Spanish composer and guitar virtuoso Fernando Sor (1778-1839) wrote some of the most popular etudes for beginner and intermediate guitarists. He is also known for composing more complex pieces, including an opera, ballets, and symphonies. Sor’s most commonly performed concert-level pieces include Grand Solo, Op. 14 and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9.
Sor lived in various countries in Europe, including Spain, Paris, London, and Moscow. He was drawn to music from an early age. As he grew up and performed more, Sor’s virtuosic guitar skills gained him worldwide renown. Sor’s most prolific composing period happened in retirement, during the last decade or so of his life.
Despite his studies having sweet melodies and light harmonies, Sor comes across as somewhat disgruntled in his old age. This is evident from his Op.43 entitled Mes Ennuis (“My Annoyances”), and his sarcastic foreword to Op.45: “Let’s see if that’s that. Six short and easy pieces in stages, which aim to lead to what has generally been agreed are difficulties. Composed and dedicated to the person with the least patience, by Fernando Sor. Opus 45.” Sor died from tongue and throat cancer at the relatively young age of 61.
You can find free classical guitar sheet music by composer Fernando Sor here.
Méthode pour la guitare
Fernando Sor’s studies are some of the most commonly played and effective studies for beginner and intermediate classical guitarists. Sor’s comprehensive Méthode pour la guitare is an important manual covering scales, harmony, theory, and composition. You can download Sor’s Méthode pour la guitare for free here.
In addition to Fernando Sor’s Méthode pour la guitare, he also composed many collections of popular studies for guitar. Here’s a list of those collections in order from easiest to most difficult:
- Op. 60 (Introduction à l’étude de la guitare)
- Op. 44 (24 Petites pièces progressives)
- Op. 35 (24 Exercices très faciles)
- Op. 31 (24 Leçons progressives)
- Op. 6 (12 Etudes)
- Op. 29 (12 Etudes)
I’ve featured some of these studies on my album 20 Classical Guitar Etudes for Beginner & Intermediate Students, and on my YouTube channel. You can hear and see some of these studies below:
Op.31, No.1: Andante
Fernando Sor’s Op.31, Etude No.1 is a fine composition in the key of C major. This is a popular Sor study that’s great for beginner classical guitar students. This piece is especially effective for those wishing to practice reading harmony (two or more notes played at the same time), while also learning to bring out a clear and definitive melody.
Sor’s Op.31 Etude No.1 is in 3/4 time, and often features a dance-like pulse emphasizing beats one and three. The tempo for the piece is a moderate Andante (typically played between 76–108 bpm). Although relatively simple, this piece can be very beautiful when played with emotion and intent!
Op.31, No.3: Allegretto Moderato
Fernando Sor’s Op.31, Etude No. 3: Allegretto moderato is an upbeat, lively study for students advancing to the intermediate level. The piece is in the key of D major, 6/8 time, giving the piece a dance-like quality. Although not particularly difficult, Etude No.3 offers a variety of techniques that can be tricky to execute when playing at the appropriate tempo (Allegretto moderato, or roughly 85-110 BPM).
Op.35, No.1: Andante
Fernando Sor’s short beginner guitar etude entitled Andante is an excellent introduction to harmony, and playing two parts at once. The first etude of 24 in Sor’s Opus 35 collection, Etude No.1 is meant to be played at a moderately slow pace.
Op.35, No.2: Andantino
Fernando Sor’s Op.35 Etude No.2: Andantino is a lively, dance-like etude in C major, 3/8 time. The beginner classical guitar etude is terrific for students still getting used to reading common patterns and chord progressions in first position. The harmonies in this etude keep the piece moving in a crisp and deliberate manner.
Op.35, No.3: Larghetto
Sor’s tragic Op.35 Etude No.3: Larghetto feels like a funeral march. This chordal piece gives students the opportunity to practice finding the balance between voices when playing the intense harmonic phrases. But no need to cry! This piece is still suitable for students at the upper beginner level.
Op.35, No.22: Allegretto (Study in B minor)
Etude No.22, Op.35 is possibly Sor’s most well-known classical guitar study. Part of this piece’s popularity is due to the fact that it was included in Segovia’s Twenty Studies for the Guitar (etude No.5 in his collection). I consider this a solid early-intermediate guitar etude. While it sounds simple and somewhat repetitive, there are lots of nuances and tricky shifts that you only realize when learning to play it for yourself!
Popular Guitar Works by Fernando Sor
Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op.9
Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op.9 is arguably Fernando Sor’s most well-known solo composition. The work is based one of Mozart’s themes played near the end of Act I of The Magic Flute opera called “Das klinget so herrlich”. Sor dedicated Op.9 to his brother Carlos, and the piece was first published in London, 1821.
Sor’s Op.9 demands virtuosic right and left hand techniques, while exploring the entire fretboard in range of colorful interpretations. Bold chords, quick scale runs, elaborate slur passages, and rolling arpeggio patterns display so much of what the guitar has to offer, making this one of the most well-rounded compositions in classical guitar repertoire.
Grand Solo, Op.14
Grand Solo, Op.14 is one of Fernando Sor’s most impressive and technically challenging compositions. Sor’s Grand Solo is majestic, bold, and expressive!
This epic piece includes frequent use of the pedal bass technique, in which there’s a consistent, repeating bass note over melodic material. The Grand Solo is mostly in major keys, with bright cadences up and down the fretboard. The piece builds up to an exciting and brilliant conclusion.