Julian Bream and Colin Cooper. Photo by Maurice Summerfield
Interview by Colin Cooper & Maurice Summerfield | From the March 1986 issue of Classical Guitar
Colin Cooper: You once said that the guitar was a “keybound” instrument. ls it in some way anomalous to play atonal music on the guitar? Does it lose its attractiveness?
Well, first, I don’t think music’s supposed to be always attractive. Granted I think there’s an angularity about some atonal music which is really rather unattractive, if by attraction you mean consonance and line shapes and arabesques which please the spirit of nostalgic rhetoric or some such thing.
No, there’s sometimes, not so much in atonal music but in serial music, a decidedly perverse feeling which can be most unattractive to many ears, and which may not want to please in the way that most conventional music has wanted to please in the past.
CC: I accept that, but the keyboard is impersonal in that sense. It isn’t a keybound instrument, and the guitar is. So the perverseness seems to be accentuated every time you play serial or atonal music on it.
It can, yes. It can also create a musical tension. It might not necessarily be easy in itself, when you have a difficult position shift, for example. In Mozart, of course, it would sound simply appalling. But in a modern piece, the actual struggle to do. it can create a certain tension which is not totally ambivalent, and in fact may add something to the overall expression. For some people that can be exciting.
Some serial music I think is exceedingly difficult. Some atonal music can work quite well. For example, in parts of the Frank Martin pieces, there are flurries of atonality. Atonal music is not half so difficult; it’s the serial stuff which can be so hard. What happened in the ‘30s, well, it was not so intellectually disciplined as what happened later in the ‘50s and ‘60s. I think that any instrument that has a future, that wants a future, has to somehow manage to tackle something in that area. Whether we like it or not, it is part of the evolution of Western music. An instrument that cannot handle that is travelling in the byways of music.
I think the guitar, if the music is sensibly laid out, can handle it. But it needs a composer who really knows the instrument. For an example of atonal music by a composer who actually played the guitar—you know, I find it very difficult to find one. I suppose Smith Brindle may have been the only one who played the guitar and wrote atonal music. But in fact he didn’t write particularly atonal music for the guitar, though come to think of it Leo Brouwer has—and sometimes most successfully. The character of the guitar is so often actually stronger than the character of the atonality of the music. But I think that’s how it should be. When a composer writes well for the instrument, even in an atonal way, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be well written. And sound effective. The trouble is, the people who compose at the piano and put the old loud pedal on don’t necessarily write good guitar music. Atonal music on the guitar has to be very well contrived, if that’s the world. Then it can sound good. Richard Rodney Bennett has proved this in several compositions for the instrument.
I’m all for that, because I think that guitar music by and large is all a bit too consonant. You know, it could do with compositions of some radical nature, something a bit astringent. Not enormous pieces necessarily; ten or twelve minutes is quite long enough. Something which is not full of tricks but is a serious attempt at intellectually conceived composition.
Maurice Summerfield: Rak and Koshkin are doing this kind of odd way-out music. More tricks and novelties than substance…
At its best it’s entertainment. There are some good effects, and it’s a new type of music for the instrument which I think one has to applaud. Whether one has to applaud it enthusiastically is something else, but music really is after all a transitory thing, and if you happen to be listening to it and you’re transported or intrigued, it must therefore have value.
MS: A Lot of their pieces to me are like an advanced Tárrega’s Musical Box.
Well, you may have a point. But it shows a bit of élan, doesn’t it? It’s done with a bit of panache. That can be an important ingredient in the repertoire. Why not have pieces which are show-off pieces, which are well made and which show what a player can do and which have some novelty? Whether it’s going to be earth-shattering inspiration or great music is another thing. But there is a case for that type of music being written, providing it’s not presented in a pompous and over-serious way. A lot depends on how it’s presented.
CC: You met Stravinsky once…
Briefly. He was quite old then.
CC: And Shostakovich…
Yes, I also met him.
CC: What actually happened on those occasions? Did you ask them in direct terms for a piece for the guitar?
Well, yes—in a way. The whole idea was—of course, I was quite a bit younger then—to try and get these old boys to write something before they pegged out, because it’s no good saying, 15 years after they’re dead, “What a pity that old so-and-so didn’t write something for the box”—I mean, the whole thing really is to get these composers to do something new.
I’ve never been a very pushy person, unfortunately. If I had been, I think I would have got a lot more works written for me. But by nature I don’t like to push things too much. The idea was naturally to get them to write a piece for the guitar. The only way I could do that was to play for them. I thought that once they heard the sound, they might be intrigued. Of course, it’s always quite a good thing to be able to say to these very illustrious men, “Well, look, one or two quite good composers have written for me already, and I’d love to have a piece, I’d love to commission a piece, or whatever.” So often you get negative replies, or you get “Yes, I must think about it.” For example, I wrote to Hindemith years and years ago, and said that I’d love to commission a piece. He’d written a sonata for almost every instrument under the sun, including the viola d’amore. He’d written something for three guitars—why couldn’t he write a piece for the solo guitar?
This was in the ‘50s. And he wrote back saying “I don’t write commissioned pieces anymore.” Well, what can you do? You can’t say, well, will you do it for nothing? But that might have been the answer!
I’ve met several people in my life who I know wouldn’t have left it at that. The same with Stravinsky. Although he was really more interested in the lute. But these composers, they’ve got a limited amount of years left, and they’ve got a number of projects which they want to do. And a guitar piece isn’t one of them. The same happened with Shostakovich. But at least I did try.
And I finally succeeded with, for example, Tippett. He was 79 when he wrote The Blue Guitar. And there must be all sorts of pieces he wants to write. But it did interest him to write a guitar piece. And of course I’ve known him for 30 years, and we meet every now and then, perhaps it may only be in the foyer of Covent Garden, or at a party, but one’s in contact. There’s a little flow there, so it becomes easier.
If I’d been really more aggressive about it, I might have succeeded with many composers. But as I think about it, and reflect upon it, I don’t think I would have pulled it off, somehow.
I’ve added a few pieces, certainly. My general idea was to have by now, you know, at least half a dozen really good, substantial pieces to play. And for everybody to play. My feelings are not to want to hog the pieces or want them for myself. Not at all. I just really do feel that if the guitar as an instrument is going to stay the course in terms of serious consideration, then I do think that a meaningful modern literature has to be written for it which is good, effective and of a high quality.
It doesn’t matter about the number of the pieces. Of course, the more pieces the better, naturally, but it’s the quality and the way the guitar can express itself in sonorities other than that of a Hispanic nature.
MS: A lot of people are saying that the Ginastera Sonata is the most important work since Britten’s Nocturnal…
I am familiar with it. It’s a piece I’m going to play. I think it’s a very fine piece, and I also think it’s a most valuable addition to the repertoire. What is good about it is that it comes from a composer who’s steeped to some extent in his country’s folklore, and yet it’s not at all self-conscious in that way. It grabs very folklorical ideas in a very confident and buoyant way and actually transcends them. It is also musically speaking very compressed, rather in the manner of Falla’s guitar piece. The musical nub is very concentrated. I think it’s a very fine piece indeed.
Modern pieces can be a little bit like Bordeaux wine. In a good year there’s a lot of tannin in it, and for the first few years it’s actually a rather unpleasant drink. But over the years the components of the wine come together in a balanced way, and of course in time they can become ravishing.
CC: Have you any commissions in hand at the moment?
I’ve just performed, at Cheltenham, Richard Rodney Bennett’s new Sonata. I didn’t commission the work; Richard just wrote it for me. And it’s marvellously written for the instrument. A fantastic score. I think that’s going to be a piece that may need about six years for it to get really into the repertoire. You know, modern pieces can be a little bit like Bordeaux wine. In a good year there’s a lot of tannin in it, and for the first few years it’s actually a rather unpleasant drink. But over the years the components of the wine come together in a balanced way, and of course in time they can become ravishing. And to some extent modern music’s a bit like that.
Bennett’s piece is a very important contribution, because it’s a four-movement sonata which is even more extended than the Ginastera Sonata: In saying that, I’m not being critical of Ginastera, because I find the Ginastera piece actually very powerful. Musical length is not an important factor necessarily. In fact, music can be a bore if it’s too long. The Bennett Sonata, though, is a very developed piece of atonal writing.
Those are the sort of pieces on the guitar which we have least of, really, where musical arguments are reflected and regurgitated and reconditioned in a sense which the ear can appraise, and not just the eye if you happen to be clever at reading scores.
MS: Are you going to record the Bennett Sonata?
Not yet. I’m going to do it at the Wigmore Hall in January (1986) and one or two places in England, and I’m going to do it on the radio very shortly.
MS: People must be looking forward to that and The Blue Guitar…
They’d make a very good pair, in fact. The Bennett is very difficult to play. I found my sheer incapacity to be able to play many of the passages annoying at first, and then paradoxically rather stimulating, because you just have to do it. You have to get around things. You have to develop your playing a bit. Composers ask you to do things, and it’s no good saying “I’m terribly sorry, I can’t do it,” because they can say, “Well, it’s feasible.” I’ve found that often a very interesting situation. It took me six months to learn Bennett’s piece. A lot of preparation. They all take a long time to learn, these modern pieces.
There’s a very good composer I know who’s writing a little piece at the moment: Giles Swayne. I commissioned it recently. I’ve had a feeling that he was in a good frame of mind to write a piece for the guitar. A few years ago he wrote a suite of pieces for the guitar, but not for me. But he did live nearby for some time, and I actually edited them for publication by Novello. He had a very successful opera at Sadlers Wells in 1984. He studied for some time with Messiaen in Paris.
I have one or two other composers working on compositions too, but it all takes time. The main thing is to get them before they snuff it!
CC: That sums it up, doesn’t it?
I’m afraid it does.
MS: Do you know either of the concertos by Jacques Bondon?
I remember the first concerto very well. I thought, this chap’s got a lot going for him. It’s a little bit like Stravinsky, a little bit like Bartók, with a touch of the old French panache about it… certainly his orchestration is marvellous, and the thing is put together very well, it seems to me, yet somehow it never quite takes off. That can happen with certain composers. All the components seem to be there, yet as an amalgam it doesn’t quite fizz. And concertos have to fizz a bit. Solo pieces can have their moments of rhetorical response and non-fizzery.
CC: Wasn’t it out of its time? Everybody else was doing serial music. It seemed almost an act of defiance.
Do players play it now?
MS: Only in France, apparently.
But you see, it gets incredibly hard to mount these pieces now. Because these orchestral societies only want the well-known things. It’s so hard for these composers to get a good performance properly rehearsed. People have become very conservative. If you look down the concert list in the Observer or the Sunday Times or whatever, it’s incredible: the same old pieces in a different order, isn’t it?
I think we’ve become, certainly in London, more and more conservative over the years. I find that understandable but lamentable. The real problem is that concerts are not so well attended. I don’t go to too many concerts in London, but I’ve been to some, and I’m surprised by the lack of support.
Take the London Sinfonietta, for example. They do very interesting programmes; fascinating, marvellously well done—and yet the Queen Elizabeth Hall is only half full at times, even for an important first performance. I find that extraordinary. Perhaps we have too much music. Do you think so? There could be an over-surfeit, and then you get this problem of no real enthusiasm—of a sated appetite.
An old architect friend of mine of about 90, an Austrian, once said that the trouble with this world is—I wonder if I can remember it?—yes, it’s a play on a German word, soviel, meaning “so much.” Sovielisation.
As I said earlier, it’s the compression of our modern day life. My feeling is that the musical climate should be healthy enough so that interesting programmes like the London Sinfonietta’s can be done. I don’t mean that they should be concerts that make a lot of money—or, indeed, that so many thousands turn up to. But I think you must pick your venue; you know it’s a specialist audience, and so promote the concert well.
MS: Is this where the government should step in with support?
Well, yes, to some extent. But I also think that the artists themselves have to be a little bit clever about it. When I go to a very small hall, I play for a lot less money. When I play in a big hall, naturally I play for more. It’s very nice occasionally to do a special concert, to use a small hall sometimes. A small hall with a warm, generous acoustic can be a joy to play in—a constant reminder that the instrument is primarily designed for intimate chamber music. To have this pleasure, you must naturally scale down your charges.
For example, I did two complete Bach recitals last July in lovely little churches in the Engadine valley, near St. Moritz. A fantastic valley with the most beautiful 16th century churches. Being Swiss, you can be sure they were in beautiful condition. And they asked me to do them years ago. Because I love this particular valley to walk in. I knew they had a little concert series in all these charming churches. So when I was asked, I said “I’d love to do that.” The only problem is that the churches are small and obviously they can’t pay your normal fee. So I said, “Look, I’ll give two concerts for the price of one—if it’s on.”
I did a complete Bach concert in both churches. The surroundings and the acoustics, the proportions and the audiences—only 150 in each—were absolutely right. Both for the music and the guitar.
This is what chamber music is about. It’s not going to the Queen Elizabeth Hall with a thousand people so that people way back can hardly see you. They may be able to hear you, but the real presence of the music is so diluted in these very large places. It becomes a sort of half-experience for both performers and listeners alike.
Therefore I think it’s very good occasionally to take small halls and to help the promoters by not being grasping about the fee. Of course, it’s easier for me to do that; I do enough to be able to afford to take that attitude. But I think that to any artist who feels sensitive towards their work and their musical environment, the ideal ambient conditions in which to perform should be of paramount concern.
I do think that these large halls are a great problem for the old guitar. And yet, you see, you’re in a cleft stick in a way. The agents work on a commission basis, and the more they make, the more they want to make. Their overheads don’t go down; they have to live also.
When an artist is established, it’s often bread-andbutter money for these fellows. But you’ve got to think of the investment for the future. And the investment is the younger artists, for whom you’ve really got to work and pull out all the stops. As an agent, you may not make much money for a number of years, but I think it’s vitally important that the agent considers the younger players on his books as a vital investment for the future. Where integrity comes together with the economics of life is a very grey area. Some people have integrity, others I’m afraid don’t.
MS: You’ve had the same agent for many years, I believe.
Not so much in England—I’ve had the same man for 15 years. And my manager in America for nearly 30. But you see, he took me on when I was very young, and it was hard going in the ‘50s. Segovia had a fantastic name, I had no name at all; I’d made a gramophone record or two. I played for quite tiny fees, but they were in good places, and he worked in a firm which had a tremendous reputation, Sol Hurok, and that banner, as it were, was so famous—Americans really do react to banners in a way that we don’t, though we’re getting that way. It meant that they thought, well, if Sol Hurok’s interested in him, then he must be pretty good! I’m sure that was half my battle done. And half the chap’s battle who looked after me in Sol Hurok’s office.
But it was still jolly hard going, it really was. He still looks after me very well. He takes care. Of course, he always wants me to do more than I want to do. They wouldn’t be agents if they didn’t. On the other hand, they respect—I say I’m only going to do eleven concerts on this tour, and that’s it. “Oh couldn’t you fit in another one, it’s so close”—no!
It’s very tempting, particularly, you can imagine, when you go on a tour like the one I’m going on. The overheads are terrific. Just the travelling bill alone is incredible. And then the hotels, and all that. Then the agent takes 20 percent right across the board. The U.S. Government then take 30 percent on that! So you can imagine how many notes I have to play in order to come back with a few bob!
People think you go to America and you have very good fees—but when you boil it all down, instead of playing New York I could make almost the same playing in Southampton—sans witholding tax and travelling expenses!
And that’s how it all goes. There is a temptation to think, well, you know, perhaps I might fit this concert in, but I manage these days to keep myself at bay a little bit.
You’re producing, and there’s a limit. It’s energy. Your performance can lose its fire, its urgency. It can easily lose its uniqueness, really.
Do you know, it’s amazing the number of musicians you meet, in America particularly, who are playing every night, pretty much. And flying all over the planet. For a young person it’s a fantastic experience. You don’t know your limits, you’re getting this fantastic experience, and I think it’s very good to do that in your early twenties. Then I think you’ve got to be somewhat intelligent about it as you get older. Of course, everybody’s different. What’s good for one is not necessarily good for the other, I suppose.
Those players who have the good fortune to be in a position to do a lot of concerts, I think should. Sadly, so much of the success of a career—and by that I don’t mean the artistic success necessarily—depends on the fact that you’re in demand or people are offering you engagements. In a way, it’s a question of luck and to some extent how thrusting or aggressive you are or how good your agent is, how many competitions you’ve won, and if the critic of The Times has given you a reasonable review—you know, there are so many factors, really, which have to come together, and if they do it’s a wonderful thing. But some artists who may be really excellent just don’t have that luck. It’s very tough on them, and I really don’t know what the components are of success. Obviously you’ve got to communicate something—that’s the first prerequisite, I would have thought. And I suppose have some personality on the platform. It’s a very hard profession.
MS: I believe you weren’t too happy with the television series Guitarra! on Channel 4 and the way it was presented… What about the book, Life on the Road? Were you happy with that?
Well, what can you do!
MS: It’s out of print now. Are there plans to reprint it or issue it in paperback?
I don’t know.
MS: Do you care?
Well, it was quite a good read, I suppose. You see, the thing was that Tony Palmer was doing this mammoth film on Wagner. It was a tremendous undertaking. He started the book, but preparations for the film began to take over. It was just one of those unfortunate things. I think he took on a little bit too much. On the other hand, you know, the way he did it and the general format of it I thought was excellent. It was a little bit like a television script, but he’s a television man. I didn’t think it was at all bad. But I think one can always think these things can be so much better after the event. It’s a question of opinion. You’ve always got the commercial aspect of these things. I’ve sort of given that up, now. I’ve found it a pretty grubby world.
There again, I’m not very good at working with people. I have my ideas, and I think they’re good ideas, and I want them carried out with the sort of integrity I believe I have or wish I had even if I haven’t. But not everybody has that integrity, and why the hell should they?
Nevertheless, it does always cause me tiny bits of embarrassment in little affairs that I get up to, like that book and the film series.
MS: I can understand why you were not too happy about the television series, but it must have done some good for the guitar?
From that point of view it was absolutely marvellous. Strange though it may sound, I didn’t do it so much for the guitar. Nothing really needs doing for the guitar, because if you saw the Band Aid concert on television recently, everybody was playing guitars—the world over! So the guitar doesn’t need anything like that.
I think the classical instrument obviously is not as popular as the pop guitar, but it is popular. My feeling was to do something which used the guitar, something which the guitar is very good at, which is television. It’s a very intimate instrument, and it can look very good on the screen. And I thought that the music of the guitar might just cut across a very wide section of the television public who might not be music lovers per se, but who like music for pure enjoyment and pleasure.
There were two bits of music left out that I thought were essential to the way the programmes evolved and showed the different styles of guitar playing. It was largely to do with Tárrega, in fact, and the way that guitar technique developed. But it was the way the films were edited so that there was this constant nervous agitation visually. The music itself was going along in a lovely thread of contemplation, but the visual counterpoint was so often one of distraction.
This is really the commercial world, you see, because they can’t be still visually for five seconds. I felt confident that these programmes could be done visually in such a way that the music enhanced the vision and the vision enhanced the music. It could have been a wonderful combination artistically created, which would have been at least refreshing. What we finally got is what you get in a lot of programmes.
I believe that one of the great neuroses of our time is this terrible lack of thread in things; line, evolution—so many things to my mind seem to be so totally fragmented. And I find that’s terrible. I think it’s a disaster for people, who can’t stay with anything longer than five seconds. I don’t believe that, in a programme of music which, if I may say so, was as enticing as that, people would have just turned off. Because visually it had at times colour, atmosphere and intensity.
I think that the guys who control the fodder that comes out of that machine underestimate the intelligence and sensitivity of very ordinary viewing folk.
MS: I would agree totally. They didn’t want to take any chances at all.
That’s it! That was just the programme where they could have taken a modest chance, and it could have turned out a charming revelation. It would have done something for music on television.
Music on television is a poor country cousin, really. We all know that music’s to listen to. I mean, we like to watch a performer—that can be very exhilarating. But by and large music’s for listening to. Television to some extent negates that. Therefore it was my feeling that there was a way of presenting music where the vision, properly handled, would not interfere with the music. It’s not like listening to a late Beethoven string quartet, where you just have to hold your head in your hands; the music actually was always easy on the ear. The visual thing should have related to that and could have had much more poetical imagination in the way it was put together.
Film is ephemeral, it’s of its time, it generally has to exist within conditions which are commercially and fashionably prevailing, either commercially or what’s fashionable. So you can’t think in an uncompromisingly ideal sense with film, because it is of its time. You have to re-address yourself to this problem all the time. They’re not necessarily one hundred percent serious in terms of documentary integrity, that’s the point. They have to have the commercial coating of icing on the cake which often can thwart the integrity of the original conception.
This is what happens, I’m afraid. In The Jewel in the Crown, there was for my money the best television I’ve ever seen. There you got the most expressive visionary stillness for the first time on television. And it went right through that whole series. I thought that was one of the most salient and remarkable features of those lovely films.
CC: It can be done, but TV so often fails to stick its neck out. Yet taking risks is exciting—you’ve always shown a readiness to do that.
It may fail a little bit or it may catch on. If it catches on, it can have a tremendous influence. The trouble is, the commercial world wants to play safe. The budget for that guitar film was a lot, I can tell you. To go out on location in Spain like that… I don’t think it will ever happen again.
CC: l read somewhere that you were going to make a film about the 16th century Italian composer Alfonso Ferrabosco.
That seems to have fallen by the wayside. I was going to do a bit of acting in that. I was going to try and play a deaf musician. It was a great pity, that. It was a Canadian company that was being financed by an Italian company. I believe they were going to do it in Italy. But 70 percent of film projects fall by the wayside. They are set up, you give it what they call the treatment, the story line, you get all the personnel lined up, you blanket out a whole wodge of time in your diary, and then right at the last moment the money doesn’t come through, and the whole thing’s up the spout.
MS: Would this have fulfilled a secret ambition to act?
No. It was just something that amused me, that’s all. There again, to do some of that wonderful lute music would have been a very good thing. People listen to the lute by way of a rather specialised congregation of specialised concerts, the whole early music concept. Whereas it’s quite nice really to entice people into the sound of the lute. There’s a hell of a lot going for the lute. And there is, it seems, now an audience for it.
I’ve been very lucky, I’ve played many early music concerts for the National Trust in those lovely houses. I’ve been able to stay in these houses and I’ve been able to appreciate the furniture and all the other artefacts. It was a fantastic education.
Design For Living
This room ended just over there. I designed the extension about six years ago. I’ve done a lot to this house. But I’ve enjoyed doing it. I really get a great kick out of designing things and getting them built.
MS: It’s the artist in you pouring out again!
I wouldn’t say pouring out. At least it’s manifesting itself, I suppose. It’s been great fun doing this old house. I’ve tried to get it back to something like its original condition.
(On the wall is a large and handsome painting by McTaggart. A seascape, it was unusual, said Julian Bream, because it hadn’t any figures.)
I rather love that, because in Victorian painting figures can be rather dated, done in a slightly sentimental way, you might say. This one has just the sea. A great atmosphere. I bought it in Bond Street, in the street! I bumped into a friend who worked in the Fine Arts Society and he said, “I’ve just bought a fantastic picture at a sale.” This was many, many years ago. I said, “Who’s it by?” He said “McTaggart, it’s a seascape.” I remembered having seen several. I said, “Where is it?”—”It’s in the storeroom, but I’ve got a slide of it.” I said “How much?” and he said “Two hundred quid.” I said, “I’ll buy it!”
I could see it was so beautiful from this tiny little slide, so I didn’t fuss with seeing the picture itself. It’s so often the case, when you know something is very beautiful. It’s no use humming and hawing. I love that period of painting in any case.
I got rather keen on buying paintings at one time, until prices went up. Suddenly. Everything does go up, naturally, as a result of inflation, but things shoot up out of all proportion. And they don’t bear any resemblance to their original prices even a few years ago.
CC: I’d be interested to know what you think about the current Spanish guitars. A lot of innovations are taking place over there in Europe. Have you come across the double back and the straight edges and the tailpieces and the open bridges and that sort of thing?
Do you know, I haven’t come across those. It’s not because I wouldn’t be interested, it’s just that they’ve never come my way. Perhaps I should go there.
CC: The English luthiers on the whole are avoiding this kind of innovation. Are they wiser than their continental colleagues?
Guitars are a matter of taste, really, aren’t they? I would have thought that any innovation which brings out or gives more of the essential character of the guitar has to be worthwhile, doesn’t it? It’s worth proceeding along that line in terms of construction. Having neither seen nor heard the instruments you are referring to, I’m not able to judge their merits. The sort of instruments I use are rather conservative. My old Romanillos guitar is virtually a bit Torres, a bit Hauser, a bit Romanillos. I happen to like that type of guitar, but that’s a very personal thing. It’s a question of whether you like the sound.
I had a Maccaferri guitar when I was a boy which had a double soundboard and back, the whole works, and a reflector too. It certainly was a very loud instrument, that I can remember. But as I think back to the sound and it’s a long time ago—some 40 years—I don’t think the quality of the sound was as refined as I may have wished. But it certainly had a tremendous projection. I just wonder sometimes whether the guitar has reached the zenith of its development in its traditional sense. And whether, because concert halls are bigger and some artists can in fact attract a larger audience, this is the predominant reason why people are trying to develop the instrument so that it satisfies a demand at this point in the instrument’s history. That’s how innovation comes about in any case. Whether it’s detrimental to other facets of the guitar, I wouldn’t know. Only one’s ears can judge that. But one has to bear in mind that the guitar has so often existed on the periphery of the musical establishment that its construction has not been seriously thought about in certain parts of its history. My feeling about the guitar, the construction of it and the innovations is that providing the essential character of the instrument is preserved, then I’m all for innovations and trying to create an expressive instrument which is more worthy in every sense than many of the instruments which have been made hitherto.
On the other hand, I don’t think we should forget that the real magic of the guitar resides in its unique quality of sound—its power of evocation and its mellifluous resonances and, to quote the old poet Shelley, its ability “to flatter hands of perfect skill.”