Results 1 to 6 of 6

Thread: The mandolin in Portugal (ca. 1770-1830)

  1. #1

    Default The mandolin in Portugal (ca. 1770-1830)

    Hi all,

    I've published a rather large blog post concerning a dark horse of mandolin history: the mandolin in Portugal (ca. 1770-1830).

    Besides listing some sources already discovered by colleagues (linking to editions available) I have also included some of my own finds. Most important are:
    - an anonymous manuscript with 50 short duets for six-course mandolin
    - four excellent and extensive mandolin-keyboard sonatas by Vittorio Trento from ca. 1822


  2. The Following 14 Users Say Thank You to happyfanaticsalsero For This Useful Post:

    + Show/Hide list of the thanked

  3. #2
    Registered User Mandolin Deep Cuts's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2020
    The District

    Default Re: The mandolin in Portugal (ca. 1770-1830)

    I love your posts because they are a weeks worth of content. Read, listen, Google, read other sources, compare, listen once more. Continue to next paragraph

    Btw, Those first two mandolins are some of the most beautiful mandolins I’ve ever seen. I’m sure you’ve found a lot of crazy ones over the years. What are some of your most interesting mandolin finds in history?

    Thanks for the great content as always.

  4. #3

    Default Re: The mandolin in Portugal (ca. 1770-1830)

    Thanks for the compliments! I do spend a lot of time on my research and writing it all up.

    I sometimes worry some readers might find things too long and detailed. But breaking things up in small consecutive posts isn't really my thing. I'm happy to hear back from you that it's actually pleasing some people.

    The first picture in the post is a Neapolitan mandolin, but the next one is in fact a "Portuguese guittar", which is a cittern. Though it looks a bit like a mandolin, that's a different type of instrument. At that moment, it's the same as the "English guittar". All very confusing, for example, when reading late 18th century sources, the word guit(t)ar often means the cittern type. You also need to know your mandolin from your Portuguese/English guittar to spot the right type from 18th century paintings. These citterns were tuned in an open C major chord (C-E-G-c-e-g). So in fact, quite a bit larger and tuned a lot lower than a mandolin (more similar to a mandocello). Have a look at Wikipedia on "English guitar".
    The fun bit of course is that I have proven an exchange of repertory between the English guittar and the mandolin in Great Britain in the late 18th century. I presented this as part of my talk at Mainz University, and it got published as an article in Phoibos (see (I'm warning you though, that this article is a proper musicological article, so quite a bit more tedious to read than most of my blog articles. )

    About mandolins and finds... I won't know where to start, really. There are beautiful instruments in all traditions throughout the ages - they all have their own appeal.
    If you ask me to name one... I'd probably have to go for the 19th century mandolin I'm having restored right now. Probably mostly because of the story that I was able to pick it up at an auction at an absolutely low price (not in playing condition and because the label is missing no-one seemed to realize the worth of the instrument). I am able to compare to instruments that still bear the label of its builder so have my suspicions. Anyway, it's a piece of museum quality. Though it will be a huge restoration job, it is a privilege to own a piece of living history, as it were, and to be able to bring it back to its former glory.
    Click image for larger version. 

Name:	download (1).png 
Views:	65 
Size:	166.3 KB 
ID:	193905

  5. The Following 9 Users Say Thank You to happyfanaticsalsero For This Useful Post:

  6. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Indepndence OR

    Default Re: The mandolin in Portugal (ca. 1770-1830)

    " I sometimes worry some readers might find things too long and detailed. But breaking things up in small consecutive posts isn't really my thing. I'm happy to hear back from you that it's actually pleasing some people."

    Impressive scholarship, Pieter, and I understand your reluctance to post short entries that cannot have the depth and breadth. I supervise doctoral dissertations, and I often have to ask my students for more detail and cited sources. There are two thoughts/questions that came to me from your notes here. For one, I wonder about the emergence of Brasilian choro music--any threads you found in the colonial records to connect with Portuguese classical mandolin literature?
    Also, your comments about the similarities and confusion among instruments--English guitar and European cittern--reminds me of discussions (and rebukes) I have encountered regarding the history of the mandocello. I play a clearly "American original" Gibson 1911 K4, but have read and heard a variety of thoughts on the European origins of the bass clef mandolin family member. You mention the similarity in your post, I wonder if you have any semi-definitive sources on that?
    Again, thank you for you primary-sourced research and rich body of information.

  7. #5

    Default Re: The mandolin in Portugal (ca. 1770-1830)

    Hi JIm!

    Thanks for the compliments, I appreciate people reaching out.
    Sorry you had to have patience for me to respond - I don't attend this forum on a regular basis.

    To answer your two points:
    1/ Emergence of Brazilian choro music
    That really sits outside of my inquiries. I only briefly looked into some Brazilian sources for the period when the Portuguese royal family emigrated to Brazil following the Napoleonic wars (1807-1821).
    As far as I know, the choro mainly got established at the end of the 19th century, but as I'm not that familiar with it I'll happily hear about it if there are earlier antecedents.
    Anyway, I didn't really find any important sources (yet) about the mandolin activity during their stay in Brazil. But I would expect there was some. All the time during the late 18th century, the Portuguese royal family is clearly linked to not only patronage but also playing the mandolin themselves. And though I can't prove it yet with certainty, all evidence seems to suggest that the four mandolin-keyboard sonatas by Vittorio Trento originate from right after the royal family returned to Lisbon (and probably are hence linked to the royal court). So it would come as no surprise if there is evidence of mandolin playing in Brazil in the early 1800s. The Portuguese royal archives in the early decades of the 19th century would be the place to start digging (either in Brazil or Portugal); but access to these is difficult even in non-Covid times.

    2/ It's often a sore toe; discussions about nomenclature and what name could / should describe which type of instrument, let alone what triggered their creation...

    I'm not the first to comment on these things. Stuart Walsh already wrote an article "Is the English guitar a guitar or a cittern?" (FoMRHI Comm 798), arguing beautifully there are differences between the English guittar and both the guitar and cittern. In the end, he say it's both a guitar and cittern and yet also neither.

    Let me first share some background. The history of the cittern, English (or Portuguese) guittar are not my primary topic of investigations. Though I have some primary sources and have made some inquiries of my own, there are a few excellent articles you should read if you want to know more about the cittern and English guittar.
    Ward, J.M.: art. Sprightly and Cheerful Musick. Notes on the cittern, gittern and guitar in 16th- and 17th-century England in Lute Society Journal (21, 1979-81).
    Kloss, J.: art. The "Guittar" in Britain 1753-1800, accessed online at

    There are some nice similarities, mainly between the English guittar and cittern. Both are metal-strung, plectrum played, have a flat back and have a movable bridge. This is quite a unique combination around 1750 not shared with other plucked string instruments. Though the cittern was mainly popular in the renaissance, it's clear it still existed in the 18th century. In fact, some research seems to suggest it might have been invented by Hintz, at least many of the earliest makers are all of German or Dutch origin (see Kloss, p. 9-15). In Germany, around the 1750s, there still were cittern types built and played, so it's been suggested that this either influenced the guittar or even is its proper predecessor.

    There are a lot of differences, though, between cittern and guittar. The tuning is different (open chord for the guittar, re-entrant tuning for the cittern), the neck length of the instrument is different, the cittern has differences in terms of frets (diatonic instead of chromatic - at least originally).
    Though the English guittar starts with the traditional wooden peg turners, later on the watch-key tuners turn up and these are now often linked to this instrument type (but they are a later invention). The piano-key mechanisms to play the strings on the guittar are also a later invention. If you watch older guittars, you'll see the likeness to the cittern better than with the later types which already evolved unique characteristics.

    Mid-18th century guittar (still with wooden tuning pegs, no piano keys):
    16th century Cittern:

    Later English guittar with watch-key tuners and piano keys:

    For me, the English guittar isn't exactly a cittern proper, but as there are more similarities than differences and so much of its history in the 1750s-1800s is shared with the cittern in Britain, I still link them together.

    My main point in the article and in the previous response here was, don't mistake this English guittar for a mandolin type. From that point of view, it's more similar to a cittern (in range, repertory and style of playing etc).
    However, I need to point out at the same time that I have proven significant interchange of repertory between the guittar and mandolin in Britain in the second half of the 18th century. (Van Tichelen, P.: art. Tolerance between instrumental repertoires or commercial tricks?
    Mandolin-related prints until the early 19th century, in Phoibos (18, 2020, p. 153-214.)

    O, and to come back to Mandolin Deep Cuts... The restauration on the early 19th century instrument is ongoing but I might have just dug up an instrument which surpasses it.Click image for larger version. 

Name:	Vinaccia.png 
Views:	31 
Size:	1.73 MB 
ID:	195100 The picture is still from the auction, it'll be transported next week. Item 314, an Antonio Vinaccia from 1774, is one of my next projects.

  8. The Following 7 Users Say Thank You to happyfanaticsalsero For This Useful Post:

  9. #6
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    Indepndence OR

    Default Re: The mandolin in Portugal (ca. 1770-1830)

    Great respect for the detail and cited sources in your post. It's all I can do to keep up with my own Mandocello work, but I love to read about the variety of instruments developed in different regions. Thank you for this information.

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts