Fernando Sor’s Estudio 22, Op. 35 (Study No. 5 in the Segovia collection) is probably one of the most loved and widely performed of all the Sor studies, and he wrote a lot of them. A guitarist that I know mentioned that he had heard an obligato that was written over this study similar to the way Ave Maria by Charles Gounod was written over the Bach Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier. The Sor study lends itself well to this treatment since it basically consists of arpeggios. I transcribed this obligato from a recording which does not credit the composer. After some internet research I was unable to determine the author of this particular melody although there turned out to be many similar obligatos composed for this study by many different composers.

I thought this duet approach to performing this study would make for excellent teaching material for the intermediate student and decided it would be worth posting. In addition I wanted to do my usual analysis for those who might be interested.

As with many Sor studies it makes use of binary form, in this case rounded binary. Typically pieces in a minor key move into the relative major at the cadence of the first section. This study never really leaves the home key of B minor. What I thought would be one of the simplest harmonically of Sor’s studies actually contains examples of many of the most often found altered chords. Let’s take a look at it a bit closer and see what we find. The reduction staff shows what I consider to be the basic voice-leading or underlying structure of the piece.

Section 1 Measures 1-16

Most of this section is a simple alternation between tonic and dominant but Sor keeps it interesting with the use of a dominant pedal point (F#) and the use of the Italian Augmented Sixth in measure seven and the deceptive move from V to VI in measures eleven and twelve.

Section 2 Measures 17-48

The first eight measures continue the alternation of tonic and dominant over the F# (dominant) pedal. The next eight measures contain some of the more interesting harmonic movement as Sor finally does move into the relative major key of D (III), although very briefly, through the fifth progression B7-Em-A7-D in measures 25-28 as shown in the analysis.

This is followed by the most striking harmony in the piece. In measure twenty-nine we get a C major triad in first inversion (E bass). This chord is known as the Neapolitan Sixth chord and usually functions as dominant preparation as it does here. Think of this harmony as a variation of the subdominant (iv) chord and having the same function (dominant preparation). This is the main reason we usually find this particular chord in first inversion or having the fourth scale degree in the bass. In other words Sor could have just as easily used an E minor triad (iv) in root position here, although much less effective, as it differs from the C major triad by just one tone; the C-natural (flat second scale degree) replaces the B of the E minor triad. This altered tone is what makes this harmony so striking. In the grand scheme of things this flatted second degree functions as an “upper leading tone” resolving eventually to the tonic (B) from a semitone above. Sor makes this passage even more interesting by introducing the chromatic movement between the fourth and fifth scale degrees of the bass line in measure thirty-one (E# diminished seventh) just before the half cadence on the dominant in measure thirty-two. Notice that along with the chromatic ascending bass line Sor writes descending sixths in the upper voices as shown in the reduction staff.

So up to this point in the piece we have textbook examples of:

1) Pedal six-four chords: Measures 4 and 6 and measures 17, 19, 21 and 23. (six-four chords in measures 14 and later in measure 46 are known as cadential six-four chords)

2) Italian Augmented Sixth chord (although briefly) in measure 7.

3) Secondary dominants in measures 25 and 27. (Another example to come in measure 42)

4) Secondary leading-tone seventh chord in measure 31.

It occurred to me that that two of the often difficult to understand altered chords, in this case the Neapolitan Sixth and Augmented Sixth chords, can both be thought of as variants of the minor subdominant (iv) chord as they most often function in the same way the subdominant does; as dominant preparation. Try this as a simple way of remembering these two altered chords:

1) Raising the fifth of the minor subdominant one semitone creates the Neapolitan Sixth chord.

2) Raising the root of the minor subdominant one semitone creates the Augmented Sixth chord.

For example in the key of B minor:

E-G-B (iv) becomes E-G-C-natural (Neapolitan Sixth)

E-G-B (iv) becomes E#-G-B (Augmented Sixth)

Following is a return to the first eight bars of the opening material which gives this piece a ternary or ABA feel. This return to the original A section material near the close of the B section creates what is known as a “rounded binary” form. The final eight measures move into the final cadence first deceptively as the dominant resolves to the VI chord (G) in measure forty-four and finally things are wrapped up with our favorite ii-V-I progression in the final four measures. Notice that the ii chord is in first inversion, as it usually is, because in this period the bass line of 4-5-1 rather than 2-5-1 was much more common at a cadence. Remember that the iv and ii chords are interchangeable as they both usually have the same function which is to prepare or precede the dominant.

Sor was such a fine musical craftsman that even his seemingly simple pieces are intricately constructed. Enjoy this study and try it as a duet with the obligato with a friend or a student.

Interesting how the term “obligato” which I assume is related to the word “obligatory” came to be used for a part that is actually optional.

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February 04, 2016 @01:56 am
Thomas Hall
Enjoyed listening to your original composition and reading your analysis of that Sor study.
March 11, 2013 @10:24 am
Tony Hyman
Thanks for the invite to comment John.I thought I would share my perspective of bar 45. The C#m7b5 is as you say and as I understand the normal chord in quartal harmony found on the super-tonic of the harmonic and ascending form of the melodic as well as on the leading note of the relative major or any major scale for that matter, according to Mel Bay Quartel Harmonies. Some schools call the m7b5 a half diminished.For sure that debate will grind on to infinity.What interests me from a theoretical point is why Sor deems it important to point out the G natural in bar 45. The G chord in bar 44 renders it obvious with the G natural in key again.Unless he wants specifically lower the making it a minor -tenth interval in other words an Em6 namely E,B C# and the G nat. up top a G# an E6 .This would make it almost a interupted plagal cadence.It could also be a A9 without the root. This would be the Dom of the relative major D. So what do you gus think did Sor merely put the G natural there as a reminder or what could his reason have been specifically.

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