La Catedral by Agustín Barrios

Classical guitar La Catedral is perhaps Agustín Barrios's best known and most played composition. Even though La Catedral is one of Barrios's early works (written in 1921), it didn't assume a final form until the last years of Barrios's life, when the Costa Rica (1939) and El Salvador (1943) manuscripts were written. Throughout his career, Barrios evolved how he played La Catedral, adding and removing parts, changing fingerings, and renotating entire movements. As a result, you will find that nobody plays it exactly the same way, depending on which transcription they are working from and how their preferences shape the bits they incorporate or omit to create their own unique renditions. Part of the joy of listening to or performing La Catedral is the variety of arrangements and interpretations it makes possible, providing something new to discover each time it is played.

Barrios wrote the original two movements, Andante Religioso and Allegro Solemne, in Uruguay in 1921. Preludio Saudade was added as the first movement in 1939, after having been written in Havana, Cuba in 1938. Although some people reject the first movement as being part of La Catedral, it fits perfectly with the rest of the work and is a great work in its own right.

Preludio Saudade was written originally in two voices (1939 Costa Rica manuscript), but later renotated in three voices (1943 El Salvador manuscript). My original transcription combined the two because I thought the three-voice notation could be more challenging to read and the two-voice notation was inaccurate, rendering some quarter notes as sixteenth notes. Combining the two provided what I thought was the ease of reading of the two-voice notation along with the accuracy of the three-voice notation. Since then, I have changed my mind. My most recent transcription notates three voices without the clutter of an overlayed two-voice rendition.

I've omitted most dynamics (not that Barrios notated many dynamics), leaving it up to the performer to decide how to interpret the piece. Some fingerings may pose too much of a stretch for your left hand, requiring you to develop alternate fingerings (e.g., the first half of measure 9 of the third movement). In some cases I stay true to the 1928 Barrios recording of La Catedral (e.g., the legato sequence in measure 29 of the third movement, which John Williams plays as a simpler arpeggio with a chord-based fingering), but for the most part my transcription is closer to the 1943 El Salvador manuscript. The campana section (measures 31–45) repeats as Barrios played it and its fingering matches his original fingering which changed in the later manuscripts. Finally, the metronome mark for the third movement is probably too fast.

Actively Maintained LilyPond Output
Sheet MusicComment
LaCatedral.pdfAll three movements typeset at same font and staff size with same sized margins. Fills ten pages including title page.
LaCatedral-PreludioSaudade.pdfFirst movement typeset to fill two pages.
LaCatedral-AndanteReligioso.pdfSecond movement typeset to fill one page.
LaCatedral-AllegroSolemne.pdfThird movement typeset to fill three pages.

Revision History

Corrected beat unit for third movement tempo. It should have been a dotted quarter note instead of a quarter note.


Corrected egregious error in measures 2 and 6 of the first movement where I notated a D instead of a C♯ despite having notated it correctly in measure 22. Sorry! That's what happens when you memorize music and rarely go back to read a score, whereupon you notice all the minor errors.


Renotated using LilyPond, making corrections and clarifications along the way.

Preludio Saudade: Notated only 3-voice version for clarity. Corrected measure 4 fingering ( finger 2 should have been 3). Clarified first voice in measures 41 and 42. Changed fingering in measures 44 and 45 to hold the C♯. Removed measure 46 grace note slide.

Andante Religioso: Changed second voice dotted half notes to whole notes in measures 1 and 2. Changed double-dotted notes in measure 5 to use ties. Changed measure 8 to match later manuscripts.

Allegro Solemne: Repeated measures 31-47. Edited fingerings, note durations, and overall typesetting for greater accuracy and clarity.


Fixed formatting issues in "Andante Religioso" in the "-notab" version. Left-hand fingering collided with the time and key signatures in various measures, causing the fingering to be rendered out of place. Changed right-hand fingering in first measure of "Andante Religioso." Removed grace note slide in measure 10 of "Andante Religioso," replacing it with a slide to a grace note in measure 9 which is to be interpreted as a portamento. Changed left-hand fingering in measure 20 of "Andante Religioso" and added a slide to a grace note, reflecting a subtle portamento you can hear Barrios play in his only recording of the work.

Unmaintained Sibelius Output
Sheet MusicSheet Music w/o Tablature