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The Portuguese Guitar

Magazine Art + Culture | 03 Mar 2016



“In the guitar’s voice of gold and shadow
Some part of me surrenders”. Sophia de Mello Breyner


With its bright and poignant sound, able to suggest abandonment and melancholy, of unmistakeable expressiveness and tone, the Portuguese guitar is an instrument close to the nation’s heart. Long associated with fado, the ‘Lusitanian lute’ is inextricably linked to the very notion of ‘Portugueseness’ – saudade (that special Portuguese feeling that translates to somewhere between yearning and nostalgia), destiny and fatality are words that intertwine with the trill of the national sitar.But it isn’t just its sound, or the emotions it arouses, that make this stringed instrument part of the Portuguese identity. In the words of Pedro Caldeira Cabral – eminent scholar and researcher of the Portuguese guitar, in addition to being a composer, musician and one of Portugal’s finest guitarists – the most Portuguese thing about this guitar is its development in Portugal over five centuries.Defined, in musicological terms, by its construction system, its tuning, its playing technique, and by certain decorative features, the national chordophone has, in the past and incorrectly, been seen as a descendent of the English guitar. But, as Pedro Caldeira Cabral explains, its true ancestor is a model of the European sitar, known and upheld in Portugal since the 15th century.

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Text: Paula Monteiro
Photos: Miguel Costa

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