Emilio Pujol was transfixed by Francisco Tárrega‘s playing. So much so, he dedicated his life to forwarding, through his books and teaching, the principles of technique he learned from his master. Pascal Roche, in the third volume of his tutor (see Technique) provides an interesting insight into Pujol’s manner of playing: “the brilliant Miguel Llobet, the delicate Pujol”.
The Escuela Razonada de la Guitarra (pub. by Ricordi. English translation of first three volumes by Editions Orphee) is a four-volume treatise. The first volume provides much useful information on the guitar – its physical make up, the thickness of the strings, the use of the turnavoz, the notes and intervals on the fretboard – and the techniques of both hands.
The second volume gets down to playing the instrument, with many exercises for both hands, covering individual movements of the fingers and thumb, the Barre, chords, arpeggios, scales, independence of finger movements, slurs, harmonics, and tuning the 6th string to D. The volume ends with twelve studies and a duet.
The third volume intensifies the study, using the full range of the fretboard. There are thirty nine full studies and many short exercises. The student who works through volumes one to three should have little fear of professional scores.
The fourth volume includes many effects, such as tambora, rasgueado, more advanced use of harmonics and tremolo, trills, etc, etc. The volume ends with over thirty “Estudios Complementarios”.
Regarding the nails, no-nails debate, Pujol wrote one of the most important essays on the subject, entitled “The dilemma of timbre on the guitar“. HERE is a pdf of the English translation of this out of print book.
Pujol starts by attempting a scientific explanation of sound, and comes to the obvious conclusion that a string will sound different depending on what it is struck with, specifically flesh or nail. As the guitarist can’t have both, hence the dilemma.
He then discusses how strings have been plucked by artists in the past, such as vihuela and lute players, but especially the two Spaniards, Sor (flesh) and Aguado (nails).
Finally he gets to his teacher, Tárrega, who had learned initially from Aguado’s method – “He did not realise in those days the possibility of producing a better tone. Once he did realise the superiority of flesh playing, Tárrega withdrew from public concerts for some time… He had to work constantly in order to conquer the difficulties of the new technique in which he was to be master and pupil at once, and when at last these difficulties were overcome, those who heard Tárrega play will never forget the wonderfully pure sound his guitar produced”.
Others, such as Domingo Prat and Isaias Savio, claim that Tárrega suffered badly from a hardening of the arteries, which caused his nails to wither. But whether it was his troubled, searching soul or a medical reason brought him to playing without nails, he seems to have made the most of his discovery, and encouraged his pupils, including Pujol, to cut their nails off.
Sitting ( left to right) : Enrique Garcia ( luthier ) , Miguel Llobet and Emilio Pujol. Standing : Eusebio Gual , Vilatoba de Sabadell (photographer) , Fernando Gausente (founder of the Music Center in Sabadell , Spain).
Pujol goes on to say, “In order to obtain the tone with the fingertips that Tárrega did, it does not suffice to cut one’s nails short; the tone has to be formed: i.e., a certain balance between touch, resiliency and resistance must be developed in the flesh of the fingertips, which can only be acquired by constant practice and care”.
There is much more to the essay, of course, and you are encouraged to read it (see pdf link above). He ends by saying we should be glad we have both ways of playing. His preference is clearly for flesh playing, yet he does not discount nail playing outright. As ever, dear reader, the choice is yours!
Here are a few lesser-known compositions by Pujol. The first, Invocacion, is a setting of a Gregorian Chant, Salve Regina, I believe.
The second is a homage to Gustavo Adolfo Becquer, a late 19th-century novelist who influenced the Romantic nationalist movement in art, literature and music. This a beautiful piece:
The third is what I consider to be Pujol’s masterpiece, the “Endecha a la amada ausente“, a lament on the death of his wife, Matilde Cuervas, who died in 1956. Matilde was a singer and guitarist of the flamenco school. They often played duet recitals together, recordings of them can be found on YouTube, and are well worth tracking down. Here they are together in a publicity photo:
The piece starts with a soaring figure, Matilda’s spirit taking flight? Two-thirds of the way through, the music breaks off with a percussive slap followed by a rasgueado, leading into an evocation of a Soleares, “the mother of all flamenco toques”. There are passages of almost ecclesiastical counterpoint to bring calm to proceedings, but emotions overrun Pujol, and the ending is marked “profound et passionnément expressif”. I was a bit shaken for thirty minutes or so after playing it. I’m surprised this is not a more well-known piece.