I believe Julián Arcas (1832-1882) is one of the most underrated Spanish classical guitar composers. Arcas created marvelous compositions, and even briefly taught the most beloved classical guitar composer, Francisco Tárrega.
Arcas’s father was an amateur classical guitarist trained under the Dionisio Aguado method. After learning some from his father, Arcas moved to Málaga to continue his training under José Asencio (Aguado’s direct disciple). By the age of 16, Arcas was performing in auditoriums across Spain.
Arcas’s Influence on Tárrega
Arcas first heard 10-year old Tárrega play a recital in 1862, and offered for him to take private lessons. But unfortunately, this never materialized due to Arcas’s busy performance schedule. It wasn’t until later in his life (probably 1879-1881) that Tárrega was able to formally study with Arcas in Alicante.
Despite their limited time together, when listening to Arcas’s compositions, guitarists familiar with Tárrega’s work will immediately recognize the profound influence he must have had on Tárrega’s approach to composition.
Specifically, you can hear this in their swooping melodies, rich and full harmonies spanning the entirety of the fretboard, and their overall approach to musical form.
In fact, their compositional approaches are so similar that one of Arcas’s most famous compositions, Fantasia on a Theme from La Traviata (Fantasia para Guitarra sobre motivos de la opera Traviata de Verde), is occasionally even mistakenly credited as a Tárrega composition.
This is likely because the piece was unedited but preserved by Tárrega following Arcas’s death. You can hear this masterpiece of an arrangement below played by Gohar Vardanyan:
You can find free sheet music for Fantasia para Guitarra sobre motivos de la opera Traviata de Verde by Julián Arcas here.
Arcas’s Influence on Guitar Construction
In the early 1850s, Arcas met a woodworker and new guitar maker named Antonio de Torres in Seville. After playing one of Torres’s guitars, Arcas was so impressed that he encouraged him to specialize guitar making.
The two formed a lifelong friendship, and Arcas worked closely with Torres to develop the guitar construction methods that revolutionized guitar anatomy as we know it today.
The Torres “La Leona” Guitar
In 1856, the collaboration between Julián Arcas and Antonio de Torres resulted in the legendary guitar that was later named “La Leona”. At that time, Arcas, Llobet, Tárrega, Pujol and others agreed this was the best guitar that had ever been made.
From that point on, Arcas played “La Leona” as his primary instrument on many his performance tours. You can hear the original (restored) “La Leona” guitar here:
You can view more information about the “La Leona” guitar construction specifications here.
Popular Guitar Pieces by Julián Arcas
Of the fifty-two works accredited to Arcas, forty-four are thought to be original compositions, and eight are arrangements of operatic themes. Below are just some of my favorite Arcas compositions and performances.
Looking for more music by Julián Arcas? You can buy an excellent collection of scores by Julian Arcas here:
Alternatively, you can download some free sheet music by Arcas here.
Listening to Arcas’s dramatic and bold Polaca Fantástica, one can certainly hear the the opera influence throughout. The full chords, distinctive theme, and swooping melodic glissandos Arcas is known for are all present in this beautiful work.
You can find the sheet free sheet music for Polaca Fantástica by Julián Arcas here.
Arcas’s Bolero is arguably one his most popular works for guitar. Bolero is relatively short, but full of challenging scale phrases requiring meticulous articulation.
You can find the sheet free sheet music for Bolero by Julián Arcas here.
Fantasía sobre El Paño O Sea (Punto de la Habana)
My personal favorite Julián Arcas composition is Fantasía sobre El Paño o Sea Punto de la Habana. El Paño begins with a lengthy dramatic chordal introduction to establish the key and atmosphere of the piece. The relatively low register and bold chords are counterbalanced nicely with delicate harmonics and exquisite counterpoint.
El Paño continues to build in intensity with pulsing chords and a steady crescendo. One can also being to hear the flamenco influence in the main theme (Tema), which comes in roughly halfway through the piece (2:11 in the example below).
The descending line of this phrase features the infamous Andalusian Cadence played in the melodic bass line. This motif continues to develop through four variations until the dramatic conclusion at 5:10, which contains a reprise of the introductory material.
You can find the sheet free sheet music for Fantasía sobre El paño o sea Punto de la Habana by Julián Arcas here.
Arcas took inspiration from the flamenco palo Soleá for this solemn and melancholy work by the same name. However, unlike the typical flamenco Soleá, Arcas incorporates significantly more major melodic material.
Despite the confined notation of the 3/4 time signature, one can still feel the distinctive Soleá compás throughout the piece.
You can find the sheet free sheet music for Soleá by Julián Arcas here.
“La Cubana” (“The Cuban Lady”) in the key of D major. The liner notes include the text “Danza Americana para guitarra” and “Aire de tango“. This implies that the rhythm should be relatively upbeat, in duple meter.
The beginning La Cubana has a repeating syncopated bass line similar to the popular Spanish piece “La Paloma”.
Above the bouncing bass line is a clear and distinctive melody, which I think sounds best when not played on open strings. The piece has an opening theme section which repeats, and then evolves into a larger A section. After the 2nd repeat of the entire A section, the piece modulates to the key of G major for the B section. Following other brief modulations to the keys of A minor and D major, Arcas weaves the music back to the key of G major for a delightful conclusion.
Manuelito is bright, uplifting, and also full of some challenging passages! The key of A major is one that requires wide stretches on guitar, so it takes a lot of practice to get the faster phrases down cleanly.
Manuelito is broken up into four sections: The A section is a nice introduction. Arcas establishes the key with octave phrases, broad chords, and a dance-like melodic phrase–the type he’s so well-known for.
The repeating B section is more straightforward and with familiar waltz characteristics–the boom chuck chuck rhythm, and a strong emphasis on the first beat of the measures. You can almost consider this section to be the “theme” of the piece.
Next is the C section, which I consider the most challenging part of the piece. This phrase is full of slides, syncopation, delicate chord jumps in upper positions, and an exciting melodic phrase that travels down the neck and back up again at a rapid speed.
The final repeating D section starts off with an A7 chord, thereby taking us to the key of D major. Rhythmically, the D section falls back to the more familiar waltz-like feel from before. This section has a first and second ending, which concludes Manuelito in a bright and happy way.