Sonata Opus 15 by Mauro Giuliani

Difficulty I, A

This is one of those pieces that, throughout my time as a performing guitarist and teacher, has often been criticized for being either too long or boring and put aside for more ‘obviously’ challenging and exciting pieces. In fact I think that the 19th century repertoire in general has suffered with the great influx of modern repertoire and, particularly, crossover styles designed to attract younger players to the classical guitar and hold their interest.

Don’t get me wrong – it is fantastic that there is so much more music available to us in a wide variety of styles, I just wish that composers such as Giuliani had a higher profile today since their music teaches us so much and helps to build the foundations of a good player.

Of course a Sonata in three movements is not something that guitarists come across very often. Giuliani wanted very much to put the classical guitar on to an even footing with classical music in general and so used classical ‘forms’ in his compositions and arranged music by (and used themes from) Rossini and Beethoven.

Playing this piece really gives us the opportunity to get involved in the Classical style, do a bit of research – the internet these days makes that so easy – and find so much more in the music. All the basic guitar techniques are required here but getting around the notes and the fingering is not enough; doing that is when the piece becomes ‘dull’!

Allegro Spiritoso is an excellent title for the first movement. It is light and bright with wonderful texture and musical drive. Traditionally the first movement of a Sonata was composed in sonata form, consisting of three sections – exposition, development and recapitulation. In the exposition the composer introduces the musical ideas as a number of themes. The material is then ‘developed’ in the development section and then the exposition is repeated and modified in the recapitulation. Just knowing this basic outline gives you so much to look for in the music and your playing.

The main theme is played over an accompanying figure, alternating ‘p’ ‘i’, quite a challenge to achieve the required balance and very effective. Articulation is very important throughout with slurring in particular giving shape and character to melodies and connecting phrases. Often the melodies move in consecutive intervals, that is, passages in thirds, sixths and octaves, which give different levels of drama, tension and direction to the piece.

I particularly like the climax created by the changing harmonies over a repeated D leading towards the second theme, and a new key.

The Development is simple but very effective with the minor key changing the mood and rising arpeggios in triplets and big repeated chords adding to the momentum and excitement, ultimately leading us into the recapitulation, repeating and developing the original theme.

The second movement, Adagio con espressione, requires great control, sustain and subtlety. It is difficult because it is slow and we have to learn to sing the melodies to sustain the direction and meaning of the music, highlighting the importance of breathing for guitarists!

One of the themes here is a high melody flowing over low, repeated chords consisting of alternating thirds and seconds. This is pretty tricky technically and musically! Giuliani is definitely asking the guitarist to play like a small orchestra resulting in a lovely, melancholic feel but needing plenty of patience! There is some lovely decoration in this movement with varying rhythmic movement and delicate shaping of the melodies, finishing with an echo of the main theme from the Allegro.

The third movement, Allegro Vivace is lively and sparkling. It is the most straightforward, providing an exciting, rhythmical, bustling feel to finish off the whole piece. Lots of nice, simple arpeggios, sharp staccato chords and accents contrasting with long, smooth melodies over ‘alberti’ bass patterns, that is alternating ‘p’ ‘i’ in the bass.

The ending however is quite subtle, dropping down in dynamic and making the most of rests and pauses before the final ending chords.

This piece works best if you can use your imagination and really listen to the different textures and emotions in the music.

Be a little orchestra and create different colours as the music changes, recognize the textures that come from the way the notes are written, for example intervals, alternating or repeated notes, chords or arpeggios, rests, slurs and simple melodies.

It is great fun and you do not have to know a lot about the changing harmonies and structure (although this is also fun!) – just use your ears and build up your own musical picture.


B = beginner. Grades 1-3 or roughly 1-3 years playing. I = intermediate. Grades 4-6 or roughly 4-5 years playing. A = advanced. Grade 7 and above, 6 years or more experience.