The Guitar Before 1900: What the Dictionaries Reveal,
by Sean W. Ferguson, is the first title in a new peer-reviewed series
being put out by the Guitar Foundation of America. The aim of the
series is to encourage the creation and dissemination of studies that
contribute significantly to the knowledge and appreciation of the
guitar: its repertoires, its literature, its composers and performers,
and its function and place in society. The purpose of peer review of
each title is to assure the integrity and quality of the series.
This monograph, in two e-book formats, is available (at $9.99) from Amazon.com (in Kindle format) and from BarnesandNoble.com
(in ePub format). Readers for e-books in both formats are free to
download onto Macs, PCs, and various portable readers. Here is a
summary of the work:
Ferguson throws new light on the history of the guitar
by drawing upon a class of literary sources still largely unexplored:
historical dictionaries and encyclopedias. Between the earliest of
these to mention the guitar (1606) and the last one surveyed, Baker’s Dictionary of Musical Terms
(1895), the author selects and discusses nearly fifty "entries” about
the guitar that run the gamut from the anecdotal to the objective, from
ignorance and prejudice to clarity and insight. Sprinkled through
these definitions are highly colorful comments on the guitar’s place in
everything from love to war, as for example this 1819 remark in the
Rees Cyclopoedia: "The Portuguese having lost a battle, 14,000
guitars were found on the field of battle.” There are first-time ever
English translations of numerous foreign-language sources (Spanish,
French, Italian, German); the originals appear in facsimile in an
appendix. Cultural historians as well as curious guitarists will find
the attitudes toward the guitar reflected in these dated sources to be
both entertaining and informative.
Among the referees' comments were remarks such as these:
" It is valuable to have so many lexicon entries gathered
in one place. This monograph may become a useful research tool, one
that will be quoted from for years to come."
" [This] project is a valuable one and I hope it will soon be available on line."