PORTUGUESE GUITAR HISTORY

Etymologically, the Portuguese word "Guitarra" comes from the Greek "Kythara", later converted by the latins into Cithara. The legend tells us that this name comes from Cyteran, a mountain somewhere between Boeotia and Attica. Not everyone agrees, however: some believe that this word comes from "Cythara", the ancient name of the Greek island of Cerigo, believed to be a paradise of poetry and love, where a temple to Venus layed.

In this matter we can find no consensus whatsoever; there are even those who will rather believe that the word's origins lay in the Middle Ages, and that its invention and construction was performed by a Spanish moor, known as Al-Guitar.

According to this line of though, the Portuguese guitar, as we know it today, as Arabic roots. It may be true, for this theory has a ver large support, but it is also true that it lays on a merely verbal assumption: comparing our present-day instrument with the Moorish or Saracen guitar and associating it with fado.

Also according to this line of though, the fado, as a folk music form, as Arabic roots. But this theory is commonly refuted by two arguments: on one hand, the Moorish guitar is known to be the origin a completely different line of musical instruments - the mandolins; and on the other hand, the association between the Portuguese guitar and the fado is quite a recent one.

From studies performed by several authors and compositors - such as Pedro Caldeira Cabral and Antonio Portugal, for instance - it seems that the Portuguese guitar is more likely the result of a fusion between two instruments: the European Cittern (used throughout Western Europe in the Renaissance, bearing an extremely similar shape, and even sometimes having the same number of strings and the same tunings, and probably brought into Portugal in the XVI century, mainly from Italy and France, spreading through the region South of Coimbra) and the English Guitar (brought into Portugal in the XVIII, through Oporto, spreading afterwards through the region North of Coimbra). This may explain the different construction, structure and tuning of the Coimbra Guitar - with its roots in Oporto - and the Lisbon Guitar.

What we can assume from this study is that the evolution of the Portuguese guitar can be formulated from a theory based on the coincidences between this two instruments - the Cittern and the English Guitar - given the adoption of elements from both and being its playing style associated, right from the start, with orally-conveyed music. Such fact should also be connected with the court's displacement to Coimbra, and it's very likely that both ancestors of the Portuguese guitar were kept in use, even after the troubadour age.

Related Article:
Come and see our History of the Guitar

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