30 Years On: Perspectives on the Legacy of Andrés Segovia
From the Summer 2017 issue of Classical Guitar | BY GRAHAM WADE
Thirty years ago—June 2, 1987—Andrés Segovia died at the age of 94. As with the date of his birth, there was some confusion about the time and circumstances of his passing. The Guardian of London commented that it occurred during the afternoon of May 29, the Neu Zürcher Zeitung said it was in the evening of that day. The Star, The Daily Express, and Le Monde gave the date as June 3. Some newspapers alleged he died watching television (a report later considered unreliable). That the international press was bamboozled in this way would have amused Segovia.
Since his death, considerable amounts of scholarship—books, dissertations, and articles—have been published. We are now in a better position to assess Segovia’s concert career between 1909 and the beginning of 1987, and can begin to understand the complexities of his biography.
The central pillar of Segovia research, indispensable and unique, is Alberto López Poveda’s two-volume masterpiece Andrés Segovia, Vida y Obra (University of Jaén, 2009) which runs to 1,260 pages and is considered the “official” biography. Poveda spent nearly 50 years writing this account, and died in July 2015, aged 99. His book, among many other things, lists Segovia’s yearly recital activities and informs us that during his life Segovia gave 5,402 concerts, averaging some 70 platform appearances every year from 1909 to 1987, with no year being free of such commitments, despite illness, family tragedies, or wars, civil and world-wide. His professional tours took him to 60 countries and 723 cities.
From 1927, Segovia embraced the new recording technologies, ultimately producing around 50 long-playing records, nearly all of which are available today on compact disc. From the 1920s, he worked on dozens of editions encompassing the repertoire from the 16th-century to the contemporary composers Segovia inspired to write for the guitar. Segovia also participated in hundreds of broadcasts and television appearances, and in the 1950s began giving master classes, an activity which came to its climax in 1986 at the University of Southern California Segovia Conference and in 1987 at the Manhattan School of Music (March 8–10).
The best biographical exposition is Alfredo Escande’s Don Andrés and Paquita: The Life of Segovia in Montevideo (Amadeus Press, 2012, translated by Charles and Marisa Herrera Postlewate, Spanish edition published 2009). This tells of Segovia’s first two marriages and his long residence in Uruguay, also recounting the tragic story of the suicide of his beloved daughter, Beatriz.
Shortly after Segovia’s death, Matanya Ophee published, in a dual Spanish/English text, The Segovia-Ponce Letters (Editions Orphée, 1989, ed. Miguel Alcázar, translated by Peter Segal). This book covered 1923 to 1947 and immediately became a seminal text of 20th–century guitar history.
During the last decade of Segovia’s life, I wrote three books about the Maestro: Traditions of the Classical Guitar(1980); Segovia, A Celebration of the Man and His Music (1983);, and Maestro Segovia, Personal Impressions and Anecdotes of the Great Guitarist (1986). The writing involved various meetings with Segovia in London and a number of trips to Madrid to visit him in his studio. We discussed a wide range of topics, took a few photos, and looked at manuscripts—and Segovia insisted that I play for him (borrowing his guitar!). During these years, I was also invited to write the program notes for Segovia’s British concerts, an activity that kept me in touch with the subtle changes in his repertoire from year to year.
Segovia was a gentle and generous host, always eager to hear news of the contemporary guitar world; a great man with an extraordinary hinterland of experience of life and art. He had known so many composers, artists, painters, poets, and philosophers, and was widely read as well as immensely travelled. Segovia also possessed a wicked sense of humor, spoke several languages with supreme fluency, and, until the final months of his life, practiced five hours a day.
In 1992, Gerard Garno invited me to co-author a two-volume exploration of Segovia titled A New Look at Segovia: His Life, His Music (Mel Bay, 1997). After 1987, it had become essential to re-evaluate available material about Segovia in line with the new information that began to appear. The book sold some 5,000 copies of each volume and stimulated considerable critical discussion. It was the best that Garno and I could do at that time. In 2017, we would have far more data to work on and the book could be immensely longer.
Nowadays, Segovia’s legacy survives on dozens of albums and through his editions, which still form the basis of a large section of the viable repertoire. Many younger players seem to regard him as a distant historical figure, rather as they view Llobet, Falla, or even Tárrega. (After all, Segovia was born 124 years ago, at the end of the 19th century!) However, to most of my generation, growing up in the 1950s, Segovia was an inspiring mentor, the supremo of the classical instrument, an artist whose editions and recordings, as well as his physical presence in concerts, dominated our playing aspirations. In later years, Segovia proved to be a superb friend whose word was his bond and whose positive support in my own literary sphere of attempting to make sense of guitar history, was invaluable.
Over recent years, I feel, there have been distorted interpretations and some disinformation concerning Segovia’s personality and his art. The lack of historical awareness in many critics has muddied the waters. Segovia was neither part of the authentic Early Music movement nor a disciple of atonalism, and should not be castigated for not being part of late-20th–century musical trends. His lifelong total of 5,402 concerts indicated he was doing something along appropriate professional lines over the 78 years of his career! International audiences adored him—acquiring a ticket for a Segovia concert, even in the last decade, favored the early bird and the fleet of foot!
One of the perennial myths about Segovia is as follows. Last year, in an interview on the Guitar Salon International website, John Williams spoke of Segovia’s colonial distaste for the music of Antonio Lauro of Venezuela. Apparently, Alirio Díaz was delighted when Segovia asked him for the score of Lauro’s Vals No. 3, Natalia. John Williams then commented: “I believe Segovia did play it a bit at that time, or tried to!”
The same story was narrated by William Starling, John Williams’ biographer: “Segovia’s snobbishness about much of South American music, especially that with popular roots, was evident to John early on…The Spaniard was dismissive of Lauro’s work…although years later Alirio Díaz confided to John how excited he was that Segovia had finally shown an interest in Natalia.” (Strings Attached: The Life and Music of John Williams, Robson Press, 2012, p. 100)
Any person reading this would conclude that the “snobbish” Segovia was “dismissive” of Lauro, was “finally” persuaded to seem interested in the published score, and never played the work in public. Well, you cannot believe everything you read about Segovia these days— even if it comes from John Williams, one of the great authorities on the guitar. We all have strange blips in our memory, and this is possibly one of them.
The truth is that far from being “snobbish,” Segovia was actually the first guitarist to record Vals Venezelano, No. 3, ‘Natalia’ (in New York, February 1955). This was included on the LP, The Art of Segovia (Decca DL 9795). Segovia then duly performed Vals No. 3 in concert in Manchester, England (September 16, 1955), at the Cape Town Club in South Africa (October 15, 1956), and at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles (January 25, 1957).
What Segovia was asking Díaz for “many years later” was the revised edition of Quatro Valses Venezolanos for guitar (publ. 1963, Broekmans & Van Poppel, Amsterdam). Segovia already possessed a copy of the music for No. 3 or he could hardly have recorded it eight years previously. He would have been interested in the new edition as some of his notes, presumably from an earlier version, are slightly different. Those who wish to experience this magnificent recording will find it on Andrés Segovia: 1950s American Recordings, Vol. 5 (Naxos) or Segovia: The Great Master (Deutsche Grammophon).
Thirty years after his death, Segovia still has the power to arouse strong passions, both for and against. As we listen to his finest recorded performances, it is easy to appreciate his profound love of music and the classical guitar. His place in history is secure. Without his example and legacy, the classical guitar would never have developed to the extent it has. Julian Bream and John Williams were inspired by Segovia’s example to devote their lives to the guitar. Eminent players such as Ida Presti, Alirio Díaz, the Romero family, Christopher Parkening, Oscar Ghiglia, Evangelos and Liza, David Russell, and so many more were all deeply indebted to him.