Jaime Bosch (1826-1895) and the guitar in Paris at the end of the 19th century

Jaime Bosch (1826-1895) and the guitar in Paris at the end of the 19th century

A talk given by Brian Jeffery at the EGTA conference in June 1995 in Cambridge, with slides and with musical illustrations played by EGTA members.

*Footnote: [When this paper was written, I had been exploring the work of the Catalan guitarist Bosch, and I looked with interest at his place in the cultural scene of the time, especially painting.  This paper was illustrated by slides throughout, as well as by musical illustrations performed by members of EGTA, to whom I am most grateful for their help.  – A few months after the EGTA conference I published a collection of guitar pieces by Bosch (his Works for Guitar, Tecla, 1995.)]

Paris and the guitar had been closely associated for a long time.  Before the French Revolution, we see it often for example in the paintings of Watteau, in a courtly milieu.  Above all it appears there in two contexts: one is in aristocratic surroundings, and the other is related to the commedia dell’arte of the theatre, and in both cases it is prominent, elaborate, stylised.  Then the political upheavals of the French Revolution coincided with revolutionary upheavals in the very essence of the guitar, in that it took on the new shape which is familiar to us today, with a shallower body and narrower waist than the baroque guitar had had, shed its double strings in favour of single ones, and acquired a sixth string.  It had its place, indeed, in the middle of the Revolution itself: Gatayes, one of the principal guitarist-composers of the time, lived through the Revolution, lived indeed in the same building as Marat, to whom he used to play his compositions, until one day Gatayes heard screams and found Marat dying, famously assassinated by Charlotte Corday.  Paris was a place of tremendous importance of theory, here political theory translating itself into action.

After the Revolution came the wars of Napoleon, in whose aftermath Fernando Sor settled first in Paris where his works were first published, before moving to London and then back to Paris.  In this context it is significant that Sor was what was called an afrancesado, someone who was keen on the ideas coming out of France; he was a Catalan guitarist who came to Paris, just as Bosch was later: neither of them the first such, nor the last.  In French Romanticism of that time, Spain played a great part, with Hugo’s plays Hernani and Ruy Blas, Théophile Gautier’s Voyage en Espagne of 1843, and so on.  Sor’s seguidillas from this time are of literary value as well as musical.  Moving on in a very fast overview, we come to Degas’ famous pictures of the singer Pagans in 1868-70 (reproduced in Frederic Grunfeld’s book The Art and Times of the Guitar).

Sor died in 1839.  His successor in Paris was his pupil Napoléon Coste (1805-83).  Coste continually published guitar music and we know that he was continually busy.  After him, the next figures who are widely known today in guitar history are Tárrega, Pujol and Segovia.  But there is a big gap between Coste’s heyday in the 1870s and the early 20th century; what was happening in that gap?

The gap in guitar history comes at a moment which was of tremendous importance in cultural history.  It is striking that writers about this period in a cultural sense have only superlatives for it.  It was a period of excitement – a period which has irrevocably changed the world we live in today, even the way we think, with movements in various fields such as post-Impressionism, Cubism, and Symbolism.  It so happens that the guitar has a big role to play in these fundamental cultural events. Here, for example [slides], are three paintings from the end of our period but right from the very beginning of  Cubism: Picasso’s Ma Jolie of 1911, Braque’s La Portugaise of 1911, and Braque’s La femme à la guitare of 1913.  You can say that the subject of painting is looked at in these pictures in an entirely new way.

Who were the guitarists in Paris at the end of the 19th century?  First, it is certain that the guitar was already important in popular music.  Manet’s painting La chanteuse des rues shows her with a guitar.  But there were also serious musicians, of whom one as we saw was Coste – and the other was Jaime Bosch.

Bosch was from Catalonia, where he was born in 1826.  (Jaime is the form on the official documents in Barcelona, not Jaume which would be the Catalan form.)  Jacques, which is often found as Bosch’s Christian name, is merely the French translation of Jaime.  He said himself in his method for guitar that he was familiar with the classical tradition of violin playing.  Like Sor he came from Catalonia to Paris, in his case in 1853.  He set out to make a reputation as a guitarist, and succeeded.  He died in Paris in 1895 – that is exactly 100 years ago this year [the year of this EGTA conference].  There are about 20 opus numbers known by him, some with many pieces in them – none, as far as I know, in print today.  [The new Tecla edition of them, as Bosch’s Works for Guitar, appeared after this paper.]

There is at least one picture of Bosch [slide].  It is reproduced here from a postcard which I acquired from the collection of the late André Verdier, president of the Amis de la Guitare of Paris.  It is probably authentic, but I don’t yet know its history.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Madame Manet, the mother of the painter Edouard Manet, held regular soirées at her house in Paris: she invited her three sons’ friends on  Thursdays and her own on Tuesdays.  Baudelaire was a frequent visitor, the painter Degas, the novelist Zola, Mallarmé and de Banville, and politicians such as Clemenceau.  There were musical evenings.  At one of these (said someone writing to Baudelaire who was at that moment in  Belgium), Madame Manet (the painter’s wife) played the piano like an angel, and M. Bosch “scratched his guitar like a treasure” – probably in fact the French “grattait”, on which see below.

Manet the painter was himself a friend of Bosch.  Manet’s correspondence has several references to him: for example, to Mme Charpentier in 1873: “Madame, you can count on Pagans next Friday – Bosch, however, is not free but would be delighted to oblige another time.”  To Zola at the same time: “Bosch is unable to go to the Charpentiers on Friday – he is dining out and has two evening receptions.  He would be happy to go another time.”  Poor Madame Charpentier!  In another letter, Manet writes: “Madame, the guitarist Bosch asks me to convey his deep regret but he is not free on the evening of the 20th.”

[Musical example: guitar solo by Bosch, Brimborion.]  There are some interesting things about this piece. One is that Bosch actually has the indication vibrato; and it has rasgueado effects.  My guess is that “grattait” above means that the writer heard rasgueado.

Bosch was evidently also a friend of the composer Gounod.  There exists a Passacaille for violin and guitar in which the guitar part is by Bosch and the violin part by Gounod.  [Musical example: Passacaille]  I have heard of no previous performances of this piece, so although I cannot be sure, it may be that this performance now, by John Compton and Stephen Kenyon, is the first performance since Bosch’s time.  (Today’s performance was on two guitars.  The title-page of the original edition allows for all kinds of instrumental arrangements.)

Edouard Manet, of course, was one of the foremost painters of the time.  Just a word or two about him and the guitar.  He painted a famous work called the Chanteur Espagnol.  It is reliably stated to have been inspired by Huerta; but it is not a portrait of Huerta, but rather it shows a hired sitter, a man from Seville, into whose hands Manet put a guitar.  It was exhibited in the Salon of 1861, when Manet was 29.  Spanish things were important to Manet at this time: of Manet’s 15 oil paintings in 1860-61, six are on Spanish themes; but in 1862, of 18 paintings, no less than 15 are on Spanish themes. In 1865 he travelled to Spain.  The railways there were just beginning to be built (someone wrote at the time that the words “Spain “ and “railways” were incompatible), and he went there by rail but came back by a different route by non-railway means, the diligence.

There is a piece by Bosch for guitar, Plainte Moresque, for whose first edition Manet engraved the cover [slide].  It shows a guitarist.  One writer on Manet, Tabarant, says that this was a picture of Bosch; but Tabarant wrote in the 1940s many years after the period and he gives no evidence for his statement, and I think he is wrong.  Pictures on music covers more often show the subject or the theme of the piece than a portrait of the composer.  I think this is probably Manet’s idea of a romanticised Moor, starting from the title Plainte Moresque.  Certainly the picture shows no intellectual musician, no member of the sophisticated Paris social scene: this is a picaro.

Now we come to the fact that some people did not like Bosch.  Evidently some people did, such as Madame Manet, and the writer of the description of the musical soirée mentioned above.  In particular, Pedrell did, the Catalan musicologist.  It was Pedrell who wrote a long article on Bosch  in a Diccionario Biográfico published in Barcelona in 1897, which was taken up in most of its details by Domingo Prat in Prat’s own Diccionario.  There are five letters now preserved in the Biblioteca de Catalunya in Barcelona, from Bosch in Paris to Pedrell in Barcelona, full of details about what was going on in Paris; it seems that Pedrell had asked Bosch to keep him informed.  Pedrell said in his article  that Bosch was “un artista de gran valia que honró dignamente su patria” and he also praised various works by Bosch.

But others didn’t like Bosch. Pujol says in his book on Tárrega: “Fue Jaime Bosch un artista inmodesto de ambiciones desmesuradas”.  Pujol quotes a Belgian painter, M. de Belleroche, who Pujol says told him (Pujol) that Bosch actually threatened Tárrega when he visited Paris in 1881 and told him to leave Paris.  But questions of character are subjective, and I am doubtful about this Belgian painter.

When Tárrega visited Paris in 1881, he was of course yet another Catalan guitarist coming to Paris.  Strangely enough, yet another Catalan guitarist arrived in 1885: Josep Ferrer, again from Catalonia.

Now let us turn again to look at those years in Paris.  They were quite remarkable ones.  The first Impressionist exhibition was in 1874 and the last in 1886, quite a short time, and things changed fast.  Renoir was painting then, and later he said that it was in about 1885-6 that he felt that his old painting was coming to an end, that it was necessary to change.  The first Symbolist manifesto was in 1886, with a whole range of new ideas.  Perhaps astonishingly, it was in precisely the winter of 1885-6 that the young Sigmund Freud spent time at the clinic of Dr. Charcot in Paris.

Among Bosch’s pupils were Madeleine and Alfred Cottin.  Alfred Cottin (1863-1923) was the author of a method, and entertained Tárrega well.  Cottin is the person to whom Tárrega dedicated his Recuerdos de la Alhambra.  Pujol wrote in his book that among Cottin’s works, the Ballade du Fou occupied a pre-eminent place.  [Musical example: Alfred Cottin- Ballade du Fou for three guitars, performed by John Compton, Petula Compton, and Stephen Kenyon.  This piece has since been republished separately by Tecla Editions.]

The Ballade du Fou seems to have been written in about 1910.  I would like to finish this brief talk by saying a few words about what was happening in the wider cultural world in Paris in those years.  From about 1900 to 1910 we have the period in painting in which the Fauves flourished: Matisse, Derain; brilliant colour.  But also, it so happens that an event took place which has been hailed as revolutionary, one of the key changes in the way we perceive the world: Cubism.  For us here today, it is not insignificant that the guitar appears again and again in these earliest Cubist works.  Some of the strongest words of critics are reserved in particular for one sculpture, which is the earliest known of its type and which is said to have changed the whole nature of sculpture: Picasso’s metal sculpture in the shape of a guitar, of 1912.  [Slide].  For example, Hughes in The Shock of the New writes of this piece: “It is doubtful whether any single sculpture has ever had by such deceptively simple means, a comparable effect on the course of its own medium.”

Yet another important invention in art at this time was the collage, and again guitars were there.  For example, one by Picasso made in the summer of 1912 [slide]: it was originally a collage – although to be precise, the collage was in the form of a piece of gingerbread which has long since disappeared…

It would not be true to say that Bosch is a figure of the greatest importance.  But his pieces are interesting and worth looking at and playing, and he was certainly the principal guitarist in a period of the greatest cultural importance in which all the artists knew the guitar well and used it continually in their works.  Cottin was a minor figure following after Bosch; and then we come back to the more familiar territory of Tárrega and those who came after.


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