The seven-string Mexican guitar will sound once again

29/04/2021

Witness of the Mexican Independence and Revolution deeds, considered a symbol of the national identity, the séptima or seven-string guitar succumbed in the middle of the 20th century, before the commercial interests of the great musical houses that privileged the six-string guitar. 

Also known as Mexican guitar, the séptima or seven-string guitar was a derivative of the baroque guitar (with five strings) and the sexta or Spanish guitar, which sought to have a greater sonority. However, the seven-string guitar did not work in Spain and remained as a mere experiment.

In Mexico, it took root and took shelter as an instrument of accompaniment of multiple rhythms: polkas, waltzes, corridos, chotices, mazurcas, rigodones, camoratas, jarabes, and cuadrillas, so it is the common denominator of Mexican costumbrismo (" customs and manners "). 

The sonority of this instrument is Mexican, since the composers who used it are mostly Mexican, and their works were cooked at the time of the musical costumbrismo of the end of the colonial period, los fandango and galantismo; later would come independence and nationalist airs, to culminate with the Frenchification at the end of the 19th century.

Popular instrument

The seven-string Mexican guitar was part of the musical life from 1750 to 1950, approximately, that is why it is considered a symbol of national identity. The instrument accompanied the peasants during the Independence, a period in which "sonesitos de la tierra" were played, such as jarabes, but also songs such as Las mañanitas de Hidalgo, a piece composed in Zacatecas, around 1811. The most remote antecedent is found in the Declaration of Musical Instruments, from 1555, written by the music theorist Juan Bermudo, where he refers to a seven-string vihuela.

By the second half of the 18th century, the researchers can clearly locate the presence of a seven-string or double-string guitar in Explanation for playing the plucked guitar by music or cifra, and useful rules for accompanying the bass part with it, a manual published in Veracruz in 1773 by the music professor Juan Antonio de Vargas y Guzmán, who arrived in New Spain from Cádiz.

The seven-string Mexican guitar witnessed the Independence and the Revolution.

Pillars of the septimismo during the XIX century are considered the composers José María Bustamante, the "Mexican Verdi" and his student Ignacio Ocadiz; for the second half of the century, to José S. Arévalo and Miguel Planas, this last one author of the most finished method for the instrument. For the time of the Revolution, Octaviano Yáñez, who laid the foundations for the composition of concert music for guitar, and the Spanish professor and composer Guillermo Gómez, with his most outstanding student Francisco Salinas.

First concert and decline

The composer Rafael Adame, a student of Julián Carrillo, wrote in 1930 the first concerto for guitar and orchestra of the 20th century (Concierto para guitarra de 7 cuerdas), anticipating Joaquín Rodrigo's famous Concierto de Aranjuez (1939) and Manuel M. Ponce's Concierto del Sur (1941), although it should be noted that this precocious work is rarely played and only one recording exists.

The gradual abandonment of the seven-string guitar occurred because the country's musical instrument houses, such as Wagner and Veerkamp, monopolized the construction and distribution of these guitars and, at a certain point in the mid-1950s, they stopped producing them because the seven-string guitar was only played in Mexico and did not suit their commercial goals. Both the production houses and the media (cinema and radio), adjusted commercially to the sixth guitar, also taking advantage of the success of the Spanish guitarist Andrés Segovia.

Source INAH