Dr Walter Leckie & Don Francisco Tárrega: The unlikely tale of an English Gentleman and a Spanish Guitarist By Brian Whitehouse
(2019, ASG Music Limited, 206 pp.)
This is a fascinating publication setting out in detail the creative relationship between Dr. Walter Leckie, English physician and amateur guitarist, and Francisco Tárrega, the great Spanish maestro whose contribution to the guitar resonates through to the contemporary concert platform. The book provides biographical accounts not only of Leckie and Tárrega, but also of Madame Sydney Pratten, whose teaching and performing greatly influenced Leckie.
Walter Leckie (1846–1925) pursued an adventurous lifestyle, traveling widely with many amazing experiences. Having qualified as a physician/surgeon and having spent some time in this role at Westminster Hospital, he signed on as a ship’s surgeon, traveling to Africa and the Middle East. He then joined the Chilean Army in the capacity of surgeon, but eventually went back to sea on the corvette Esmeralda. An opportunity to speculate in nitrate provided him with a source of personal wealth which enabled him to be independent of his profession and to devote himself to the guitar.
Leckie studied guitar in London with Madame Sidney Pratten (1821–1895), a former child prodigy who had taken part in recitals with Giulio Regondi. She became renowned for teaching not only various members of the English aristocracy, but also Queen Victoria’s daughters, Louise and Beatrice. Her subsequent influence on guitar developments may have been inhibited by the fact that her technique involved putting the little finger of the right hand on the front of the guitar in the Carcassi style. A photograph in the book of Leckie playing in the period between 1830 and 1840 shows him clearly following the Pratten technique. When Leckie began his association with Tárrega, he seems from the available photographs to have modified his technique in both right and left hands.
Tárrega visited Leckie and his family in Nice, France, in 1894. He commented that “Dr. Leckie plays the guitar, plays billiards, swims and rides horses and can do anything that you can do. He is a man whose company can be very pleasant, but on one condition: that you do not forget that in all things, he is first. He makes only one exception, in the case of the guitar, at which he considers himself second in the world.”
The composer Joan Manén, described Leckie as “an eccentric” but “extremely likeable, a cheerful bon viveur, and a spontaneous character who overturned my preconceptions absolutely.” Manén regarded the English as “phlegmatic, measured, polite and dressed in a frock coat and top hat,” and Leckie was the opposite of that.
Domingo Prat commented that Leckie was bored if people did not notice him and “strove at all times to make his presence known, without much care for the means.” He presumed that “Tárrega’s delicate mind must have suffered in the periods he had to spend with this English character.”
The book contains a quantity of music from the Tárrega-Leckie manuscripts now in the possession of the Classical Guitar Centre Ltd, purchased from the Guitar Museum in Brighton, England, in 2011. This links in with another important Brian Whitehouse publication The Tárrega-Leckie Guitar Manuscripts: Lessons with the Maestro (2015, ASG Music, 236 pp.) issued with texts in English, Spanish, and Japanese and dedicated “to all romantics.”
Whitehouse’s thorough and committed research brings in many superb photographs, texts, and musical scores, concluding with an analysis of guitars in the 19th century and vintage instruments from the great luthiers from rene Lacôte onwards. Most remarkably in this modern age, the book is in itself a lavish production, brilliantly organized, immaculately structured to balance text against illustrations, thus making the scholarly writing a pleasure to read and absorb.
Every university library and conservatoire should possess this book, for in terms of scholarship in the context of the late 19th century, this book is one of the finest. As far as individual outlay is concerned, this quality product may seem expensive and classical guitarists are not always renowned for their interest in the essential historical background to their musical studies. However, in an ideal world, every enthusiastic lover of the guitar would cherish a copy on their bookshelves. This book is a remarkable achievement and deserves our closest attention.
[An addendum from Blair Jackson: It should be noted that this exquisite book also contains two CDs, both featuring author Brian Whitehouse playing a large variety of historic guitars spanning 1832 to 1906. The first contains works written by or arranged by Tárrega (including pieces by Bach, Haydn, Chopin, Malats, Donizetti, and Iradier. The second disc is devoted to works by Madame Sydney Pratten. They are fine additions and make for charming accompaniment while paging through the book!]
And because we know you love video, David Russell plays Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra and Alex Timmerman plays Pratten’s Sadness: