The guitar is an instrument suitable for accompanying the voice and for taking part in instrumental compositions of intimate character; it is equally appropriate for solo performance of more or less complicated compositions in several voices, which possess true charm when performed by real virtuosos.
What a wonderfully true comment by the master of orchestration. After analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the instrument, he concluded with the following passage -
Its charm is undeniable, and it is not impossible to write for it so as to make this manifest. The guitar, in contrast to the other instruments, loses when reinforced in number. The sound of twelve guitars playing unisono is almost ridiculous.Such a judgemental comment from this master is made through astute musical observation and sensitivity. Being a classical guitarist, I shall attempt to elucidate on the implications of such a statement which challenges the presence of such ensembles.
As Berlioz had put it, the guitar is an intimate instrument. In a small cosy setting, it is capable of a myriad of wonderful tone colours, richer than many other solo instruments. However, in a guitar ensemble who'll be playing probably the same repertoire as an orchestra or wind ensemble, the tone colours that all the guitars can come up with is so much more inferior to all the different instruments in an orchestra or wind ensemble.
Moreover, given the technical difficulties of the guitar, it really isn't easy to gain control of the full spectrum of tone colours on the guitar. How then are we confident to gather sufficient guitarists with such technical mastery of the instrument to come together to play? I seriously doubt that it is very possible to attain small scale sensitivity in such a guitar ensemble.
And of course, there's the problem of the narrow range of the guitar. Apparently, in the recent years, people have attempted to stretch the possibilities of the guitar ensemble by the introduction of Niibori guitars such as the Soprano Guitar, Alto Guitar, Prime Guitar Contrabass Guitar and Guitarron. Just today, I was asked to join a newly formed Niibori Guitar Ensemble, playing the arrangement of Isaac Albeniz's Sevilla and Cadiz. I always believed that the guitar works best as a solo instrument but I decided to give the ensemble pieces a try. I chose the Prime Guitar, which the normal guitar at its standard tuning. Well, basically I'm more familiar with it and the Prime plays the solo for the slow section of Sevilla, the portion which is truly captivating.
Well, after the experience, I still prefer playing in a small chamber group with other instruments. Despite my dislike for the guitar ensemble, I shall stick to this Niibori ensemble until it starts to interfere with my musical progress...