and arrangements for this setting will serve as a great source of information, they will not constitute the main focus of this thesis.

Chapter Five attempts to offer further advice concerning the performance of guitar-piano duo repertoire by consulting experienced musicians. They offer tips on playing nineteenth century guitar-piano repertoire on modern instruments and explain what they mean by responsible playing.

This chapter will also offer insight into acoustics. The results of positioning the instruments in different ways and the choice of performance hall are important factors for performers to consider.  To conclude this chapter, instructions on amplification will be discussed, especially useful to the guitarist.


Anticipated organization of the proposed thesis (chapter headings)

I. Importance and benefits for a guitarist of playing chamber music

II. History
a. Guitar chamber music
b. The guitar-piano duo

III. Instrumentation / orchestration
a. Capabilities and limitations of the guitar

b. Capabilities and limitations of the piano

c. Combining the two instruments

IV. Practices to facilitate composing for a guitar and piano setting

a. Analysis of scores
b. Conclusions

V. Practices to facilitate performing guitar-piano chamber music

a. Responsible playing: advice from experienced performers

b. Acoustics

c. Amplification