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Lecture - Jonathan Godfrey

Why is it so Difficult to Write for the Guitar?

Jonathan Godfrey


In his 1844 “Treatise on Orchestration,” Hector Berlioz describes at length the perplexities of writing for the guitar, ruefully concluding that “It is almost impossible to write well for the guitar without being a player on the instrument.” In the modern era, Alberto Ginastera’s seminal yet distant relationship with the guitar is a particularly telling example of how this archetype has persisted: Despite evoking guitar-inspired gestures prolifically throughout his output for other instruments, the guitar being the national instrument of his native Argentina, and having been encouraged by numerous performers to write guitar music from the time he was a student, it would be some forty years into his career before he would pen his Sonata Op. 47, his first and only work for the instrument. The sole reason he cites for the delay? “…the complexity of the task delayed my creative impulse.”

Why is the guitar such a stumbling block for non-guitarist composers? In searching for answers, this lecture seeks to evaluate the elusive ingredients that triangulate to make guitar-writing “idiomatic” through a review of both effective and problematic literature. Discussion will include how successful modern-day non-guitarist composers approach the instrument, how non-guitarist composer giants like Britten, Piazzolla, and Rodrigo ultimately championed it, and the implications these composers’ success has on the relevancy of Berlioz’s grim declaration for the guitar world today.



Dr. Jonathan Godfrey holds his DM from Indiana University, his MM from the Cleveland Institute of Music, and his BM from LaGrange College. A resident of the Tampa Bay area since 2012, he is a regular session musician for The Florida Orchestra and has also appeared as a soloist with the Choral Artists of Sarasota, Sarasota’s Asolo Repertory Theater, the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, the State College of Florida Symphonic Band, the Pops Orchestra of Sarasota, the Florida Studio Theater, and in national-touring shows at Tampa’s Straz Center for the Performing Arts. A top prize-winner in several performance competitions, he has been a featured soloist on recordings released by the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and the Embassy of Spain. He regularly performs with coloratura-soprano Jenny Kim-Godfrey as part of Corda Voce, a duo lauded for its “charming and virtuosic” fusion of cabaret and classical repertoire ( He is a former student of Ernesto Bitetti, Jason Vieaux, Philip Snyder, and John Huston.

An active composer of guitar music whose sound has been described as “invitingly poetic” by the Boston Globe, Godfrey was awarded First Prize in the 2011 Boston GuitarFest Composition Competition for his Sonatina for Solo Guitar, written for and premiered by Nemanja Ostojic, and most recently garnered an Honorable Mention in the 2019 Austin Classical Guitar Ensemble Composition Competition for his work Tunguska. His music has been performed worldwide, from Serbia’s Guitar Art Festival to the Foro de Musica Nueva Manuel Enriquez in Mexico City. In 2019 he was commissioned by the Bradenton Symphony Orchestra to compose his Okeechobee Concerto for banjo and orchestra. His dissertation, Principles of Idiomatic Guitar Writing, is an oft-cited treatise on guitar composition that was supervised by internationally renowned composer P.Q. Phan, who Godfrey counts among his composition teachers along with Aaron Travers, Paul Schoenfeld, and Lee Johnson.

Godfrey currently serves on the faculty of the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, where he teaches guitar, music appreciation, and music theory. (

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