Photo by Steven Baldwin, from FindAGrave.com
Until I came upon Fernando Sor's grave in Cimetiere Montmartre in Paris I don't think I'd ever heard the name. Later I googled and wikipedia-ed and learned just who it was who'd earned this beautiful sculpture which marks his resting place.
Sor was born in Barcelona. Though he excelled early in musical studies he was expected to become -- as a long line of his forefathers had become -- a soldier in the Spanish Army. He became a captain soon after Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain in 1808. When it seemed that Spain would be defeated Sor accepted a post in the occupying government, earning the label of afrancesado -- one of those who abandoned the defense of Spain and supported the ideas of the French Revolution. When, however, the French were eventually driven out of Spain in 1813, Sor and the other afrancesados fled the homeland they had betrayed. Sor initially went to Paris, but later became famous throughout Europe as a classical guitarist and composer. A Belgian musicologist/critic of the period called Sor "le Beethoven de la guitare"
The brief biography on FindAGrave.com, written by Robert Edwards, reports that Sor's "last years were unhappy. His wife and daughter died suddenly within months of each other, his own health declined and he died after a long bout with tongue cancer. His grave at Montmartre Cemetery was unmarked until 1934."
I recently read Thoughts Without Cigarettes: A Memoir by Oscar Hijuelos, an excellent writer who earlier had won the 1990 Pulitzer prize for fiction for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. The memoir was of growing up in Manhattan as the son of Cuban immigrants; his struggles with schools and illness and assimilation and ... lo! ... ending up at City University where he discovers a love for reading. He writes a sketch for a class, realizes he enjoys writing sketches, so writes a bunch of them over the years. They are eventually shown to an editor. "You have a book here!" Hijuelos is informed.
One incident recounted in the memoir was that his mother, who pretty much declined to learn English, was not immensely impressed to have a son with a published novel ... it wasn't in Spanish, so where was the value? He was invited to do a book signing appearance at a bookstore not far from the apartment where his (now-widowed) mother lived. He went to it. There was a multitude of copies of his novel displayed in pyramids in both large windows. After the event he thought he'd fetch his mother to see the display; surely seeing her son's name and book displayed so prominently would impress her. He went to get her and escorted her to the bookstore only to see that the double-windowed display of his book had been dismantled; featured now were copies of a book written by an author who would be coming for the next signing!
It was a passage in Thoughts Without Cigarettes that impelled me to dig out the pictures I'd taken of Fernando Sor's grave in Paris (and to then nab one from the Internet when one of mine turned out to be not a good one): speaking of a neighbor in his apartment building, Hijuelos writes:
I learned that he too played the guitar, but in
the classical style, with sheet music for studies
by Tarrega, Fernando Sor, and others lying in
stacks on a table by a stand in his living room.