Desde el Escritorio de Randy Osborne
An Early Sighting of the Use of Reststroke Technique in Northern Europe
February 24, 1997
Copyright Randy Osborne F.F.S.I. La Guitarreria Fina, 1997
In 1948, in The Guitar Review - #5, there appeared a translation from Russian of The Memoirs of Makroff. It was the last of 4 installments. Nicolai Makroff (1810-1890) was a well to do classical guitar afficiando who travelled extensively to hear new players who had attained virtuoso status. He was also a colleague of many famous guitarists at the time. Guitar makers in Vienna, Paris, St. Petersburg and other cities were graced by his visits. In early 1856 he arranged a guitar composition and guitar making contest in Bruxelles. The most notable players & makers were contestants:
One of the contestants was Chibra (Makroff's spelling) who was actually born as Jose Ciebra in Seville at the beginning of the 19th century. He had been performing in Paris and London since 1835. Makroff said his compositions were mediocre but had a lot of originality and were quite different than the works of the well known Giuliani and Mertz. He continues to say that truly Ciebra's songs are sweet and melodious when played by the composer. Makroff claims the main defect was the overall monotony. He says, "The style was poor, only suitable for dancing." Sounds like Flamenco to me. Please read on. Makroff says for the purpose of having a varied repertoire he learned 2 compositions of Ciebra's, and that 20 years later he was well received for a performance of these songs on a boat trip abroad, especially by the ladies.
- players - Napolean Coste, Johann Kasper Mertz, etc.
- makers - Johann Schertzer of Vienna, Fisher of Vienna - Luthier to the Conservatory, Argusen of St. Petersburg, Eirich of Paris - successor to Rene Lacote, and others from Prague & Munich
Dispensing with Makroff's thoughts of Ciebra's compositional skills, he goes on to say much about Ciebra's technique. Just like every other Spanish guitarist, his fingernails were long. He did not hold his hand perpendicular to the strings, but at an angle. To quote again, "Moreover, he did not actually strike the string with the nail, but simply pressed it on the string, slipping off from the string onto the neck of the guitar." Sounds like restroke (apoyando) technique to me, especially when we read the glowing review of his tone and that no one else had it. Makroff says in this manner Ciebra was able to draw "remarkably tender, deep melodious tones from the guitar", unequalled by any of those in the virtuoso circle. "Not even the great Zani de Ferranti (court guitarist to the King of Belgium since 1834), who was known for the softness of his playing." Ciebra's vibrato he maintains, "was really divine, the guitar actually sobbed, wailed, and sighed, "Ciebra only exhibited this on slow songs. When he played fast, the reverse side of the medal was to be found - he derived a disagreable, metallic sound rather than the velvety tones of his adagios, having to produce freestrokes (tirando) instead of being able to let the nail slide off to the adjacent string.
From another source - Domingo Prat in his tome written in 1934 "Diccinario de Guitarristas" tells us that Ciebra played both 6 & 8 string guitars. Ciebra, having left his profession as a lawyer to be a concert artist, was well thought of by professors and intellectuals alike. In many cases, his concerts were improvised completely, the only peculiarity was that he would announce to his listeners how long the next song would last. Ciebra wrote 25 plus opuses which included rasguado, staccato, and ponticello techniques well marked in the scores. Some of his works were published by A. Lafout in Paris.
So it is very possible or highly likely that Ciebra's use of the reststroke actually predates the documentation of Julian Arcas use of the same, which was passed down to Don Francisco Tarrega. Another possibility is that his oblique angle at which he plucked the strings could be the same school as Presti-La Goya where the right hand strikes the string on the right side, not the left of the nail. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Coming next week
The next column will be about the undisputed, most widely recorded guitar builder before WWII. Who is he? Who used his instruments?