Music for rare guitars

James Edwards showcases music from the 18th and 19th centuries on guitars from the Schuman Collection
James Edwards, a guitarist and music instructor at Southern Oregon University, will bring rare guitars from the university's Schuman Collection to life at his faculty recital to be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, in the Music Recital Hall on the SOU campus in Ashland.Photo by Julia Moore

The guitar has changed since the 1500s. The instrument started out about the size of a ukulele and had four pairs of strings, known as a four-course. In the following centuries, the guitar evolved into a five-course instrument, then into a prototype of the modern guitar with six single strings — though still small in size.

"During those eras, guitars were quieter and more delicate. They were played in salons and small venues for the aristocracy," says classical guitarist James Edwards, who teaches music at Southern Oregon University. "It's always been a popular instrument of the streets as well."

If you go

Who: James Edwards

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18

Where: Music Recital Hall on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland

Admission: $10, $5 for seniors and free for students

Call: 541-552-6348 or see

It was when classical guitarists Andrés Segovia and others began to tour in the early 1900s that innovations led to the design of the modern guitar.

"Today's guitars are louder," Edwards says. "They have more sustain and resonance to fill large concert halls."

Edwards, who studied with Christopher Parkening and Ray Reussner (two of Segovia's pupils), will perform music composed for rare and antique guitars from SOU's Schuman Collection at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18, in the Music Recital Hall on the SOU campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland.

SOU student and classical guitarist Tye Austin also will perform.

Admission is $10, $5 for seniors and free for students. Advance tickets can be purchased online at or by calling 541-552-6348.

The Schuman Collection includes instruments from the 18th and 19th centuries. There's a five-course, or baroque, guitar made in Italy, a six-course guitar built by Spanish lutier Josef Benedid, and a six-string Italian guitar built by Giovannia Fabricatore. Others include guitars built in Spain, Italy, France, Portugal and England that range in age from 130 to 230 years old.

"What's interesting is that single, six-string guitars were being built at the same time as the six-course," Edwards says. "The single, six-string came into fashion and came to be more widely used."

Edwards will showcase these rare instruments by performing music written specifically for them, thus matching a composer's work with a guitar from the Schuman Collection.

"Say you love the music of Chopin, and you heard it played on a piano he played and not on a modern one. You would hear what it sounded like to the composer and to his audience. It's a lot like time-traveling."

Edwards will play a suite of Spanish-style pieces written by Gaspar Sanz for five-course guitar, along with a rondo by Fernando Ferrandiere and "La Maja De Goya" by Enrique Granados on the Benedid guitar. He'll also showcase Mauro Giuliani's "The Grand Overture" on the Fabricatore and two pieces by French composer Napoleon Coste, "Scherzando" and "Les Soires D'Auteuil," on a guitar built by Cabasse-Visnaire L'Aire in 1830.

"It's exciting to bring these rare guitars to life," Edwards says. "One usually only gets to look at old instruments in museums. They're pretty to see, but to hear them is a rare experience. Music written for a five-course guitar sounds better played on a five-course guitar.

"These rare guitars are still musically viable, and this concert will be about the music — not a lecture about rare instruments."

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