Gaspar Sanz’s birth date is unknown but he was baptized as Francisco Bartolome Sanz y Celma in the church of Calanda de Ebro, Aragon on 4 April 1640 later adopting the first name “Gaspar”.

After gaining his Bachelor of Theology at the University of Salamanca,[1] Gaspar Sanz travelled to Naples, Rome and perhaps Venice to further his music education. He is thought to have studied under Orazio Benevoli, choirmaster at the Vatican and Cristofaro Caresana, organist at the Royal Chapel of Naples. He spent some years as the organist of the Spanish Viceroy at Naples.

Sanz learned to play guitar while studying under Lelio Colista and was influenced by music of the Italian guitarists Foscarini, Granata, and Corbetta. When Sanz returned to Spain he was appointed instructor of guitar to Don Juan (John of Austria), the illegitimate son of King Philip IV and Maria Calderon, a noted actress of the day.

John of Austria

John of Austria as he appears on the dedication page of Instrucción de música sobre la Guitarra Española

In 1674 he wrote his now famous Instrucción de Música sobre la Guitarra Española,[2] published in Saragossa and dedicated to Don Juan.[3] A second book entitled Libro Segundo de cifras sobre la guitarra española was printed in Saragossa in 1675. A third book, Libro tercero de mùsica de cifras sobre la guitarra española, was added to the first and second books, and all three were published together under the title of the first book in 1697, eventually being published in eight editions. The ninety works in this masterpiece are his only known contribution to the repertory of the guitar[4] and include compositions in both punteado (“plucked”) style and rasqueado (“strummed”) style.

In addition to his musical skills, Gaspar Sanz was noted in his day for his literary works as a poet and writer, and was the author of some poems and two books now largely forgotten.

He died in Madrid in 1710.

Influence

His compositions provide some of the most important examples of popular Spanish baroque music for the guitar and now form part of classical guitar pedagogy. Sanz’s manuscripts are written as tablature for the baroque guitar and have been transcribed into modern notation by numerous guitarists and editors; Emilio Pujol‘s edition of Sanz’s Canarios being a notable example. He has influenced some twentieth-century composers.

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