PhD Research

Ferdinand Rebay and the Reinvention of Guitar Chamber Music


Ferdinand Rebay (1880-1953) was an active choirmaster, composer and piano professor at the Vienna Academy in the first half of the twentieth century. A true pioneer, he was also one of the first non-guitarist composers to write regularly for the instrument, starting in 1924. Among his over 150 guitar works, the chamber music output is particularly significant and includes more than 30 sonatas or sonata-structured works.

This thesis aims at answering two main questions that derive from a historical, stylistic and practical examination of Rebay’s guitar music: what is the place of his guitar chamber sonatas in the instrument’s repertoire; and how might we solve the performance issues that arise from the performer’s interaction with the musical text? Mirroring the different nature of the research questions, the thesis is divided in two parts, each comprised of three chapters. Part 1 reflects upon the composer’s significance in both the guitaristic and mainstream contexts. In Chapter 1, I outline the situation of “artistic guitar playing” in German-speaking countries around the turn of the twentieth century, examining the repertoire practiced in the guitar clubs and investigating how the region experienced what I call the “twentieth-century guitar renaissance”, including the establishment of one of the first European guitar curricula at the Vienna Academy in 1924. Chapter 2 is dedicated to Rebay and his contemporary Viennese guitarists. I offer a biographical profile of the composer based on the scattered available information, with a focus on his guitar output and his interactions with the Viennese guitar world. In addition to his Vienna Academy colleague, Jakob Ortner, the influence of his guitarist-niece, Gerta Hammerschmid, is examined in detail. The significance of the sonata genre in Rebay’s guitar output is the topic of Chapter 3. After elaborating on the prestige associated with the sonata after Beethoven and summarizing the small guitar sonata output in the nineteenth century, I argue that by writing sonatas for the guitar, Rebay intended to elevate its status within the newly-entered mainstream environment. A discussion on the significance of his sonata output opposes the concepts of “conservative” and “progressive” beyond mere stylistic observation.

Part 2 deals with the musical text from a performer’s point of view, drawing on my own preparation of this repertoire. After presenting the seven chamber sonatas with which I have engaged artistically, Chapter 4 examines the music sources and explains my preferences for adopting Rebay’s autographs and manuscript guitar parts, due to the potential information that they directly or indirectly provide about Hammerschmid’s realization of Rebay’s music and her collaborative activity with the composer. Chapter 5 departs from Rebay’s notation and arrives at performance decisions that are necessarily taken with the guitar on hands. Five main expressive elements are covered: accentuation, phrasing and articulation, arpeggiation, vibrato, portamento and rubato. By approaching excerpts which may present issues to the modern performer, I explain my interpretive choices which are based on the notation itself, historical information gathered from methods/treatises and early recordings, and my own physical interaction with the music. Finally, Chapter 6 extends the boundaries of the performer’s interaction with the musical text by looking at collaborative circumstances in which a performer’s expert knowledge aids the composer in his goal of writing idiomatically for the instrument. Mainly focusing on Hammerschmid’s collaboration evidences, I undertake a “posthumous collaboration” with Rebay, reshaping his music to fit my own idiomatic concepts while expecting to achieve performance results that are at once faithful to my interpretation of the composer’s ideas and adequate to my own understanding of the guitar’s resources. By initially situating Rebay’s guitar music and later addressing some of the most important aspects that concern its performance, I hope to provide secure historical and interpretive grounds for the modern performer interested in his music.

This research project is being developed at the Royal College of Music in London, UK, and is supervised by Dr Natasha Loges (main supervisor), Dr Stefan Hackl and Dr Stephen Goss (co-supervisors). It is supported by a research grant from the Brazilian government agency, CAPES. Expected conclusion: July 2019.

(Photo: Austrian National Library, Vienna)

Recordings and Questionnaires

Participate in my research! After listening to each sonata, please answer a brief questionnaire through the following link.

Sonata in E Major for Flute and Guitar (Catherine Hare, flute and Luiz Mantovani, guitar)

Access the questionnaire for this sonata here.


Sonata in C Major for Oboe and Guitar (Alex Fryer, oboe and Luiz Mantovani, guitar)

Access the questionnaire for this sonata here.


Sonata in A minor for Clarinet and Guitar (Melissa Youngs, clarinet and Luiz Mantovani, guitar)

Access the questionnaire for this sonata here.