A serialised history of the Guitar in the context of Man and his Music
Part One - PRELUDE
It rained. Reyn - Old English. I smiled, despite the clouds and the chill of an English summer evening.
Rain was certainly old enough to be Old English. Old enough, indeed, to be 'old' in any language. Weather, flora and fauna. These were the categories that inspired the first words. Sounds, too, and sights. So. It rained. My mind, free from the chains of concentration, traced its tangents of thought. I stood on the balcony of an apartment in Skipton. I had walked, during the afternoon, along the canal with its brightly-painted narrowboats, hearing the slap and echo of my footsteps upon the flagged bndlepaths, feeling the rumbling ostinato of my heartbeats. That's how it all started, of course. Andante.
I stood there, thinking of words and sounds, of Greeks and Assyrians, of' Bantu and Balinese, of ferocity and gentleness, of fire... .and firesides, of man and his many-sidedness.
And of his music. Of the paths that had echoed him through the centuries. And I began to realise that here was a true chronicle of man's journey. As pictures became written words, so music became language. I thought of the Redstart and the Skylark and of' how they had stopped at the point at which we had begun. Yes. Music has a consciousness, harnessed by man but, like the sea~ ultimately beyond his control. He can fashion, in his faltering way, and the genius of a Bach or a Mozart can bring about a momentary fusion, a one-ness between synaptic impulses and the shifting spectrum of acoustics. But the reason why this adventure through the ethereal and unmeasured world of sounds continues is that man, with his inquisitive restlessness, has yet to fathom the moving and molten core of this 'Mercury of the Arts' - despite his 'naming of parts', despite his ingenuity, his creation and mastery of 'form', he can as yet only 'question the essence of the musical impetus - his answers, like fugue, are mere transpositions of the subject. It exists beyond his ultimate control and demands its own conclusions. Man's reasoning washes like tides upon this moving shore - the sands of the beach shift like dunes in a Siroccan gust. The winds wail and hiss across the landscape of human progress, yet defy our definition of direction. And even the high ideals of Sonata, the structuralism of Canon and Fugue cannot encapsulate them. Sonant ergo sunt. They sound therefore they are. Man, in his music making, is merely a mouthpiece. As a whale and the skylark sing, so does man. His exuberance, his joy and his adversity lend dynamics to the composition
Where should I look to search out the beginnings of this chronicle? History'? Myth? Magic? What songs were sung to celebrate the unveiling of Alta Mira? What dances around the fires of Aurignac? As man crawled inexorably from savage nascence towards grim and tortuous reasoning, whence Chinese and whence Sanskrit? Whence melody and whence words'? And when the schism? Where the embryo that birthed itself in the visions of Wagner? What swelling kernel of awareness would burst forth into the grim paradoxism of Euripides? What led towards mediaeval music, saw an escape from the tethers of homophony, and saw the ponderous intonings of the unison chant surrender to contrary motion and the liberties of moving harmony? I thought of Albeniz and I thought of his adventure, of the adventure that is life and the adventure that is music. Man's first appearance on the stage of terrestrial life is still shrouded in uncertainty, held secret by geological shifts. What is certain is that he came not as a lauded prima donna, but as an undistinguished support act in the erratic concert of post-glacial progress. Life, with glittering and unfathomable facets flashed dominance and supremacy first this way and then that. In the teeming tuss1e of species and specialities man came first as mere bit-player, precluded from top billing by the ferocity of those benefactors of Promethean generosity that surrounded him and by a stumbling and uncertain design; hovering hopefully in the periphery of the audience of life's harsh symphony. As Celt, as Basque, as Aryan... .He formulated the concept of 'question'. Pragmatism led to appraisal and thence to wonder - and to wondering. As the will to survive became subordinate to the skill to survive, he began to find words which spoke of more than the brutishess of his life, which described the spectrum of his environment in ever-broadening colours. And soon he began to ask 'Why'? With increasing skill came increasing security first the probability and then the certainty of 'tomorrow'. And as he began to accept and ponder 'tomorrow' he became aware of yesterday. Time stepped into his life. Time in a cosmological sense, as he began to trace nature's repetitions, as he learned to fear its ruthless unexpectedness Time, too, in a musical sense. He sensed the rhythm of life - he heard it, he touched it, he saw it. And the transitory nature of music began to make a place in his existence, became a means to express his fears and his aspirations, his joy and his sadness at his situ-in- terra. The rhythms of life, the sounds of life. As he learned to bend yew and ash and bridge and harness its tensions with twine, he not only learned the power of its projected missile, he heard, too the death song of its unleashing. The bow would become harp and lute; the blowpipe would become the flageolet; gourd and skin would become tambour and tympani.... And as he searched for gods through the forests of magic and totemism, he learned to sing his thanks and wail his resentments. Music had made its presence known to man.