Vocal influences in classical guitar

//Vocal influences in classical guitar

Vocal influences in classical guitar

If you are familiar with my teaching style, you might know that I often resort to singing lines to understand how we might play them. We can learn a lot about phrasing, melodic contour, and legato note connection from listening to singing and singing ourselves.

So, to add to this appreciation of sung melody and to perhaps spark some curiosity, I have compiled some wonderful performances that offer some interesting juxtapositions. I encourage you to listen to the nuances in each of the vocal recordings, to notice shaping of phrases, pauses, breaths, tempo, and the continuity of tone.

By no means is this meant to be a definitive collection, or an in-depth history lesson. Rather, food for thought, and possibly fuel for practice.

Dido and Aeneas – Dido’s Lament, Remember Me

Nigel North plays Weiss – Sarabande from Partita in G minor

Dido’s Lament is one of the jewels of western music. It comes from Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas” a work from the English baroque period. It is often used as an example of the “lament bass” which uses a descending series of stepwise notes that span a perfect fourth. In this case the descending scale is chromatic.

You may hear a similarity between the Weiss and Purcell at the opening, and this is because the Weiss Sarabande employs the same lament bass at the outset of the piece.

Hearing these two pieces side by side might give you an insight into how the Weiss piece lives very much in the world of melody and accompaniment that is so clear in the aria.

Exsultate Deo – Palestrina

Ricercare “La Compagna”, Francesco Da Milano
Bogdan Mihailescu

Polyphony means “many voices” and the renaissance had a grand master of vocal polyphony in the Italian composer Giovanni Palestrina. Exultate Deo has five vocal parts that intertwine and weave around one another.

The famous Ricercare by Francesco Da Milano draws from this polyphonic style in a style that precedes the baroque fugue. You might notice that the work starts out in a similar vocal style, but quickly becomes agile and virtuosic as it moves into a more instrumental style of writing.

Barbara Hendricks: Schubert, ‘Ständchen’

Marcin Dylla plays Ständchen by Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert wrote over 600 lied, which translates simply to “song”. This very famous lied, Ständchen (Serenade) was expertly adapted for guitar my Johann Kaspar Mertz. The clear vocal line is independent from the accompaniment, although true to Schubert’s style of writing the accompaniment and melody often interact. The challenge on the guitar is to sustain this beautiful vocal line while offering a supportive, and sometimes interactive accompaniment.

One aspect that I feel is highlighted here is the free use of tempo change by Marcin Dylla. What do you think of this freedom?

2016-10-24T00:19:44+00:009 Comments


  1. Louis Wilberger July 31, 2016 at 5:57 pm - Reply

    Marcin Dylla totally off the chart. That is mastery and how even the simplest piece should be approached. Would love to hear him do level one repetoire.

  2. Chris August 3, 2016 at 5:47 am - Reply

    Once again Simon you have challenged me to broaden my understanding of music, and really listen to the “voices” . . . though if you heard me sing I am unsure that you would ask twice :-)


  3. Ted Kennedy August 8, 2016 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    What a lovely selection of pieces to illustrate your theme, Simon! The Purcell in particular is so moving (and brought back to me the hours of rehearsal for it I went through in the 1950s).
    You asked for responses on the tempo freedom claimed by Marcin Dylla: I found it rather too extreme and distracting. His playing was full of excellent points – like the clarity and separation of the voices – but lost that sense of flow that characterises Schubert’s lieder. Barbara Hendricks’ interpretation wasn’t exactly metronomic but her ‘pulling’ of the tempo was much more pleasing to my ear and sufficient to have the dramatic effect she sought.
    Still, what would I give to have the competence of Marcin

  4. Oorakoora August 9, 2016 at 5:02 am - Reply

    I have been blown away by the Marcin Dylla recording – tears welling, hair on end – unbelievable.

    I know this piece so well ( piano studies) and of all the many recordings I listened to I settled on Horowitz for interpretation and expressiveness and POWER! To me – the piece can easily sound overly sentimental, Marcin never wallows in this recording – it is breathtaking!

    Thank you for this – I had never heard of Marcin. I am now a devoted fan.

    I don’t really care for the Barbara Hendricks version – lovely as her voice is it simply doesn’t have the same depth or evoke the same response. I feel that this Standchen is essentially a masculine piece, a serenade is characteristically sung by a man to woo his love.

  5. Oorakoora August 9, 2016 at 5:06 am - Reply

    Just a quick note to say thanks for these fabulous examples.

  6. Oorakoora August 9, 2016 at 9:37 am - Reply

    I am still reeling after the Dylla recording – I never imagined a guitar could outperform a grand piano.

  7. Linda Tsardakas August 11, 2016 at 4:35 pm - Reply

    Marcin Dylla is very free in his use of tempo. The Paris Guitar Foundation did a short documentary (16 minutes) on the “Star of the Guitar”. At about minute 11:45 he talks about using a metronome.


  8. Linda Tsardakas August 11, 2016 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    I might add, he is wonderfully free in his use of tempo – I like it!

  9. Julie Watson September 1, 2016 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Love the tempo variations – though I love Rubinstein’s Chopin too, which similarly makes liberal use of tempo variation.
    In this piece for me anyway, the guitar is even more compelling than the voice – an interesting turnaround from the guitar trying to emulate the voice!

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