One of the great figures of the classical-guitar world in the first quarter of the 20th century, Miguel Llobet was born on October 18, 1878 in Barcelona. Trained as an artist when he was young (he painted his whole life), Llobet also had an aptitude for music and studied both violin and piano. However, after seeing a guitar recital by Antonio Jiménez Manjón when Llobet was 12, he shifted gears and began taking guitar lessons. At 15 he first encountered the now-legendary guitarist/teacher Francisco Tárrega, and within a couple of years was studying with him at Barcelona’s Municipal Conservatory of Music, using Tárrega’s tutelage as inspiration to develop his own peerless technique.
He became a popular performer in Spain first, but by the turn of the 20th century, Llobet was frequently traveling outside Spain, touring Europe, South and Central America, and even the United States several times in an era when that was extremely rare for a guitarist. His influence on future guitarists in the places he visited was undoubtedly profound (but alas unmeasurable). Segovia studied with him briefly, mostly because of his link to Tárrega. But both Tárrega and Llobet were transcribing works by non-guitarists such as Bach and Albéniz long before Segovia, so both had their influence on him beyond technique issues. It was seeing Llobet’s 1859 Torres guitar during a tour of Germany right before World War I that inspired luthier Hermann Hauser to begin his explorations and extrapolations of the Torres-style guitar. And in 1920 Manuel de Falla dedicated his now-famous Homenaje pour le tombeau de Claude Debussy to Llobet.
Llobet toured successfully until his death from pleurisy at the age of 59 in 1938. Though not known primarily as a composer, he is rightfully admired for his lovely arrangements of Catalan folk songs, several of which have become true cornerstones of the classical-guitar repertoire. We celebrate this early guitar pioneer with three contemporary versions of those Catalan pieces, plus an audio recording of Llobet himself playing one. —Blair Jackson