Interview with Karl Scheit
by Terrence Farrell
Karl Scheit was born on April 4, 1909 in Schönbrunn
(Schlesien), Austria and died in 1993. He was the guitar editor for
Universal Edition, one of the largest and most prestigious publishers
of guitar music in the mid 20th century, with publications in English,
French, German and Italian. Terrence Farrell interviewed him for this
article published in the April 1979 issue of Guitar and Lute.
Karl Scheit received his musical formation at the Conservatory of Linz
where he studied violin, but he soon fell under the spell of the guitar,
eventually taking it up as his instrument of study at the Akademie für
Musik and darstellende Kunst in Vienna. He graduated from the Akademie
in 1929, returning in 1933 as an instructor of guitar and eventually
becoming a full professor in 1952.
Although he has concertized extensively in Europe and has written several
articles on the guitar, including a five-volume guitar method (1954),
Karl Scheit is probably best known in the guitar community for his seemingly
inexhaustive list of transcriptions and editions of lute, vihuela and
guitar works. It should also be pointed out that Prof. Scheit is one
of Europe's most important guitar instructors in that many of Europe's
best known professionals today -- Konrad Ragossnig, Per-Olaf Johnson,
Rolf LaFleur and Mario Sicca, among others -- received the majority
of their training from him.
Aside from recording solo works for guitar. Prof. Scheit has also recorded
guitar ensemble music with the Wiener Soloisten and the Vienna Konzerthaus
Quartet. And to further encourage interest in the guitar, he founded
the Austrian Guitar Society. Presently, Prof. Scheit is living in Vienna
where he teaches at the Wiener Musikhochschule (fomerly Akademie für
Musik und darstellende Kunst).
Farrell: What first attracted you to the guitar?
Scheit: When I was a young man of about sixteen years of age, I had
a friend named Joseph Becker who played the guitar. Even though he was
only about ten years old, he played much better than anyone else I knew.
It created quite an impression on me. Although my father was a musician,
he didn't want his children to be musicians too. He would have preferred
that his children went into medicine.
The guitar was only used for songs: ländler and folk was played
in an um-pa-pa fashion. I was already familiar with the violin and I
wanted to bring the technique used on the violin to the guitar. I noticed
that all the guitarists of my youth always played in the first position.
With such a long fingerboard I thought that it was curious that they
always played at one end. I was fascinated with the sound of the guitar
and I tried to play the guitar and make it sing like a violin, cantabile.
F: Everyone is certainly familiar with your transcribing early music
for the guitar. Could you tell us how you got started?
S: In the museum of Linz in upper Austria, where I'm from, I found some
tablature that was for the lute, but I didn't know how to read it. My
brother made some photocopies and I sat down and tried to figure out
how to transfer it to the guitar. Now you must remember that this was
53 years ago. Here I was with German tablature at a time when no one
around me that I knew had any idea how it was played. That was the beginning.
It was also very hard to get guitar music. In the music shops they only
had music with guitar chordal accompaniments. I bought everything that
I could find, old, new, good and bad ...actually most of it was bad.
Then one day I knew I wanted to be a guitarist -- a realization which
made my father very angry. I left my parents and eleven brothers and
sisters and came to Vienna. Here I thought I would be able to find more
on the guitar, but it was not much better than Linz. First, I looked
in all the music shops in town, which was a considerable number then,
but still there was little music. Then I went to the music academy,
but the situation was the same there. Even my teacher was looking for
Eventually I was able to contact Llobet, Pujol and even Segovia. Fortunately,
at that time, Llobet was often Playing in Austria, and everywhere Llobet
played, I went also. Segovia only played in Vienna, and of course I
heard him every time he came. I eventually finished the academy and
began to give concerts. Then I began with my editions, first with Universal
and then with Doblinger. About the same time, I came to the academy
as a teacher and began to show the public what the guitar could really
F: To bring up the topic of transcriptions again, when looking at
your transcription of Robert deVisee's Suite in D, and when comparing
it to the tablature, there seems to be a great discrepancy between the
two. How do you explain this difference?
S: It is very interesting to see how different people transcribe tablature.
Robert deVisee is a good example. The problem is that not enough of
the transcribers have a good general idea of what music is, they lack
the basics. As we all know, the baroque guitar had a different tuning
from our modem guitar. If you were making an edition for the baroque
guitar in the original tuning, it would be one thing, but if you are
going to play on the modem guitar there is more to consider ... with
deVisee it is interesting to compare for several reasons. He wrote that
suite for the baroque guitar, the lute and for the violin and basso
continuo ... the same pieces! My first knowledge of deVisee was as a
baroque guitarist and composer.
In 1942, I had the good fortune to go to Paris. My desire was to obtain
his guitar compositions. First of all, I had no difficulty in finding
the works he wrote for guitar. Imagine my surprise! They were very accessible.
I found some of his pieces that had been published before by Coste and
others, along with the originals. But then I discovered a lute version
with some interesting differences from the guitar version of the same
composition. Finally, I unearthed the very same pieces for violin and
basso continuo. Some of the harmony that was vague in the guitar tablature
became very obvious now that I had the figured bass part. When I transcribed
it for the modem guitar, I looked at all three versions. With our modem
guitar, it is possible to take advantage of the instrument fully: harmonically,
horizontally with our longer fingerboard, and tonally with its expanded
timbre. But one must remember that the tablature only gives us some
of the answers when considering its application on the modem guitar.
F: I am sure that with your desire to find more music you have seen
many composers' works. Are there any new or unknown composers that you
feel should be better known?
S: When I was a young man, I tried to interest composers in writing
for the guitar. One of the best was Johann David. We will soon be publishing
a trio written by David in 1932. It is a very good work for flute, violin
and guitar. I think that some other composers of interest are Ernst
Krenek and Alfred Uhl. Besides these more famous composers, I also tried
to interest others at the academy in hopes of giving the guitar the
broadest base possible. I wanted to make sure that the guitar would
be used in all kinds of music. A lot of them wouldn't consider doing
it because they were prejudiced against the guitar. Of course, the situation
is a lot better now. The students through the years have made the idea
F: Which of the Germanic chamber works do you think are of high caliber
for the guitar?
S: As I said before, the works of David are quite good. We are publishing
another work of Diabelli which is quite nice. Diabelli wrote a lot of
chamber music, much of which is very bad, but this work is quite charming.
Then there is C. G. Scheidler with a work for two guitars or for violin
F: Do you still do much concertizing or master classes?
S: I still do quite a number of master classes in various parts of Europe
-- Denmark, Italy and Switzerland in particular. I don't concertize
as much anymore. I prefer to leave that up to you younger players.
F: What would you suggest for a guitarist to do to better himself?
S: To study more, to study theory, to study the development of music
generally. Don't think of just the guitar -- be a musician first and
a guitarist second.
This interview is reprinted from Guitar and Lute, April
Links to related web pages:
for Karl Scheit - This international guitar competition, organized
by the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst in Vienna,
is dedicated to the memory of Karl Scheit, who ranked among the most
distinguished teachers at the Vienna University of Music and Performing