Julián Arcas, 1832 - 1882
Biographical Information :
The Spanish guitar concert virtuoso, professor, and composer Julian Arcas is famous today for being Tarrega's teacher, as well as being the guitarist who worked with Torres to modify the guitar's design to its current standard.
Arcas was active at a very early period, indeed the same time period as when Mertz, Coste, Regondi and Legnani were publishing many of their finest compositions - the 1860's.
Stylistically Arcas reminds me of a cross between Aguado and Tarrega, not surprising since Arcas was taught by his father, who studied directly with Aguado or one of Aguado's followers. Arcas and Tarrega sound very much alike on some pieces, due to Arcas influencing Tarrega. No doubt Arcas was ahead of his time, another hallmark of a good composer.
Arcas wrote many extended operatic potpourris, just like Mertz and Coste - for example, opera arrangements of Verdi, Bellini, Rossini, etc., are among Arcas' works. In addition, Arcas wrote many classical arrangements of popular Spanish songs and dances, such as the Bolero. This popular style is very traditional and "Spanish" sounding, and it later became the flamenco style. Other compositions are in a more classical form, such as Minuets and other original compositions.
Much of this repertoire has been long-neglected and out of print. However, with the recent publication of Arcas' complete works, once again this material is starting to become recognized as among the best gems of the entire repertoire. There are 52 published original compositions and arrangements of considerable variety and depth. The writing is at a high level, musically and technically. I have had to rethink Arcas' place in history based on this edition.
I would rate Arcas as easily on par with Aguado, and superior to Tarrega. New research has shown that nearly everything Tarrega wrote was in fact based on thematic material of other composers; thus Tarrega was a highly skilled arranger and teacher, but not an original composer. Nor do I believe Tarrega considered himself a true composer, since it was a widespread practice to arrange other material for the guitar or to write compositions around popular themes. I am puzzled as to why Tarrega has achieved so much recognition and Arcas did not, when Arcas was a better composer, and when Arcas ( not Tarrega ) was responsible for the modern guitar design with Torres. I believe the root cause of this situation is due to cultlike devotion and publicity from Tarrega's students such as Pujol, Llobet, Fortea, and in turn their students and followers such as Segovia, who clearly distorted history in their writings and assertions. Tarrega's popularity versus Arcas is no doubt also due to the fact that Tarrega's pieces are technically more accessible to beginners, while Arcas' works are more technically demanding. We also see this situation with Fernando Sor, since his easy beginner studies are widely printed, while most of his best and most serious compositions remained out of print until the 1970's because so few guitarists have the skill to play the advanced works properly.