Segovia: A Centenary Celebration Part XIII, 1961—Bach’s Complete Third Cello Suite


Andrés Segovia began 1961 in his habitual manner, giving 39 recitals in the United States between 17 January (Akron, Ohio) and 29 April (the final concert at Town Hall, New York). On 27 January he also performed at Town Hall, New York. The programme, which included six pieces by Albéniz, was reviewed by The New York Times:

…time has done nothing to weaken Mr. Segovia’s artistry. If anything, it continues to deepen his calm mastery of musical expression and of the instrument itself.

Everywhere there was colour, subtle, dynamic shading and engrossing continuity of mood. There was also rhythmic liberty on occasion, the kind that only Mr. Segovia and the late Wanda Landowska could ever really get away with in this musical age.

Note: This is part 13 of a 17-part series from the Classical Guitar archive.

This was, in short, an evening of typical Segovia music-making, and it was quite enough to command devoted attention from all who heard it.

His concert at the Annie Russell Theatre of Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida on 1 April, 1961, was as follows:

  • Pavanas (Milan)
  • Suite in D minor (de Visée)
  • Rondo (Sor)
  • Variations
  • Prelude, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue (3rd Cello Suite) (J. S. Bach, arr. Duarte)
  • Largo Assai, Menuet (Haydn)
  • Two Songs Without Words (Mendelssohn)
  • Six Pieces (Zambra mora, Torre Bermeja, Granada, Leyenda, Mallorca, Sevilla) (Albéniz)

This concert, part of the Concert Series programme, was attended by a relatively small capacity audience of 440. (Guitar News, Nov /Dec 1961, gave a report of this recital by George J. Marks, President of the Classic Guitar Society of Florida).

In May, 1961, The Gramophone reviewed a new recording by Segovia on the Brunswick label, AXTL 1092. This featured Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Quintet Op. 143 for guitar and string quartet, Alba and Postlude (Haug), Lo Mestre (Llobet), Prelude in E flat minor, Op. 16 No. 4 (Scriabin), Prelude No. 1 and Studies Nos. 1 and 8 (Villa-Lobos). The reviewer found the bowed string tone of the quartet to be “cavernous and nasal,” though Op. 143 was “amenable” and “the sonorities of guitar and string quartet are explored with obvious skill and affection.” The overall judgement was unfortunately less than ecstatic:

…(Segovia’s) solo pieces, well recorded, do however tend to the melancholy: those by Hans Haug, a contemporary Swiss composer and Scriabin… particularly so. Llobet, a pupil of Tárrega, offers some relief; Villa-Lobos, as might be expected, rather more.

Nevertheless this is in general a guitar record of less than the utmost enchantment. If ever there was such a thing as a monotony of excellence in this field there is so no longer! (The Gramophone, May 1961, page 593).


Also in 1961 a recording was issued of Boccherini’s Concerto in E minor, (transcribed by Gaspar Cassado, originally a Cello Concerto), and John Duarte’s arrangement of J. S. Bach’s Suite No. 3 in A major (originally Suite No. 3 in C major for Cello). This was the only time that Segovia recorded an entire suite by Bach, as he had usually preferred the concept of selecting individual movements of suites for performance in recitals. Pablo Casals had been the first to resurrect the Cello Suites many years previously, after discovering them in a shop in Barcelona:

They became my most cherished music. I studied and worked at them every day for the next 12 years… I would be 25 before I had the courage to play one of these suites in public at a concert. Up till then, no violinist or cellist had ever played one of the Bach suites in its entirety. They would play just a single section—a saraband, a gavotte or a minuet. But I played them as a whole: from the prelude through the five dance movements, with all the repeats that give the wonderful entity and pacing and structure of every movement, the full architecture and artistry. They had been considered academic works, mechanical without warmth. Imagine that! How could anyone think of them as being cold, when a whole radiance of space and poetry pours forth from them! They are the very essence of Bach, and Bach is the essence of music. (Page 47, Joys and Sorrows, Reflections by Pablo Casals, publ. Albert E. Kahn, 1970. Reprinted 1973 Macdonald and Co, London).

Perhaps the fact that John Williams had recorded the complete suite on his debut recording spurred Segovia into action of a kind he had not countenanced before. Allen Kozinn, writing in Guitar Review, has some useful comments here:

In 1956, Segovia began a fruitful relationship with Decca producer Israel Horowitz, a relationship which lasts to this day, and which produced 22 LPs, all of which are still available. Superficially, it looks as if it might have been Horowitz’s guiding hand that led Segovia to use the LP as a more systematic vehicle for the presentation of the music written for him, primarily, and of his transcription and editions of earlier guitar works secondarily. But Horowitz himself denies that this is the case: “No one goes to Segovia and says, ‘this is what we want you to record—go prepare it.’ That isn’t the way you work with him. There is some discretion, and very often I may have some influence when it comes down to options, but Segovia decides what he is going to record, more than most artists do.”

Nevertheless, the late 1950s and the 1960s saw Segovia develop a more modern approach to album programming, and as he headed into his 70s, he seemed to become both more energetic and more adventurous in the recording studio. At long last, in 1961, he recorded a complete Bach Suite—the Third Cello Suite, arranged by John W. Duarte (MCA 2525). (Allen Kozinn, “Andrés Segovia on Disc,” Guitar Review No. 52, Winter, 1983).

Segovia appeared at the Royal Festival Hall, London on 30 May, 1961, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra (conductor, John Pritchard) performing Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar Concerto. On 4 June he gave a recital at the Bath Festival, a performance that was slightly delayed by bells from Bath Abbey. When things did get under way the programme was as follows:

  • Gaillarda (Sanz)
  • Rondo, Allegro (Sor)
  • Sonata (Castelnuovo-Tedesco)
  • Prelude, Sarabande, Gigue (J. S. Bach)
  • Menuet (Schubert)
  • Canzonetta (Mendelssohn)
  • Six Pieces (Tansman)
  • Torre Bermeja, Leyenda (Albéniz)

During September Segovia once more made his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Guitar News (Jan/Feb 1962) reported that the master classes were held in a building that was originally the “Hospital of their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella.” The actual room used for the course was called “The Place of Those in Agony.”

In association with the course, the Conservatory of Orense organised an international competition for guitarists. The judges were Segovia (chairman), Hans Haug (composer), Ramón Barras (secretary), Antonio Iglesias (Director of Orense Conservatory), Raphael Puyana (harpsichordist), Sophocles Papas, and John Williams. The solos for the eliminating stage of the contests were Gran Solo (Sor), Sonata (Castelnuovo-Tedesco), and Homenqje (Falla), while the finale consisted of a two-part recital covering the entire chronological range of the repertoire from the 16th century to modern music.

The Segovia Prize (first prize) of 25,000 pesetas was won by José Tomás, professor of guitar at the Oscar Espla Institute of Music, Alicante, and on 17 September the winner performed a recital at Orense Conservatory. His programme included works by Narváez, Roncalli, Sor, Schumann, Tansman, Haug, and Moreno Torroba. Second prize, the Margarita Pastor Prize of 10,000 pesetas, was awarded to José Gonzalez of Madrid, the third prize went jointly to Oscar Ghiglia of Rome and Jira Matsuda of Tokyo.

One month later, Segovia made his first tour of Australia, with the official schedule being originally recitals in Melbourne (17–18 October). Perth (23 October), Adelaide (25 October), Hobart (30 October). Sydney (4 and 6 October) and Brisbane (9 November). Contrary to expectations at this time, all seats were sold for these concerts and extra recitals had to be arranged in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Adelaide, as well as one in Wollongong, 50 miles south of Sydney on the coast. An Australian correspondent to Guitar News (May/June 1962) wrote as follows:

So the Maestro found himself jet-propelled from the Eastern seaboard, 2,000 miles across the continent to Perth on the Indian Ocean littoral, up and down and across because of the additional concerts. In his short visit he must have looked out from the plains on more of this country than most of its inhabitants have seen.

As to the public reaction to this great man’s art, one can only describe it as sheer enchantment. The tour was an unqualified success artistically and financially. Those of us who met the Maestro, as we were many, were charmed by his warm and relaxed manner, his dignity and his “Senoril.”

We certainly enjoyed the man himself as much as his matchless art. We hope he enjoyed his stay among us.

Extracts of reviews from the Australian press of Segovia’s concerts (quoted in BMG, April, 1962) added to the Maestro’s collection of international accolades:

“The most famous guitarist of this or any other day held a jam-packed Conservatorium audience in thrall at his opening Sydney recital.” (Daily Telegraph)

“It was a fascinating display of audience appeal in which a strong but gentle personality put over one of the quietest recitals on record, yet drove his listeners into a kind of hysteria of applause.” (Frank Harris, Daily Mirror)