I firstly want to thank Nicole for letting me present something on her wonderful website! We’ve known each other for several years now, and it’s always an honor for me to be featured on Classical Guitar n Stuff. I have lately been engrossed in researching guitarists and guitar music from the 19th century, and I wanted to share with you just a piece of that.One thing I have a passion for in the classical guitar world is the obscure. History often neglects so many important figures of the past, and they are sometimes forgotten about entirely. Now that so much is digitized and documented on the Internet, I feel it’s our responsibility to delve into the past for ourselves to learn about history away from the standard textbooks or classrooms. We can find information that can inform our playing, give us tools to be more creative, allow us to stick out from “the crop” by playing music that is hardly ever played. All this from the comfort of our own home – can you imagine what people of the past would have given to have access to information so easily?!
This kind of exploration is how I came to discover one of the most important guitarists of the 19th century, Catharina Pratten.
Catharina Josepha Pratten (1821 – 1895), a.k.a. Sidney Pratten was one of the most renowned guitarists of her day. She was a child prodigy, and was taught by her father Ferdinand Pelzer. Ferdinand was also a guitarist, and author of the Giulianiad – one of the earliest guitar magazines.
Pratten was surrounded by many other esteemed guitarists of the era. In her childhood she was friends with Giulio Regondi. Together they played guitar duets, and she also accompanied Regondi’s Concertina playing. Apparently the two were so small (young) that they had to stand on a table when they played together so that the audience could see them! Pratten also performed Giuliani’s Third Concerto to the pianoforte accompaniment of Giuliani’s niece, Madame Lucei-Sievers. Pratten owned several guitars, one of which was a Lacote made for Fernando Sor.
Catharina married a flute player named Robert Sidney Pratten (hence her use of the pseudonym Sidney). She was a prolific composer, and also wrote several method books, though I’ve only come across the one so far, and this method book called Guitar School will be the main topic of this post.
If you want to read more about Mme. Pratten, you can download a biography published in 1899 here. I highly recommend reading the book – it’s not very long and contains many fascinating details about her life. That book is where most of this biographical information comes from.
There are some wonderful pieces scattered throughout Pratten’s method book, and it would be fantastic if Pratten’s music was played more widely today!
You can download her method book at the very bottom. I hope you enjoy, learn something, and use the resources found in this amazing book!
This is a beautiful method book that is full of wonderful information, pieces, and exercises. Many songs are given throughout with the guitar used as an accompaniment. It seems that 19th century guitarists probably sung and accompanied themselves quite often, as can also be testified by a review of Legnani playing a concert, in which he was described to be singing – “Even as a singer ‘alla camera’ he showed taste and the inborn, lovely presentation found in his fatherland, plus, the rich and (incredibly) shining accompaniment provided doubled interest.”If you play through this entire method book, you will certainly gain some new skills in harmony and ornamentation. The pieces are mostly short, but really delightful, and deserve to be performed more often.
The method begins with some basic information about the guitar – its qualities, tuning, techniques (or “peculiarities” as Pratten calls them), a diagram of the notes on the fretboard, and some remarks on posture (pages 1-7).Pratten describes the guitar’s qualities in entertaining detail, for example “although it has not the power of some large instruments, it has a revenge in its delicate and sympathetic tones.”
In the section where she outlines some of the guitar’s effects, it’s interesting to note that Pratten provides a sign for using vibrato!
Pratten provides a diagram that shows the plucking regions of the right hand and their effect. She then shows us how she would have applied these plucking regions to a passage of music. Read it carefully and think about how you can apply the information – this information is crucial for understanding the performance practice of 19th century guitarists – they weren’t playing in a mono colour, but rather the opposite!
(Below is just an excerpt of this section, the full two pages are in the link)
The final section of the book, starting page 70, gives a selection of pieces. Composers include well-known ones such as Sor, Giuliani, and Legnani. However, Pratten includes some lovely short pieces of her own too. One of them is called Theme Original, and it’s a really stunning little piece. As was customary for the 19th century, I added my own variation to her theme. I’m hoping that with the help of fellow guitarists, the first ever known Variations on a Theme by Pratten can be created! Anyone can join in this quest, so please let me know if you’d like to compose a variation.
Pratten did talk about her compositional process, which can be found in her biography, pages 85-86.
“I simply take up my guitar and out of the tips of my fingers tumble out the sounds on the strings… and then I play it over and over again until my brain retains it; then sketch it down… Then I leave it, and return to it and put it ‘ship-shape’. Then, with my ‘little bricks’ collected, I build up a romance or story.”
I hope you enjoy perusing through this method book. Although there are many fantastic modern method books out there, none of them will truly take you into the mind of a 19th century guitarist. I believe that Catharina Pratten’s method book takes us as close as we can possibly get to learning about how to think and play like a guitarist of the 19th century.