Read Part 2 of Rico Stover’s 2011 ‘CG’ Article ‘Barrios and Segovia’!

Our tribute to our recently departed colleague Rico Stover, who died February 3, 2019, continues with Part 2 of his 2011 Classical Guitar magazine article “Barrios and Segovia. To read more about Rico’s life, as well as Part 1  of this extensive article, click here. —BJ


Barrios and Segovia saw each other one last time in March of 1944. Twenty-three years had passed since their first meeting and Segovia must have been surprised, perhaps even shocked, to see Barrios worn out, ill, poor, and forgotten. Seeing him in such circumstances—without possibilities—it is not hard to understand the comment Segovia made 15 years later in Santiago de Compostela (Spain) when he stated that “Barrios wanted to destroy himself but could not, because he was a genius.” He “destroyed” himself by changing his name and his manner of dress, by having plastic surgery, by disregarding his health, and by not structuring his career correctly.

Segovia not only excluded the works of Barrios from his repertoire, he also forbade his students to play his music, as in the careers of the Uruguayan Abel Carlevaro (1916–2001) and with the Venezuelan Alirio Díaz (1923–2016), two of his predilect pupils who did not share his opinion, and who, in spite of Segovia’s attitude, kept works by the Paraguayan in their repertoire. This Díaz confirmed to me in 1975. According to the guitarist Alfredo Escande, Carlevaro commented to him that Segovia told him not to include “those works” in his concerts (Carlevaro played Confesión, Estudio de Concierto, La Catedral, Las Abejas and Oración por Todos). Escande, author of the book Abel B. Carlevaro: Un Nuevo Mundo en la Guitarra, further states that “the only concert that Carlevaro gave in which he did not include the music of Barrios was at the Sodre in November of 1942 (in which Segovia presented him to the public with a program developed under his direction).” This debut concert of Abel Carlevaro was a great success, with the audience demanding three encores, the last of which was, ironically, Barrios’ Las Abejas.

During the decade of 1950s, Segovia began teaching annually, first in Siena, Italy, and then in Santiago de Compostela. These classes attracted many young guitarists, including Díaz and John Williams (1941). The young Williams met Díaz in Siena, initiating a profound friendship. This contact with Diaz was very important to Williams, who years later described his experience:

“In 1954, even though Segovia was there, I learned much more from Alirio than I ever learned from Segovia, who was really quite disrespectful of all the tradition from which Alirio came. Segovia was very, very—snobbish is the best word—about Latin American music, unless it was by Villa-Lobos or Ponce. Segovia… wouldn’t allow anyone to play Barrios in a class. He forbade people to play Barrios; it was an extraordinary thing. There are all sorts of reasons for it to do with the old Spanish imperialistic patronizing of Latin American music, high Spanish culture looking down on the popular Latin Americans; that’s all part of it, plus many other things. Alirio accepted and respected that—he never played any of that music in class, and he never played it to Segovia. Now that we know [more] we are more seriously respectful of Latin American culture, especially on the guitar; that is, Agustín Barrios Mangoré, Antonio Lauro—all of whom now form a basic part of our guitar life.”

For Segovia, playing the music of Barrios was an impossibility, because had he done it, he would have undermined his firm conviction that the guitar needed to be rescued from the tradition that Barrios so excellently represented; and it would have been a recognition and validation of the idea that the tradition of the virtuoso player/composer is capable of producing an acceptable result. Segovia was wary of “guitarists who claim to be composers.” And in spite of the fact that he knew that Barrios had talent and even perhaps thought him a genius (although misguided), in the final analysis he considered Barrios of minor importance, as much for his lack of “artistic qualities,” exemplified by his use of metal strings, as for the eclectic style of his composition—“a little of this and a little of that”—which Segovia felt was “unmusical.”


Sharon Isbin recalls her contact with Segovia:

“In my youth, I was fortunate to have received some lessons from Segovia. One time, in the 1970s, I was playing for him in his room at the Mayflower Hotel in New York. I had prepared works from his repertoire, and after each one, he offered his praise and asked me to play another. This went on for an hour, after which, I had run out of things to play. Though I knew he was no admirer of Barrios, I decided to play Julia Florida—without announcing what it was—since it was in a lyric, tonal style that he liked. When I finished, Segovia said: ‘Very beautiful, what was it?’ I took a deep breath and replied: ‘Julia Florida by Agustín Barrios,’ to which he replied: ‘Ah, Barrios, he never could compose, always a little of this, a little of that.’ The lesson was over.”

By 1985 Segovia had moderated his concept of Barrios, with this paragraph that says nothing overtly negative per se, but also offers nothing plainly laudatory:

“Agustín Barrios has succeeded in planting his name and the prestige of his works in the mind of the professionals and amateurs who exist in many countries far and near. His work is a flying Academy that informs, deliberates and instructs about the intense and extensive life of our poetic instrument. He thus nourishes the love for the guitar, and aids those who cultivate it for mere pleasure or with aspirations of reaching a high place in the constellation of great artists. One must, then, congratulate my friend Agustín for the triumph of his powerful and noble effort”. (Comment by Segovia published in the booklet of the CD set of the complete works of by guitarist Phillipe Lemaigre on the Ricercar label in France.)

It was relatively easy for Segovia to speak in a disparaging manner about Barrios during the decades of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, because then very few people were familiar with the life and works of the Paraguayan artist. By 1985, however, the number of respected guitarists who had programmed, recorded, and praised Barrios’ music had grown considerably, which made it more difficult for Segovia to continue with his negative attitude. I think that this situation was very difficult for Segovia, because once he had made his decision regarding Barrios in 1921, he was not disposed to retract or alter his judgment. He maintained steadfast in his opinion till his last years. And as far as referring to Barrios as his “friend,” one could say that this is a bit of an exaggeration as they only met on three occasions.

Contrasting the concert programs that each guitarist gave in the same theatre in Mexico City during the same period (1933—34), the program of Segovia presented by Conciertos Daniel in 1933 reveals an international concert artist having performed throughout Latin America and Spain, while Barrios is presented by Pablo Machado, whom he met in Venezuela barely two years earlier. The difference in the level of professionalism between the two is evident. The image on the front page of Segovia’s program shows him playing before three ladies with a very formal aspect and an international panorama. Barrios, on the other hand, presents himself as “the wizard of the guitar” playing in front of a grass hut in the jungle surrounded by six Indians.

In view of the lack of a good representative, this “exotic aspect” of Cacique Nitsuga Mangoré was the only thing Barrios had to attract a public. When he arrived in Mexico City in 1934, it had been over three years since he began presenting himself as the Indian Nitsuga, and frankly, it had served him well with the publics of Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. But in Mexico City this manner of presentation was not well received by the public. I suspect that after the initial two concerts where he billed himself as Nitsuga—replete with feathers and headdress—he met the Paraguayan Ambassador to Mexico, Tomás Salomoni, who convinced him to return to the traditional tuxedo of the concert artist for the third concert, though he kept the name, signing all manuscripts during his last years as A.B. Mangoré.

Bibliography: Carlevaro, Abel: My Guitar and My World, Chanterelle Verlag, Heidelberg, 2006. Escande, Alfredo: Don Andrés y Paquita—La vida de Segovia en Montevideo, Londres: Lulu Enterprises UK Ltd., 2009. Godoy, Sila, Szaran, Luís: Mangoré: Vida y obra de Agustín Barrios, Editorial Don Bosco, Asunción, 1994. Herrera Klinger, Miguel: Agustín Barrios: Apuntes para una biografía, unedited notes, Montevideo, 1956. Poveda, Alberto Lopez: Andrés Segovia. Vida and Obra, Universidad de Jaen / Ayuntamiento de Linares, 2010. Wassily Saba, Thérèse, “Alirio Díaz and John Williams: 50 years of Friendship,” Classical Guitar, December 2009, Volume 27. #4. Stover, Richard D.: Six Silver Moonbeams, 2nd Edition, Asunción, 2011.

Here’s a funky but cool old video (not sure of the vintage) of Rico talking about and playing some Barrios, including Maxixe: