BY GRAHAM WADE | FROM THE MAY 1993 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR
At the end of World War II, Andrés Segovia resumed his career as an international concert artist, traveling widely and visiting countries where he had not previously performed. In 1947 he visited North Africa and in 1948 gave recitals in Egypt. In 1951 he visited Israel for the first time, giving concerts in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Steadily he was claiming the whole globe as his undisputed territory, his artistic message being delivered personally in more and more countries.
Note: This is part 4 of a 17-part series from the Classical Guitar archive.
This too was a unique achievement, for no other guitarist before Segovia had travelled so extensively or so frequently to develop and establish the guitar as an appropriate instrument for recitals. Segovia’s missionary zeal on behalf of the guitar drove him incessantly, an energy that was to burn brightly and unquenchable for the next four decades. Segovia was now 55 and his sensational career was about to achieve its fullest impact. Nearly 40 years after his debut in Granada in 1909 the foundations for ultimate triumph had been truly prepared.
On 24 April, 1948 the musical world was saddened by the death of Manuel Ponce, Mexico’s foremost composer. For Segovia this was a particularly severe blow as Ponce was to him a soulmate as well as a composer who had provided him with many beautiful works. Guitar Review, No. 7, 1948, was a commemorative issue to the memory of Ponce. Segovia’s epitaph to Ponce, in an article entitled “Manuel M. Ponce, Sketches from Heart and Memory,” formed the greatest tribute. Having spoken of “the incomparably important place which Ponce occupies in the current revival of the guitar,” Segovia went on to evaluate Ponce’s contribution to the repertoire as being the finest of all:
He lifted the guitar from the low artistic state in which it had lain. Along with Turina, Falla, Manen, Castelnuovo, Tansman, Villa-Lobos, Torroba, etc, but with a more abundant yield than all them put together, he undertook the crusade full of eagerness to liberate the beautiful prisoner. Thanks to him—as to the others l have named—the guitar was saved from the music written exclusively by guitarists…
…He composed more than eighty works for the guitar; large or small, they are all of them pure and beautiful, because he did not have the cunning to write while turning his face, like the sunflower towards worldly success… (Guitar Review, No. 7, 1948, Page 4)
For Segovia the death of Manuel Ponce represented the end of a great era, that period from the 1920s onwards when the repertoire expanded so rapidly over the years. The pioneering aspect of Segovia’s work at that time would evolve towards consolidation of whatever gains had been made. From now on no year would go by without decisive activities in this process.
Segovia, following the labour of decades, was at last in a suitable situation to go forward to establish the guitar in perpetuity. The foundations of his repertoire were in place and communications throughout the world had opened up considerably following the technological developments brought about by the war. The recording industry would soon be poised for its first great upheaval since the 78rpm was invented and the public were hungry for what Segovia had to offer them in terms of artistry.
The Gramophone (June, 1948), via Harold C. Schonberg’s Letter from America, announced that the “great guitarist, a few months previously. recorded the Bach Chaconne,” in an all-Bach album for Musicraft (Though it was not until July 1955 that Segovia’s Bach recordings were reviewed in The Gramophone). [Note: the video above is a recording of Segovia playing the Bach Chaconne in 1949.]
Segovia’s year followed its characteristic contours in 1948. Recitals in New York Town Hall on 4 January and 7 March, and his subsequent tours included Mexico and Holland. In September he appeared at the Edinburgh Festival, giving no fewer than three recitals on 7, 8 and 10, September. The programmes were as follows:
Edinburgh International Festival: 7 September, 1948
(Encores were Llobet’s El Mestre and La Filla delMarxant and Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra)
8 September 1948
Two Pavanas (Milán)
Variations Op. 9 (Sor)
Chaconne (J.S. Bach)
Impressions Ibericas (Ponce)
La Maja de Goya (Granados)
(Encores were Sor’s Study No. 9 and Torroba’s Fandanguillo)
10 September 1948
Two Galliards (Dowland)
Three Little Pieces (Purcell)
Aria with Variations (Handel)
Sonata in D [Omaggio a Boccherini] (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
Two Studies (Villa-Lobos)
Danza No. 5 (Granados)
(Encores were Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Crespo’s Norteña)
The indebtedness to Manuel Ponce over these three recitals was augmented by Segovia’s inclusion of the fake Alessandro Scarlatti and Weiss pieces. Critics of the day (and in later years) swallowed the pieces whole without raising a single eyebrow. Even such a scholar as Wilfrid Mellers, later Professor of Music at York University, could be deceived:
The most distinctive feature of lute technique… is what one might call simulated polyphony… the skill called for in interpreting the polyphony latent in the lute tablature was what principally gave its highly virtuoso character to lute technique. Only very sensitive and resourceful players were capable of an adequate ‘realisation.’
Further evidence of this virtuosity both of technique and feeling is found in the ornamentation which was often not indicated in the text… The ornaments, which were an integral part of both line and harmony, included all kinds of slide or portamento effects, the sudden damping of strings, the ver cassé or vibrato, and various kinds of tremblement… The intimacy and subtlety of these ornaments came from the direct contact between the string and the human agency of the finger. Segovia gives an idea of this, on the more emotional guitar, in his recording of a most beautiful dance suite of the German lutenist and contemporary of Bach, S.L. Weiss. (François Couperin and the French Classical Tradition, publ. Dobson, 1950, Page 194)
When the “Weiss suite” had been reviewed in March, 1941, in The Gramophone, its critic too had swallowed the bait whole:
This sample is in the familiar form that we know best in Bach’s and Handel’s suites… The rhythmic point in the playing is particularly happy. It would be difficult to imagine a finer flow. The Sarabande shows an interesting harmonic touch or two, perhaps influenced by operatic sentiment (I am presuming that the music is played from the original score, not arranged except as the nature of the guitar may require some small adaptation). Bach’s Sarabandes sometimes dive deep in expressive power. This one has a gently languishing, feminine spirit, a clear, gentle aspiration perhaps; certainly nothing weakening. It is worth tasting. The Gavotte is more sententious but we can hear that Weiss had all the safe phrase-building plans well in mind… The Gigue is the star piece, in both technique and style: an unusually developed piece… (W.R.A. The Gramophone, March, 1941)
The background to the Weiss joke is outlined in Corazon Otero’s book:
…he (Ponce) agreed with Segovia to compose secretly, under different pseudonyms, works that Segovia would then propagate. In this way they perpetrated a series of jokes that the public and the critics innocently accepted… (Manuel M. Ponce and the Guitar, Corazón Otero, Publ. Musical New Services, 1983, Page 30).
Also of historic interest in the Edinburgh concerts is Segovia’s device of creating a synthetic Bach “suite” by stringing together his favourite pieces, a practice which must have seemed unusual to some even then.
Apart from these elements, the triptych of recitals is both a cornucopia of Segovia’s repertoire and a milestone in the achievements of the guitarist in creating such a repertoire up to this time. The pattern of the characteristic Segovia recital with its blend of transcriptions and original works for guitar was now fully established, with the music of Albéniz rounding off the proceedings on each occasion.
On 26 and 27 October, Segovia was guest solioist with the Halle Concert Society and performed the Guitar Concerto by Castelnuovo-Tedesco under the conducting of Sir John Barbirolli at the Albert Hall, London. On 2 November, Segovia gave a solo recital in London, his first half being Four Pavanes by Milán, La Frescobalda Sonata by Scarlatti and Gigue by “Weiss”: the second half included the seven Bach pieces played in Edinburgh, the works by Crespo, Tansman and Ponce, and finally Granados’ La Maja de Goya and Albéniz’s Leyenda. In the same year Julian Bream gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Music and in Spain the “Guitar soloist Narcisco García Yepes” played Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez with the Corunna Municipal Orchestra. Back in England the first Aldeburgh Festival took place in June, founded by Benjamin Britten, Eric Crozier and Peter Pears. It was the year when the violinists Kyung-Wha Chung and Pinchas Zukerman were born, when the Soviet composers Shostakovich, Prokofiev and Khachaturian were criticized for their “anti-democratic music” and thanked the Communist Party for just criticism, promising to correct their mistakes in future, and when André Previn’s first piano jazz recording reached England.
Next time we shall look at Segovia’s career in the 1950s.