“The features of the guitar, its lines and graceful body, penetrated my heart as deeply as the beauty of a woman, who, as if predestined by the heavens, suddenly appears before a man to become his beloved companion. “
Career recounted by Jean-Pierre Jumez in 1981, in collaboration with the maestro in New York
It’s always the last one”. At each of Segovia’s concerts, it is feared that he will decide to abandon the stage to rest on his laurels. But this year again, he performed three times on the French stages.
While most biographers span the Master’s date of birth over a period from 1890 to 1896, he claims to have been born on 21 February 1893. His birth certificate, obtained by Domingo Prat in 1930, however, indicates the date of 17 March 1893, in Linares, Andalusia.
A great storyteller, Segovia likes to talk about his beginnings as a self-taught artist as the only formula that has allowed him to avoid the traditional conflict between teacher and student. In fact, as a victim of family opposition, he had little choice.
Andrés Segovia describes how he fell in love head over heels with the guitar in his autobiography (published by McMillan): “I contemplated it for a long time before waking up to its resonances. The grace of its curves, the old gold of its fine-grained table, the delicate ornamentation around the rosette, the fine neck rising from the austere bust, surrounded by rosewood, and ending in an angelic figure, all its features, lines, and graceful body penetrated my heart as deeply as the beauty of a woman, who, as predestined by heaven, suddenly appears before a man to become his beloved companion….”, which inspired his son’s, Andrés Segovia Junior, drawing, a painter in Paris,
His first public recital took place at the great theatre of Madrid: the Athenaeum, in 1916.
After a tour of Spain and South America, he made his real debut in Paris, in the Salle du Conservatoire, in 1924. “It was out of the question,” he says, “to consider a career without performing in Paris at the time. Paris was the musical nest”. Indeed: dominating a packed room, Madame Debussy’s box harboured Paul Dukas, Manuel de Falla, Albert Roussel, Joaquin Nin. On the programme, among others, is the first performance of Roussel’s composition, entitled… Segovia! which, probably, became the first of a multitude of works that would later be dedicated to him.
Until the Spanish Civil War, he made extensive tours at the time: first to Europe, including the Soviet Union, where his handwritten autobiography in French (“French is practically a mother tongue for me; don’t think that, under the pretext that I couldn’t get rid of my southern accent, I didn’t study all your literature and philosophy in your language! “) is carefully preserved (Vladimir Slavskii’s private collection).
Then the United States in 1928: his first recital there took place at the New York Town Hall. the “Golden Jubilee” of this event was successfully celebrated in America in 1978, with many festivities.
He will then discover Japan, the Philippines, China and Indonesia. It is not uncommon, moreover, for me to be confronted with comments of this kind (as recently in a small Bolivian town): “The last guitar concert we had here dates back to 1934, by Andrés Segovia. We remember his programme perfectly, and we are very eager to hear your version of JS Bach’s Chaconne…
During the Spanish Civil War, Andrés Segovia settled in Uruguay with his Spanish wife (then his second marriage). He undertook an extensive tour of South America, and contributed to the rebirth of the noble aspect of the guitar on the continent. He influenced teachers such as Abel Carlevaro, and brought to light many composers, such as Jorge Gomez Crespo (whose famous song Nortena he recorded).
At the end of the hostilities, A. Segovia resumed his incessant tours, and shared his activities between his three main homes: Madrid (and, in addition, his magnificent country house: Los Olivos), Geneva and New York.
Even now, his itineraries are admired by travel professionals. In July, he was in Japan, in August in Italy to receive multiple awards (including the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit and the Golden Lion of Venice), in October in the United Kingdom, and this month he will be in France.
In the long term, Andrés Segovia’s action has been crucial in three main areas: emotion, education and repertoire.
Andrés Segovia has been able to captivate huge crowds with his deep, vibrant and regular sound, and also thanks to his eternal search for balance. His style, certainly, romantic, leaves no one indifferent, even if this romanticism sometimes overflows into works that might not need it (his rubati in JS Bach’s works have become famous). On the other hand, he succeeds, through his personality and his projection, in creating an almost magical atmosphere. It is not uncommon to hear loud applause when he enters the stage as when he leaves.
“Elle apparut pour devenir ma compagne aimée”
Here is for example how Bernard Gavoty, in his series Vingt Grands Interprètes, (Twenty Great Performers) felt and described this magic:
“Here he is; walking forward with his guitar in his hand. His prelate gravity, his natural anointing fit perfectly with the cathedra where he sits. With his left foot on the stool, like an embroiderer, he puts the guitar on his thigh, he turns it towards his chest. With his forearm resting on the edge of the soundboard, his right hand between the rosette and the bridge, Segovia contemplates his guitar before starting. It is an old queen he has put, cavalierly, on his lap: the blond and glossy varnish conceals, like a blush, a century-old coquette who does not want to admit her age, a traveller who is no longer surprised by anything (…). A guitarist and his guitar, one carrying the other, that’s enough. We smile as we recall the complicated paraphernalia of so many musicians. A pianist in front of his sarcophagus…. (…) A conductor needs a whole battalion to show what he can do. While Segovia… Shh! He starts….. No, he is tuning his guitar, with a nonchalance of an Arab storyteller… “
From this point of view, the enormous discography that we owe him cannot reflect the “vibration” emitted during his concerts. It would be futile to try to draw up a list of his recordings: he himself has lost track of them. A series of twenty albums has just been re-issued by DECCA in the United States.
Several temples of music education are associated with the name of Segovia: Accademia Chigiana of Siena, Santiago de Compostela, Berkeley… Many concert performers have studied, to varying degrees, with him.
The basic technique is inspired by the general principles of the modern technique of instruments: relaxation, easing of tension, natural movements, right hand considered as a violin bow, stable position, concentration on sound and timbre.
Countless composers have devoted enough admiration to A. Segovia to dedicate works to him. We can quote:
- Francisco Moreno Torroba (1891): Suite Castellana (1926), Pièces Caractéristiques (1931), Joaquin Turina (1882-1949): Fandanguillo (1926), Sonatine (1935), Homage to Tarrega (1935).
- Manuel Ponce (1882-1948): Sonata Romantica; Homage to Franz Schubert, who loved the guitar; Sonata Clasica; Homage to Fernando Sor; 3rd Sonata, Varied and final theme, 12 Preludes, Southern Sonata; Concerto Del Sud (premiered by Segovia in Montevideo in 1941).
- Mario Castelnuevo-Tedesco (1895-1968): after a first meeting in 1932, Castelnuevo-Tedesco never stopped writing for the guitar until his death: Capriccio Diabolico; Sonata; Tarantella; Fantasy for Guitar and Piano, the first Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra of the 20th century (in D, Op 99), as well as many other tracks.
- Alexandre Tansman (1897): Suite Cavatina (First Prize at the competition of the Siena Academy), Mazurka, Three Tracks, etc.
- Heitor Villa-Lobos, met for the first time in 1924.
In this regard, it is curious to note the little consideration Segovia has for Villa-Lobos as a guitarist. H. Villa-Lobos’ fascinating companion, Mindinha, to whom so many works are dedicated, and who currently manages the Villa-Lobos Museum in Rio de Janeiro, made me listen to recordings of the composer performing his own works on the guitar, during an impromptu recording session: the result is a delicate, subtle, technically correct interpretation that should, in any case, settle the many controversies generated by the different possible performances of his pieces.
Of the 1200 works written by Villa-Lobos, only 12 Etudes, 5 Preludes, one Brazilian Popular Suite, one Chorus and one Concerto are dedicated to the guitar. The amplified guitar is also used for the Introduction to Chorus.
- Joaquin Rodrigo (1902) dedicated his Concierto d’Aranjuez to Regino Sainz De La Maza, but his Fantasia for a Gentleman (1954) to A. Segovia. “I thought the only way to fully honour A. Segovia would be to associate him with another great guitarist and composer, born in the 17th century, a gentleman at the court of Philip IV, Gaspar Sanz. I talked it over with Segovia, who approved the plan, warning me of the difficulties I would encounter, due to the brevity of the themes chosen by my wife, Victoria. So I made it a sort of fantasy suite that we soon decided to call Fantasia for a Gentleman, thus playing on the words to encompass these two nobles of the guitar” (Guitar Revue 25, 1961).
On the other hand, A. Segovia virtually touched the repertoire of “contemporary” or avant-garde music. I personally worked at length with André Jolivet on a large scale work: Homage to Robert De Visée, that A. Segovia himself had requested and it was one of his last compositions; the piece has never been played, nor, to my knowledge, published.
The huge repertoire of contemporary music for guitar, certainly generated by the Segovia “wave”, is now being exploited by young guitarists. French composers have also been subject to this wave: Francis Poulenc (Sarabande, Embarkation for Cythera), Georges Auric (Homage to Mudarra), André Jolivet (Deux études de Concert, Serenade), Darius Milhaud (Segoviana), Jacques Bondon (Swing 2, Concerto de Mars), Henri Tomasi (Muletier des Andes, Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra), Jacques Charpentier (Etudes, Concerto for String Guitar and Orchestra), Claude Bolling (Concerto for Classical Guitar and Jazz Piano. Concerto for Guitar, Flute and Piano), Jacques Castérède (Homage to Pink Floyd, Rhapsody, Concerto for Guitar and Symphony Orchestra) and many others…
LUCK AND FATE
For some, the dimension of Andrés Segovia’s character is not enough to explain his unique career: many also see in it the good conjunction of the creation of the so-called “concert guitar” by A. Torres at the end of the last century with the spread and technical progress of recordings (we have a number of Miguel Llobet’s recordings, who hated himself on record – but only one “recording” was possible per piece- as well as Agustin Barrios, who could not afford a “great” guitar, nor even put in it the gut strings he wanted.
To this is naturally added the revolution in guitar strings, with, in particular, the replacement of guts by nylon, under the impetus of Albert Augustine in the United States and Savarez in France.
Andrés Segovia himself set me on track at a dinner after his recital at Avery Fischer Hall in New York in March 1979. I performed that same evening at Carnegie Hall (Recital): “The miracle of my life, I owe to my strength of character, but I was also very much helped by luck. All this has allowed me, without interruption, to progress slowly but surely along the path I have set for myself”.
And he still and always keeps this path: what better indication than the wonderful repartee of his son Carlos* (10 years old at the time), given to him by his young and charming wife, Emilita. The school teacher asked Carlos about his father’s profession: “Guitar student! “
*Carlos Andrés Segovia y Corral, 2nd Marquis of Salobreña (born 22 May 1970 in London, United Kingdom) is now a philosopher and a scholar of religious studies.
He is a lecturer in religious studies at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain.