On February 3, the classical guitar world lost another important and colorful figure when Richard “Rico” Stover died from cancer in Washington state (USA) at the age of 73. Rico is best-known for his nearly lifelong devotion to studying and promoting the life and works of the great Paraguayan composer-guitarist Agustín Barrios. Not only did he write the still-definitive biography of Barrios—Six Silver Moonbeams: the Life and Times of Agustín Barrios Mangoré—he is also, more than anyone, responsible for Barrios’ music being disseminated widely to guitarists: first through his four-volume series for Belwin Mills Publishing beginning in 1976, and later his epic two-volume The Complete Works of Agustín Barrios Mangoré (Mel Bay 2003). Through Mel Bay he also published two volumes of Barrios’ works in tablature and, in 2018, a Mel Bay book called Barrios for Flute and Guitar, which he dedicated to his late wife, flautist Jananne Lovett, with whom he performed and recorded. Rico was also the man behind the Rico Nails artificial nails system for classical guitarists, which emphasized the use of non-toxic adhesives.
Born in Iowa, Rico mainly grew up in Fresno, California, and attended Fresno State University before moving on to the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he earned a degree in Latin American Ethnomusicology. His interest in Latin American guitar actually dates back to a summer spent in Costa Rica during his high school years. As the bio on his riconails.com site notes: “He began his personal journey with the guitar by learning Costa Rican folk songs with rhythmic chordal accompaniments. Then one day he heard a classical guitarist whose playing deeply interested him. This guitarist, Juan de Dios Trejos, was in fact a student of the great Agustín Barrios Mangoré (1885–1944). Sr. Trejos advised young Stover to seek out a teacher upon his return to California, which Stover did, thus beginning his study of the classical guitar and love affair with Latin America.”
In the mid-1960s he studied guitar in Spain with José Tomás in Santiago de Compostela and with Jorge Fresno in Madrid. He then spent a year in Argentina and in the early ’70s studied with José Rey de la Torre and Manuel Lopez Ramos in California. His intensive search for music and materials related to Barrios and Latin American music took him to El Salvador (where Barrios spent his last years) and later Stover traveled to several other countries in Central and South America on his unending quest for knowledge and music.
Besides the books he wrote, Rico was also widely published in magazines: Indeed, he had 56 articles published in Classical Guitar through the years, and another 20 in Soundboard. Before his death, he and I had been discussing his writing a retrospective on Eduardo Falú for an upcoming issue, and he also wanted to write an article pointing out his favorite YouTube videos showcasing music by the greatest Latin composers. I’m afraid that list died with him. (You can read Part One of Rico’s 2011 two-part CG article “Barios and Segovia” below. We’ll publish Part Two soon!)
I asked a couple of folks from the earlier, British incarnation of Classical Guitar magazine to jot down a few thoughts about Rico Stover. Maurice Summerfield was the magazine’s founder back in 1982 and published it through 2014. And Chris Dumigan is a guitarist who has also done vital research into Barrios’ works himself.
We’ll have a more on Rico Stover in the Spring 2019 issue of Classical Guitar which, coincidentally, also includes two articles about Barrios (one of which contains recent quotes from Rico).
Maurice Summerfield: I first became aware of Richard Dwight “Rico” Stover in 1978, when I included his four volumes of Agustín Barrios solos (published by Warner Bros.) in the first collection of guitar music to be offered by my Ashley Mark Publishing Company mail-order service. They sold very well.
Reading his articles in Soundboard, Frets, and Guitar Player magazines I soon recognized that Rico had a unique knowledge and passion for South American music. We first made contact in 1982 after the first issue of Classical Guitar magazine was published. Rico had confidence that I always understood his special love of the guitar. He happily contributed well over 50 articles to Classical Guitar over many years. We were in regular contact by mail and then email and he always knew he would get a speedy response from me to any of his queries. I always admired his ability to successfully combine a life as both an academic and as a concert artist, playing both popular and classical music.
In 1992, Rico founded his publications business, Querico. Its catalogue included his excellent biography of Barrios, Six Silver Moonbeams and the selected works of Hector Ayala. I was pleased to be Querico’s UK distributor from 1992 until Rico closed the business a few years ago. We would meet from time to time at music trade fairs, however it was when he was living in Puerto Rico that my wife and I, in March 1999, visited the island. He arranged a memorable concert and dinner to celebrate our visit. All the leading Puerto Rican guitar people, including composer Ernesto Cordero, attended. I was then happy to arrange for Rico to attend the 1994 International Classical Guitar Festival at West Dean in the UK as one of the featured concert artists and lecturers. The last time I saw him was at the 2013 GFA convention in Louisville, Kentucky, at an event in which we were both inducted into the GFA’s Hall of Fame. We remained in regular email contact until a few months ago. I was shocked to hear this week of his recent and far too early death. I will miss him, as will all who knew him. However, I know Rico Stover’s enormous contribution to the classical guitar will live on.
Chris Dumigan: Like so many of us, I came across the name of Rico Stover when buying the Belwyn Mills volumes of the works of Agustín Barrios, and subsequently fell in love with the wonderful music I had only previously heard on a John Williams TV program. After immersing myself in these fabulous pieces, I bought a pair of cassettes of Barrios recordings from the USA and decided to transcribe all the works on them. Over the three years or so I did them, Rico somehow heard I was doing them and wrote to me, and over the years we corresponded (but sadly I never spoke to him or actually met him). When my volumes of the transcriptions of the complete recordings of Barrios fell out of print, it coincided with Rico republishing the complete original Barrios works with Mel Bay, so he asked for my permission to use all my transcriptions to complete the two books, which he did. Then, one day, I got a huge parcel containing the two giant volumes, with a lovely inscription from him to me: “To C.D., with sincere admiration and respect; a true lover of Mangoré, November 2003.”
I was surprised and saddened that the great man is no longer with us. After all, without all his travels picking up the pieces he found, we would have been in a much worse state with regards to Barrios. I might have transcribed all the recordings, but I did it in the comfort of my front room in Manchester, UK; he did all the initial hard work. I wish I had somehow managed to meet him, as I think we would have got on like a house on fire, but alas, now it is not to be. The guitar world is a much poorer place now that he has left us.
Read Part 1 of Rico Stover’s in-depth Classical Guitar magazine article ‘Barrios and Segovia’
The subject of Barrios and Segovia has always been a lively topic of discussion among guitarists. Segovia never played anything by Barrios and never had a good word for him. This was the status quo for decades. Then, in the late 1960s, Alirio Díaz recorded an LP in Venezuela that contained a complete side of works by Barrios, something which at the time was a formidable achievement (and a bold move on Díaz’s part, seeing as Segovia had specifically forbidden him to play any music by Barrios). Time passed. Then, in 1977, John Williams released an all-Barrios LP on Columbia that blew open the floodgates, so to speak, unleashing an eventual torrent of critical approval from guitarists around the world that inundated the negative opinion of Segovia.
The fact that Segovia played not one single work by Barrios is something that one might find puzzling. Basically it boils down to this: Segovia was not interested in music composed by his fellow contemporary guitarists, or music that was not “modern” (i.e., indicative of the era, such as Debussy, de Falla, Ravel, Bartok, etc.). Segovia’s life was focused on the problem of generating a new repertoire. The fact that Segovia evidently never had the opportunity to work with the aforementioned composers is lamentable, as I am sure if he had been able to do so, we would have a very powerful arsenal of 20th century works. Can you imagine, for example, 12 Studies by Bartok? Or a Sonata by Ravel? Or a Fantasía Española by de Falla?
Though he was not able to get next to the true giants of 20th century classical music, his efforts are today a basic part of the classic guitar, yielding a body of works that will forever stand as a major contribution. Stylistically, this repertoire is “a departure from romanticism,” moving in new directions, but staying within the boundaries of tonality. The Italian musicologist/guitarist Angelo Gilardino has some incisive insights into Segovia’s orientation and motivation regarding this “new” repertoire: “Segovia’s vision of the guitar repertoire, well-expressed already by the time he met Barrios in Buenos Aires, was very clear: the contemporary repertoire must be the product of ‘true composers,’ not guitarists. We may regret the fact that Segovia never promoted his conviction to the point where he solicited music from Stravinsky, Ravel or Bartok, or that he limited himself to Ponce and Castlenuovo-Tedesco, but we cannot regret the fact that he never played the works of Barrios. His strength in the world of music, which knew little of the guitar, was precisely his capacity to deal with composers on their own level, and of presenting to the public and the critics works of a musical nature that had never been heard on the guitar. Barrios—with all the respect that he deserves and whose recognition we are all glad to see—represented nothing in the qualitative sense that Segovia was seeking for himself or his instrument.”
We see a picture of the young Segovia who develops a preoccupation with escaping, first, the flamencos, and then, after mastering classical guitar, avoiding guitarists as sources of repertoire, while struggling to make known to the “erudite” world of music and its composers the potentialities of his instrument. By the time Segovia met Barrios, the Spaniard had very few “new” works in his repertoire (one work by Federico Moreno Torroba and another by José María Franco), and though he was actively seeking new music, the works of Barrios were not what he had in mind.
Barrios and Segovia first met after a concert Segovia gave at the La Argentina salon in Buenos Aires on September 25, 1921.(2) Evidently Barrios went backstage after the performance and was introduced to Segovia by Elbio Trápani. Communication was established, which some time after this led to a formal meeting at Segovia’s hotel room. This occurred before October 15, the date of a letter Barrios wrote to his friend and patron Martín Borda y Pagola in Uruguay informing of his encounter with Segovia who, according to Barrios, showed a particular liking for La Catedral, which Segovia told him he would play in his concerts if Barrios could provide him a manuscript copy. This letter is a request by Barrios to Borda y Pagola to send the manuscript of La Catedral by mail from Montevideo to Buenos Aires. The manuscript never made it. Segovia may have left the Rio de la Plata with a feeling of having been slighted by Barrios. Or maybe he just really didn’t think it all that important. Perhaps it was a little of both.
What were the circumstances behind this? Miguel Herrera Klinger, Uruguayan guitarist and friend, related that Barrios told him that he had spent a couple of hours with Segovia playing his works on his host’s Ramirez and that he was well received, and that Segovia did ask if he might have a copy of La Catedral. According to Herrera Klinger, Barrios told him the following:
“I went to see Segovia at 11 in the morning in the hotel where he was staying; I was announced and he received me without hesitation. After salutations and greetings, I said to him: ‘Maestro, I would like you to listen to some of the works I have composed so you can give me your opinion. He answered that it would be a great pleasure.’ Barrios played for the great Segovia, presenting musical phrases that fell like precious gems on the ears of the great interpreter who showed surprise….even astonishment. Barrios passed over two hours with Segovia after which he received the congratulations from the Maestro, who lavished praise on his works with a feigned enthusiasm.”
Given the fact that Segovia and Barrios’ meeting was sometime after September 23 and before October 15, and that Segovia would remain in Buenos Aires until November 2, it was reasonable for Barrios to think that he had enough time to procure the copy of La Catedral that he had left with Borda y Pagola in Montevideo and which could be sent overnight in the mail. This begs the question: Why didn’t Barrios simply write out another copy anew? I suspect that he was very busy at this time recording for Odeon Recording Company, as this letter confirms having completed by this date five works: Página d’ Album (Romanza en Imitación al Violoncello), Vals No. 3, Canzoneta, Aires Criollos, and Madrigal-Gavota, for which he had to return to the recording studio on October 23 to listen to the proofs. In addition to recording, he was also no doubt very occupied with practicing for upcoming concerts, as stated in this press announcement from the Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación, October 27, 1921:
“This evening, after the conclusion of the theatrical presentations, Agustín J. [sic] Barrios will offer a performance in the National. Barrios, who has recently been contracted by the Careavallo firm, will be formally presented to the public tomorrow.”
In addition to La Catedral, Barrios might have played for Segovia his works of a “classical cut,” such as Vals No. 3, Allegro Sinfónico, Mazurka Apasionada, Romanza, Canzoneta, Un Sueño en la Floresta, and so on. I doubt whether Barrios played any folk music or tango music for the Spanish maestro. And one other very important detail: Barrios played on a gut-strung guitar which he was not accustomed to doing. It is well known that Segovia thought that metal treble strings were not desirable. In an interview with the British guitarist John Mills in 1983, Segovia declared regarding Barrios’ use of metal strings: “I told him to cease using metal strings, but he insisted. Perhaps his right hand lacked sufficient strength in the fingers to extract a good sound from the instrument strung with gut, and that was the reason he used steel strings, but the quality of his sound was not good”. The only time Segovia heard Barrios play was that morning in October in Buenos Aires in Segovia’s hotel room. Segovia did not hear Barrios play his steel-strung Ramirez (nor do I think he would have abided listening to him for two hours had Barrios done so). Barrios’ tone that morning on an instrument he was unaccustomed to was not representative of what he normally did using steel strings. It really did not matter, though, as Segovia ultimately proved to be uninterested in pursuing a relationship with Barrios. I think Segovia was, in fact, impressed by Barrios’ skills. He may even have been “astonished.” But no matter, for the fact is that Segovia had no real interest in playing Barrios’ “romantic music.” If Segovia already played Recuerdos de la Alhambra, why would he need Un Sueño en la Floresta?
In addition to his inability to abide metal strings, Segovia’s dislike of Barrios and his music was based on two things: 1) rejection of Romantic-type works in general, and 2) rejection of an eclectic style that combined musical traits and ideas from different eras—which is the essence of Barrios—and which Segovia found “unmusical,” calling Barrios “instinctual” in his compositional procedures, and not really properly prepared to produce serious, quality music. But there is another factor operating here in regards to Segovia’s rejection: his prejudice against all contemporary guitarists as composers. To recognize music by any guitarist/composer would undermine his dictamen that the guitar needed to get out from under the kind of repertoire that had dominated it for so long, nurtured mainly by guitarist/composers. Barrios actually represented the very best of this tradition. I submit that Segovia’s single-minded, almost fanatical devotion to this ironclad ideal was a bit exaggerated, and this blinded him to the art, beauty, and technical procedures found in the compositions of Barrios.
Once he had made his public pronouncements regarding the quality of Barrios—“Barrios is not a good composer for the guitar”—he could not alter his judgment. It was final. Besides, the direction in which Segovia was moving, working with “serious” composers to create modern works with contemporary harmonic traits in more extended, larger forms (sonatas and concerti), made the traditional “A-B form, three-minute guitar work” seem old fashioned, uninteresting, and trite. Segovia’s rejection of Barrios was inexorably destined, given the historical moment in which they met.
However, the guitar-loving public today does not care about “the historical moment.” The preoccupations of Segovia’s generation are now no longer of great import in evaluating the worth of a piece of music. Dissonance and large scale forms are not “new territory” today, and after decades of suffering the atonality infection, Western music has settled into a phase of “let’s appreciate the past,” because a great deal of what we are hearing “from the present” is unproven, potentially suspect, and perhaps just downright mediocre. My theories about this embrace a total analysis of the flow of musical thought and technology in the West since the time of Pythagoras. Perhaps what human beings of successive generations appreciate as “art” has something to do with how it affects them totally—emotionally, intellectually, socially and spiritually—in the times in which they live. And this of course is relevant to the view of the world that prevails during any period of human history.
Another area of contrast between the two guitarists deals with how each of them proceeded as full-time professional concert guitarists and how it affected their lives and careers. When they met in 1921, neither Barrios nor Segovia had achieved anything even close to worldwide fame. Segovia was in the Río del la Plata because he had a very effective agent named Ernesto de Quesada (1886–1972), who in Madrid in 1908 founded “Conciertos Daniel,” a firm that continues to this day presenting the very best of classical artists to the public around the world. De Quesada worked with some of the top virtuosos of the day, including Arthur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Jascha Heifetz, Gaspar Cassadó, Claudio Arrau, José Iturbe, etc., and signed Segovia in 1918 to join his prestigious stable of artists. The combination of a dynamic entrepreneur and an outstanding young virtuoso on an instrument literally unknown to the traditional concert public produced a remarkably successful career that will be viewed in guitar history as one of the most amazing and important contributions ever seen in the world of concert guitar.
Barrios died indigent and forgotten. He had to be “discovered” via numerous threads of information spread out over a continent which, decades after his death, rescued him from oblivion and brought him the long-overdue fame and recognition he deserved, but only posthumously.
His life was dominated by one major overwhelming challenge: how to find a public and earn a living playing the guitar. Growing up in Paraguay, Barrios had to deal with a reality of limited possibilities, in which if one wanted to perform, one had to hustle and promote oneself, as there was no organized classical music business to be found. Thus, in order to perform, Barrios had to communicate directly with people, utilize friendships and contacts, and move around to different locales. An episode illustrative of this is narrated by Carlos Bordas (from his series “Vignettes from the Life of Agustín Barrios” as published in the Asunción daily Patria over a four-month period from December 1955 till March of 1956):
“Quiterio Tornadú was the Postmaster at the village of Tacuaral, now called Ypacaraí, which had grown up around the old train station of that name…And, in Ypacaraí, landed Agustín Barrios, the wandering gentleman of the guitar. ‘I come,’ he said, “so that you can aid me to give a fiesta, in my desire to arrive at Villarica, and beyond, earning my passage on the road, beginning with this town.’
“’But you do not have to resort to such arbitrary procedures to procure so little money, and besides, you have arrived at a bad port,’ replied Tornadú perplexed. ‘Because when it comes to the guitar,’ he continued, ‘this neighborhood is one of those where people do one a favor to come listen and as such they are not disposed to pay an entrance fee, as there won´t be a lot of public.
“’It’s just that,” replied Barrios, “I will proceed in stages. From here, I will go to Paraguarí, stopping first in Pirayú if need be.'”
Barrios attempted to solve the problem by arranging a performance at the train station in Ypacaraí (in this case, presenting a “fiesta”). He wanted “to arrive at Villarica, and beyond” (probably to visit his mother), and in order to do this he planned to proceed “by stages”—that is to say, go from station to station, mounting “fiestas” in order to raise enough money to proceed to the next station. This challenge that he met in his youth would never leave him all his life—how to find an audience? Travel, investigate, and try one’s luck. Barrios moved from town to town, country to country, presenting his “fiestas” (concerts), with no guarantees. He never had someone to organize concerts—he had to do it himself, confronting the world alone. Barrios did not perceive the crucial importance of procuring an international representative as a fundamental step in the formation of a professional concert career.
However, if Barrios had procured a good agent, without a doubt he would not have played in so many cities and small towns. His modus operandi demanded that he spend extended periods of time in the places he visited, and this exposed him to influences that he would not have experienced had he done it differently. This exposure to different countries and cultures provided a unique stimulus to his creative impulse. At the highest level, the business of concerts is based by and large on organized touring in major cities, not towns and out of the way places. Exemplary of this, in 1922 Segovia and de Quesada signed a contract for a tour of 40 concerts in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico during a period of five months. That is to say, five months of guaranteed work playing in metropolitan centers, all very well planned, with a perspective of success. But Barrios’ reality essentially never changed from his youthful days in Paraguay when he boarded the train with his guitar on his shoulder in search of good fortune… (CLICK HERE TO READ PART 2)
Listen to an early recording of Barrios playing La Catedral, a piece that Segovia reportedly liked, but never played: