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The Guitar and the Musical Canon (Webinar)


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romanticism, repertoire, Vahdah Olcott-Bickford, John Williams, Andrés Segovia, Giulio Regondi, guitar repertoire


For much of the twentieth century, classical guitarists suffered from an inferiority complex. Could their idiosyncratic instrument ever be taken seriously by the classical establishment? Andrés Segovia devoted his life to “four essential tasks” that would help the guitar sit shoulder to shoulder with the more established instruments of the classical canon:

  1. a separation from “mindless folkloric entertainment,”
  2. a newly commissioned repertoire of original pieces and arrangements (a new canon—a reinvented tradition),
  3. the introduction of the instrument to the wider general public, and
  4. the initiation of guitar programs in conservatoires and universities.

And yet the guitar’s place in the classical canon has always remained that of an outsider, an exotic novelty. The classical “club” is exclusive; it has quite particular rules. More recently, the cultural barriers between different styles of music have become more fluid, while repertoires have become more plural and inclusive. Consequently, the guitar has been able to draw on its rich connection with many global music cultures. Perhaps now the guitar is better placed to take a more integrated role in the way that the canon develops.

This webinar brings together a panel of experts with complementary perspectives on the guitar’s canon. Christopher Page’s writings contain various discussions of the construction of the canon in the nineteenth century and the exclusion of the guitar. Kathy Acosta Zavala brings the perspective of the rise of the guitar canon in the USA through the work of Vahdah Olcott-Bickford and others. Lorenzo Micheli is a major performer who engages with a wide range of repertories. Michael O’Toole has written about how figures such as John Williams refused to engage with the canon, instead treating the guitar as an instrument with a rich and unique cultural history and its own musical integrity. The conversation is chaired by Stephen Goss.


This webinar took place on October 24, 2021, on Zoom. It was hosted by the Guitar Foundation of America, the International Guitar Research Centre, and the University of Denver's Lamont School of Music. Technical support was offered by Jonathan Leathwood, Soundboard Scholar editor: his voice can occasionally be heard.