Segovia: A Centenary Celebration Part V, 1950

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BY GRAHAM WADE | FROM THE JUNE 1993 ISSUE OF CLASSICAL GUITAR

So many foundations were prepared during the 1940’s for the great leap forward which was to be Segovia’s destiny in the following decade. In the United States of America Andrés Segovia, with the help of Sol Hurok, his esteemed concert agent, had managed to overcome the prejudice against the guitar in the concert hall which endured among many concert managers. Segovia appeared on a number of popular shows broadcast nationwide. In 1949, for example, he appeared on the USA Army Theatre Show, a prestigious and unusual platform for a classical musician. (In 1943 Segovia had appeared on the Coca Cola Show, performing Spanish Dance No 5 by Granados accompanied by an orchestra!)

Note: This is part 5 of a 17-part series from the Classical Guitar archive.

Moreover the development of nylon strings by the Augustine workshop during the war years changed guitar history radically. Nylon strings were not only more stable than the gut strings used through the ages but could in their very invention provide a positive factor in spreading the classical guitar’s popularity. Nylon strings were easier to tune and lasted longer than gut. The sound of the guitar became brighter, perhaps more metallic, and to some extent aspects of guitar technique traditional since the days of Sor and Tárrega would be amended to accommodate the new technology. The post-war generation of guitarists of course profited greatly in so many ways by the introduction of nylon strings.

In October, 1949, The Gramophone reviewed another Segovia recording, its first since May, 1946. Columbia LX1229 featured two studies by Villa-Lobos and Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Tarantella, “played with all the skill and charm for which Segovia is so justly famous.” In January, 1950, Lionel Salter, (still writing for the magazine in 1993), reviewed Columbia LX1248, a recording of Turroba’s Arada and Danza and Turina’s Fandanguillo, mentioning Segovia’s “variety of tone colour” and “perfection of phrasing.”

Wilfrid M. Appleby, writing in BMG (January 1950) in his column The Spanish Guitar commented:

Six new discs of Andrés Segovia’s masterly playing were recently recorded by the English Columbia Co. They include an album of three 12-inch records of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco Concerto for Guitar with a Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alec Sherman. I believe this is the first time a guitar concerto has been recorded and, if that is so, it is an important event in the history of the guitar.

At the time of writing only one of the other three records (LX1229) has been issued—but I understand another is being released this month. One side of LX1229 is the new Tarantella in A minor by Castelnuovo-Tedesco which I heard Segovia play at one of his recitals. When I mentioned that I liked it, Segovia said he did too—although it was difficult to play.

The two studies by the Brazilian composer, H. Villa­Lobos, on the reverse side are in contrasting styles; the second being a breath-taking arpeggio study which Segovia plays magnificently.

As well as these considerable advances in his international reputation through the issue of recordings, Segovia’s perennial desire to expand the repertoire was also rewarded in 1950. Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, no doubt encouraged by the recording of his Guitar Concerto (composed in 1939), produced two works of significance during this year, the Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet, Op. 143, and the Fantasia for guitar and piano, Op. 145. Ever since the writing of the Guitar Concerto, Castelnuovo-Tedesco had been hard at work on behalf of the guitar producing Capriccio Diabolico, Op. 85b for guitar and orchestra (the solo piece of this name, Op. 85 had been written in 1935), Rondo, Op. 129 (1946), and Suite, Op. 133 (1947).

Fantasia for guitar and piano was dedicated to Segovia and his wife, Paquita Madriguera, a concert pianist of renown who had studied composition with Granados and pianoforte with Frank Marshall. (Segovia had married Paquita in 1936 following divorce from his first wife, Adelaide. But by 1947, [cf. Segovia—Ponce Letters, ed. Alcazar, Page 275] this second marriage was also heading for divorce.)

Corazon Otero, in her book Mario Castelnuovo­ Tedesco, Su Vida y Su Obra Para Guitarra (Mexico, 1987), gives the background to the composition of the Quintet for Guitar and String Quartet. Alfred Leonard, a German musicologist, requested Segovia to participate in a chamber music concert. Segovia agreed provided that Castelnuovo-Tedesco would supply the modern part of the programme by writing a Quintet. The resultant work was a masterpiece of its kind in four movements, Allegro vivo e schietto, Andante mesto, Scherzo—Allegro con spirito alla Marcia and Finale—Allegro con fuoco.

In BMG (March 1950) Wilfrid Appleby commented on the second of the new issues of Columbia records (LX1248):

…It is a masterpiece in two senses. First the superb playing of the soloist and secondly the perfect recording.


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Segovia’s playing makes the listener realise that here is a musician who knows exactly what he wishes to express in whatever music he plays.

Torroba’s Arada and Danza are based on Spanish folk themes, the former being a ploughing song. Segovia’s arrangement of them for the guitar enhances their natural beauty and gives them an atmosphere of idyllic charm.

On the reverse side is a new interpretation of an old favourite and those who have the HMV record of Turina’s Fandanguillo (which Segovia made in April, 1928) will find it interesting to compare it with this new Columbia. This disc has attained a new high level in the art of recording the guitar. Never have I heard such extraordinary clarity and perfection of tone.

On 24 April, 1950, Segovia gave a benefit concert for the New York Society of the Classic Guitar, the proceeds going to the funds of Guitar Review. The audience consisted of 120 subscribers to the periodical and took place in the mansion of S.L.M. Barlow, “composer, musician and patron of the Arts.” Segovia’s programme included Milan, Sanz, de Visée, Bach, Sor, Ponce, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Torroba and Albéniz.

In May, 1950, The Gramophone featured Segovia with an interview about his life and art by W.S. Meadmore accompanied by a photograph and with a review of another recording. The interview follows quite closely the outline of the “official” autobiography published in Guitar Review, with few surprises. One of the purposes of Segovia’s visit was to “record in English studios,” the first time since 1935 that he had made recordings in this country. (Meadmore had become a convert to Segovia’s art twenty-two years before when he attended a Wigmore Hall recital despite initial scepticism about the guitar.)

One intriguing aspect of the interview concerns Segovia’s early ambition that “one day he would persuade composers to write for the guitar.” Torroba had been the first and “after him, de Falla composed his Homage for Le Tombeau de Debussy for the guitar.” (This must have been one of the first hints of an error repeated in musical dictionaries for ever after—that Falla composed his only solo guitar work for Segovia!)

The recording reviewed in May, 1950, was Columbia LX1275, Sonatina Meridional by Manuel Ponce, recorded between 22nd and 30th June, 1949, as were those mentioned earlier. The reviewer thought a sonatina was “unusual” as “mostly, guitar pieces are short and detached” but praises Segovia as the “completely ­equipped, sympathetic exponent” of the guitar.

The same recording was reviewed by Discus in BMG (August 1950):

As of right Andrés Segovia takes price of place this month with two sides on Columbia’s LX1275 (12 in.) both of which are occupied by the three movements of Manuel Ponce’s Sonatina Meridional. This is the most atmospheric and nationalist of Ponce’s guitar sonatas but its first movement in particular is organised on familiar European lines.

The structural lightness and brief development section of this movement justifies the term Sonatina, as opposed to Sonata. During the brief development it seems, to your reviewer, that Segovia could have pointed the antiphonal passages with more tonal variety—but we are in the face of formidable authority.

The second movement—Copla—is a brief song-like passage of great beauty which serves the usual purpose of pieces so titled, viz. to link the more energetic flanking movements.

The quality of the recording is variable and at its best in the opening movement. On the whole it shares the faults of the previous Columbia issues—lack of definition, slight echo, and lack of “top” which results in a “boxy” tone on the upper notes. Segovia compensates, however, freely, for these shortcomings and we mention them only in the hope that the Columbia Co. will bear them in mind when next Segovia visits them.

Between August 10 and September 15, 1950, Segovia began his first year of instruction at the l’Accademia Musicale Chigiana, in Siena, Italy. Wilfrid Appleby reported this in the August 1950 issue of BMG, giving also the ground rules for attendance:

Students will be permitted to enroll for the course if they are successful in passing an examination which includes an elementary knowledge of musical theory, the ability to play scales in all keys, all the studies in the first part of Aguado’s Method, a Prelude by Tárrega or Ponce (own choice), Andantino in D minor (Sor), a solo (own choice) by Sor, Giuliani, Tárrega, Llobet, Torroba, Turina or Ponce, etc, and to play at sight an easy study or prelude selected by the examiner.

The guitarists and music-lovers responsible for organising this course are to be congratulated on their enterprise. The result will certainly be a raising of the standard of guitar musicianship in Italy.

In December 1950, l’Accademia Musicale Chigiana announced an international guitar music contest for a Concertino for Guitar with Chamber Music Ensemble and a composition for solo guitar. The judges included Georges Enesco (chairman), Gaspar Cassado and Andrés Segovia, among others. Prizes were awarded to Hans Haug of Switzerland for his Concertina for Guitar with Chamber Music, and to Alexandre Tansman for Cavatina. The winning compositions were to be performed publicly by Segovia and published by Schott & Co, of London.

Segovia’s tour of Britain that year included engagements at Chelsea (October 24), Elgin (October 27), Oxford (November 2), and Whitchurch, near Cardiff (November 3), as well as a Wigmore Hall recital.