Carlos Paredes

Portuguese guitar virtuoso

Carlos Paredes was a virtuoso of the Portuguese guitar. The Portuguese guitar is small, round and flat-backed, strung with six double courses (12 strings, paired in unisons); its ancestry can be traced back to the Renaissance cittern in Italy and even further, to the plucked instrument depicted in a Hittite stone carving. Its immediate predecessor was the so-called "English" guitar, which English merchants in the port wine trade had brought to Portugal in the 18th century.

Carlos Paredes: Portuguese guitar player: born Coimbra, Portugal 16 February 1925; died Lisbon 23 July 2004.

Carlos Paredes was a virtuoso of the Portuguese guitar. The Portuguese guitar is small, round and flat-backed, strung with six double courses (12 strings, paired in unisons); its ancestry can be traced back to the Renaissance cittern in Italy and even further, to the plucked instrument depicted in a Hittite stone carving. Its immediate predecessor was the so-called "English" guitar, which English merchants in the port wine trade had brought to Portugal in the 18th century.

It was not for its ancestry that the modern Portuguese guitar was valued, however; its distinctive timbre, resembling a mellow mandolin delightfully tinged with melancholy, found a permanent place in the typical fado grouping where, usually supported by a viola (a four-or five-string guitar, not the large violin of European classical music) to provide essential harmony and rhythm, its improvisatory and often intricate passages did rather more than echo the singer's message of love, longing and the superiority of black eyes over blue.

This was not enough for Carlos Paredes. A superb technique and an enquiring mind led him into other collaborations, with Luisa Amaro, the musician who was to become his partner, with the American bass player Charlie Haden and with many others.

A ballet was choreographed around his music, and in 1998 the versatile Kronos String Quartet performed Cançáo Verdes Años, Romance and Variacoes sobre uma Danca Popular during two Lisbon concerts. The Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov arranged Paredes's music for this occasion; no attempt was made to imitate the sound of the Portuguese guitar but, as one reviewer remarked, "its echoes hung in the air". Its presence in the company of music by Bela Bartók, Anton Webern, John Cage, Alfred Schnittke, Arvo Pärt, Terry Riley, Hildegard of Bingen and Astor Piazzolla was characteristic of the Kronos Quartet, but it also typified the breaking down of musical barriers that Paredes had practised throughout his long and productive life.

Carlos Paredes began to learn the Portuguese guitar when he was four. His teacher was his father Artur, himself a distinguished guitarist, as his own father had been.

Despite rapid progress and early mastery, it was not until 1957, at the age of 22, that Paredes made his first recording, possibly because the disastrous economic policies of the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar had made Portugal the poorest country in Europe. Three years later, the music from that first recording found its way into a film. Several film scores followed, including Os Verdes Años ( The Green Years, 1963) and As Pinturas do Meu Irmão Júlio ("The Paintings of My Brother Julio", 1965).

Paredes made many recordings, among them Movimento Perpetuo, Fantasía, Porto Santo and Guitarra Portuguesa, in which he collaborated with Fernando Alvim, a player of the viola. His association with Alain Oulman, who worked regularly with the legendary fado singer Amália Rodriguez, was another fruitful collaboration. Together with his numerous live performances, his recordings established Carlos Paredes as a virtuoso without equal in his own country.

From 1993 his activities were severely restricted by a nerve disorder. By that time he had become a national legend, widely admired for his achievements and loved for his modesty. Yet he was aware of the value of his contribution and would always defend its apparent scale. A song, in his estimation, was small only in the physical sense. As he put it,

My music normally has the structure of a song, a cançoneta. It does not mean that I am a composer of small music. I use the word "small" only to

define the music for some musicologists. Aesthetically, it is not inferior music.

Schubert would have agreed.

There had been a time when Carlos Paredes had fallen foul of the dictator Salazar. The current president, Jorge Sampaio, has a higher estimation of him, remembering him as "a musician of genius, a model citizen and a good man". According to the poet Manuel Alegre, Paredes was "a great artist who gave a universal dimension to the Portuguese guitar".

Colin Cooper



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