Segovia: A Centenary Celebration Part III, 1941-1947

classical guitarist andres segovia

The stormy years of the war saw Andrés Segovia in South America. The Segovia-Ponce Letters (ed. Alcazar, translated Segal, publ. Editions Orphee, 1989) provide information on many aspects of Segovia’s preoccupations and struggles at this time. Eventually a full biography will place these letters and their somewhat startling contents in a more intelligible context, matching them with other material, including for example his other letters of this period, many of which are carefully preserved for posterity in the Segovia Museum in Linares.

Note: This is part 3 of a 17-part series from the Classical Guitar archive.

The Gramophone was published throughout World War II and reported in March, 1941 the release of further Segovia recordings on 78s. These included the Suite in A major (Prelude, Allemande, Gigue) on HMV DB1565, allegedly by Sylvius Leopold Weiss but actually, as we all now know, by Manuel Ponce. Canzonetta by Mendelssohn and Vivo e energico by Castelnuovo-Tedesco (HMV DB 3243), Study in A major by Tárrega, and Prelude by Bach (HMV DA 1553) were also reviewed in the same month.

In 1945 one of Segovia’s finest achievements came about with his edition of Twenty Studies for the Guitar by Fernando Sor, published by Edward B. Marks Music Corporation of New York. This book has probably sold more copies than any other set of studies and for most guitarists has become a permanent feature of their technical landscape. Segovia himself was to record many of them and years later a youthful John Williams recorded them all at the Mozart Hall, Vienna, in the sequence set out in Segovia’s edition (EMI CLP 1702, first released 1963).

The next guitar recording reviewed in The Gramophone (May 1946) featured Granada (Albéniz) and Tonadilla (Granados), on Brunswick 0159. Segovia, “lost to us for many years,” is seen here “at his astonishing best … and by some magic makes his instrument sound like a clavichord married to the genius of the guitar.

One of the significant guitar events in the same year was the founding in New York by Vladimir Bobri of Guitar Review. Vol.I, No. l appeared in October/November 1946. This periodical has survived through to the present, despite the inevitable crises over nearly half a century. Guitar Review initially based its editorial philosophy on the maestro’s principles and served uniquely to propagate a firm public image of Segovia. Segovia was also given a platform to express his views on a number of topics, and contributed transcriptions. Guitar Review‘s aims were summed up in a prophetic editorial preface:

As for the Editor, may he not—in boundless confidence—point to the far-reaching influence this organ may eventually wield in reclaiming the classic guitar from obscurity and disparagement, so that it may regain its full measure of dignity in the musical world? This is the goal envisaged by those contending against triviality on the one hand and disregard on the other. (Guitar Review, Vol. I, No. 1, Page 3.)

Guitar Review No. 2, in 1947, set out Segovia’s schedule of recitals for the season. These were Esconcido, California (Jan. 16), Los Angeles (Jan. 19), Aberdeen, Dakota (Feb. 3), Columbus, Ohio (Feb. 6), Detroit, Michigan (Feb. 11), Washington D.C. (Feb. 19), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Feb. 26), Wellesley, Massachussetts (March 5), Toronto, Canada (March 15), Rochester, N.Y. (March 18) and New York, N.Y. ( date uncertain).

The same issue mentioned how Schotts of London had reprinted sixteen of Segovia’s Guitar Archive series, proof of the development of the guitar’s popularity in the post-war era. The reprints were as follows:

  • 106-108 Bach J. S.: Transcriptions (3 volumes)
  • 146 Bach J.S.: La Xenophone, La Sybille
  • 147 Bach P. E.: Siciliana
  • 140 Chopin: Mazurka (Op. 63, No. 3)
  • 139 Haydn: Minuet from Quartet in G major
  • 117 Mozart: Minuet
  • 130 Sor: Mozart Variations, Op. 9
  • 119 Ponce: 3 Popular Mexican Songs
  • 111 Pedrell: Lament
  • 144 Scarlatti: Sonata
  • 138 Schumann: Entreating Child/Frightening
  • 103 Torroba: Nocturno
  • 133 Torroba: Characteristic Pieces (Vol. 1)
  • 102 Turina: Fandanguillo

Several of these have since dropped from popularity, but the list gives some indication of what appealed to guitarists at the time and Segovia regularly performed these pieces in public and would eventually record most of them. Also in Guitar Review, No. 2 was a transcription of Prelude (Dolor) by J.A. de San Sebastian, one of Segovia’s admired pieces.

In Vol. 3, Segovia expressed his beliefs on the art of transcription:

If one examines the transcriptions of Tárrega one is struck by his ingenious ability to find the same equivalents as would a great poet in translating from one language to another the poesy of another great poet … It is possible to say that at times Tárrega was too fond of the guitar but this sin was a small one … Artists were not as critical of themselves in those days. I am sure that if Tárrega himself had lived in our days he would have thrown out many of his own transcriptions. To sum up, only the pianistic talents of Liszt, with his defects and qualities, are comparable to the works of Tárrega.

Segovia’s playing of transcriptions had, from his early years, been founded on the work of Tárrega. He was indebted to Tárrega for the precedents of transcriptions of Albéniz (Granada and Sevilla), Bach (Bourrée from Partita I for violin, Bourrée from Third Cello Suite, and the Fugue from Sonata 1 for violin), a couple of Chopin pieces, Handel’s Corale and Minuetto, Haydn’s Andante, Largo assai and Minuet, Serenata española by Malats, Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words and Canzonetta, and Schubert’s Minuet from Sonata Op. 78.

To Miguel Llobet, Segovia acknowledges his debt for the Danzas and Tonadilla (La Maja de Goya) of Granados and for the Catalan folk song arrangements, of which El Mestre was one of his favourites.

Segovia tells how compositions written for him by composers without “full knowledge of the guitar’s resources,” needed the assistance of his “translations in the idiom of the guitar” and commented how “that too is a way of transcribing.”

The fourth issue of Guitar Review, published in 1947, was dedicated to the work of Andrés Segovia. Paul Carlton, the managing editor, expressed his admiration:


… Segovia does not “interpret” music to us—what we hear is the music itself Segovia is Bach—he is Albéniz, Weiss, Tárrega, Sor—Segovia is them, reincarnated in the works they perhaps hoped a Segovia might someday play.

Perhaps the most universal compliment that is ever paid to Segovia is, strangely enough, one that is never spoken. No one ever mentions Segovia’s “technique.” That is indeed high praise, for it means that so great is Segovia’s Art that all art is concealed … which is what the definition of true Art calls for. There is no “technique” in Segovia’s playing, which to be paradoxical again, is because of his technical perfection. It is all Music. 

It is all Segovia.

Nowadays such a judgement seems outdated. Segovia’s interpretative approach was indeed a total philosophy which covered all his repertoire. But by the criteria of subsequent decades Segovia’s concept of artistic interpretation, arrived at within the accepted tenets of early 20th century principles, tended to reduce each piece, whatever its historical context, to similar artistic formulae. This approach of course characterised most of the great instrumentalists of the early decades of the 20th century, including Paderewski, Casals, and Kreisler as well as Segovia, who was one of the last of this generation.

Paul Carlton’s comments emerge from a musical context where no other living guitarist was credited as being in the same league of performers as Segovia. This is referred to on Page 89 of Guitar Review, No. 4 by Theodorus M. Hofmeester, Jnr, the associate editor:

There are other guitarists of concert merit but their influence has been either local or limited in scope through circumstances beyond their control, that upon Segovia has fallen the whole task of impressing the guitar on the world as an instrument worthy of the name “musical.” This constitutes the uniqueness of Segovia in the musical world today.

A specific understanding and definition of the Segovia phenomenon was thus formulated from 1947 onwards in Guitar Review. (On the question of technique, as raised by Carlton, Vladimir Bobri, published a book in 1972 entitled The Segovia Technique).

Guitar Review Vol. 1, No. 4 published a fragment of Segovia’s autobiography, The Guitar and Myself. The 1947 version presents a picture of his youthful years concentrated primarily on Segovia’s acquisition of musical knowledge and on guitar pieces. His style of writing creates resonating anecdotes which somehow dissipate disturbances and inner probings.

Comparison of this approach with more revelatory autobiographies by other great instrumentalists such as Artur Rubinstein or Yehudi Menuhin is useful. Segovia’s autobiography is in many ways typically Iberian. In his analysis of the national character, Fernando Diaz-Plaja regards such reticence as of significance in understanding the Spanish:

The Englishman says that his home is his castle. He is referring to his individual rights as against the Government. The Spaniard also considered his home his castle—but as against everybody … He does not give his name or his address easily …

And if the Spaniard does not like giving his name, how is he going to give something intimate, his personality? This is the reason for the lack of autobiographies or of love letters in Spanish literature. The man who has worn a cloak for so many years to hide the patches in his trousers is not going to undress spiritually before people he does not know. (The Spaniard and the Seven Deadly Sins, London 1968, Page 54.)

It is of course significant that Segovia chose to foster his public image in this way and at this time. The formulation of a persona or personal mythology becomes part of many a public man’s armour, defending his privacy while seemingly explaining certain things to satisfy the world’s curiosity. (Further matters concerning the autobiography will be discussed when the series reaches publication date of Segovia’s book in the 1970’s.)

In November 1947, Segovia returned to Britain for a recital tour, his first post-war appearance here for nine years. His itinerary, according to Guitar Review, Vol. 1, No. 5, 1948, included a broadcast from London (25 November), Harpenden Music Club (3 December), the Cambridge Theatre, London performing Castelnuovo­ Tedesco’s Concerto in D, Op. 99, with the New London Orchestra under Alec Sherman (7 December), Bradford Music Club (9 December) and Welwyn Music Club (12 December).

It was during this tour that Julian Bream first heard Segovia in person. Speaking on the BBC in August 1974, he described this experience:

I was simply riveted by his playing. I’d never heard such beautiful articulation, such a wealth of tone colour, and such wonderfully integral interpretation. His technique really is formidable. There’s never been a technique of such precision and control before Segovia and it would be remarkable if there would be in the future a superior technique. 

I think the most remarkable thing on hearing Segovia would be the effect of the sound that he produces and the effect of that sound upon one’s sensibilities. It is very clear, it is extremely fine, and, if one may use the word, aristocratic.

Julian Bream was introduced to Segovia by Dr Boris Perott, the president of the Philharmonic Society of Guitarists some time during this tour. (Julian Bream had already given a recital at the Cheltenham Art Gallery on 17 February, 1947, and on 5 January, 1948, Bream was scheduled to give another, including Sor’s Op. 9, Ponce’s Sonata Clasica, Tonadilla by Granados, and Anecdotes No. 5, by Segovia. Already the young Bream had established a formidable repertoire). On 8 December the Society gave a reception at the Alliance Hall, London, in honour of Segovia. Wilfrid M. Appleby, writing in BMG in January, 1948 reported the occasion:

… the maestro received a tremendous ovation when he entered. Dr Perott in the name of the P.S.G., and its seven branches, welcomed Segovia, who replied in English, revealing a genial personality and a keen sense of humour.

Then Madame Olga Coelho, the famous Brazilian singer-guitarist, was introduced and enthusiastically welcomed …

 After the interval, Julian Bream played at Segovia’s request. His solos received great applause and Segovia declared that in Julian we have a young guitarist of great promise.

Glover played his arrangement of Greensleeves and then Olga Coelho sang a Segovia arrangement of a Scarlatti song and a Brazilian folk song, The Little Frog, the speed of which left everyone breathless except the singer-guitarist.

After some flamenco, the audience joined in singing For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow, and cheers for Segovia.

The concert in Bradford on 9 December, 1947, was attended by John W. Duarte. A group of the Manchester Guitar Circle had driven over the Pennines to hear Segovia and afterward were invited have coffee with him. Duarte had taken one of his compositions with him and Segovia’s response was encouraging. In a letter to BMG, Duarte commented how he found Segovia “friendly, helpful and charming … more than that he displayed an ease of manner and gentlemanliness which are all too seldom found in this country today.”