Andres Segovia (1893-1987) is considered to be the father of the modern classical guitar movement by most modern scholars. Many feel, that without his efforts, the classical guitar would still be considered a lowly bar instrument, played only by peasants.
Andres Segovia was born on February 18, 1894 in the Andalusian city of Linares, Spain and was reared in Granada. His father was a prosperous lawyer and hoped his son would ultimately join him in this profession. However, wishing to offer the boy as wide a cultural background as possible, he provided him with musical instruction at an early age. He was tutored in piano and violin but was unable to become enthusiastic about either. It was not until he heard the guitar in the home of a friend that his musical imagination was stirred. The color and richness of the instrument’s sonority especially appealed to him. Disregarding the objections of his family and his teachers at the Granada Musical Institute, Segovia persisted in learning to play the guitar. When he could not find a competent teacher, he became his own teacher.
Applying his previously acquired musical knowledge to his study of the guitar, he developed his own technique. He had discovered quite early that certain piano exercises were especially beneficial in strengthening the fingers for the guitar. Although he admits the influence of such earlier masters as Francisco Tarrega on his development, his style and technique remain generally his own. Not content with mastering the instrument, Segovia insisted that the guitar’s rightful place was on the concert stage. The difficulties implicit in this decision would have seemed insurmountable to a less tenacious student. The guitar was considered unsuitable in the select music circles of the day. Its place was the tavern, its function, the accompaniment of lascivious songs and dances. More important was the fact that there existed no true repertoire for the guitar beyond this questionable if vital literature.
Despite these obstacles, Segovia continued to study and perfect his technique. As his artistry matured, his reputation began to spread and at the age of fifteen, in 1909, he made his public debut in Granada under the auspices of the Circulo Artistico, a local cultural organization. Numerous concerts followed, including those in Madrid in 1912 and in Barcelona in 1916. In Madrid he had acquired from the craftsman Manuel Ram?rez a guitar that he played for many years. In the mid-1930’s he began using an instrument made by Hermann Hauser of Munich.
Having gradually won recognition outside his own country. By 1919 Segovia was ready for a full-fledged tour. He performed in that year in South America, where he gained an enthusiastic reception. Subsequent engagements kept him away from Europe until 1923. During this period Segovia was still considered something of a curiosity by the uninitiated. At his London debut the Times critic who had approached the idea of a classical guitar recital with more than a little scepticism came away a devoted follower. “We remained to hear the last possible note “ he wrote, “for it was the most delightful surprise of the season.” Perhaps his most important early success occurred at his Paris debut in April 1924. This had been arranged at the insistence of his countryman Pablo Casals, the cellist. The audience at the Conservatory included a charmed circle of such musical celebrities as Paul Dukas, Manuel Dc Falla and Madam Debusy. He was an immediate sensation, winning from most critics warm praise for disclosing the glories of the Spanish guitar. With his successful Berlin debut later that year his reputation became international.
A limited repertoire remained a major difficulty during the early years of Segovia’s career. His task of transcribing works for other instruments required much time and care. He relied primarily on Renaissance and Baroque pieces composed for lute or Spanish vihuela. In Germany he began searching for music applicable to the guitar aud discovered the lute works of Sylvius Leopold Weiss. They were relatively adaptable and generally quite effective. His most significant find was a group of Bach’s works that were well suited to the guitar. It was Segovia’s belief that many of Bach’s solo pieces were originally written for lute and later transcribed by him for other instruments. Though authorities are less than sanguine over the validity of this theory, they find no quarrel with Segovia’s transcriptions of the master. The suitability of Bach’s music for the classical guitar as demonstrated by Segovia has proved to be rise of the most delightful aspects of the guitarist’s art.
Segovia’s quest to elevate the guitar to a prominent position in the music world began at the early age of four. His uncle used to sing songs to him and pretend to strum an imaginary guitar in his lap. Luckily for us, there was a luthier nearby and Segovia took an instant liking to the guitar. Although discouraged by his family (according to them he should play a “real” instrument), he continued to pursue his studies of the guitar. He set a goal for the guitar and himself early in life. It was, to bring Guitar studies to every university in the world, have the guitar played throughout the world, on every major stage, just as the piano and violin were, and lastly, to pass on his love of the guitar to generations to follow. He considered himself to be the messenger that would complete this impossible quest.
Segovia gave his first concert in Spain at the age of sixteen, with his professional debut at the age of twenty in Madrid. His original program included transcriptions from Tarrega, as well as his own transcriptions of Bach and others. Many so called “serious” musicians believed that Segovia would be laughed off of the stage, because the guitar could not play classical music. In fact, Segovia astounded the audience. The only problem he had, was that the guitar could not produce enough sound to fill the hall. Over the coming years, Segovia would perfect his technique and push luthiers to experiment with new woods and designs, that could increase the natural amplification of the guitar. With the advent of Nylon strings, the guitar could produce more consistent tones, while also being able to project the sound much farther.
Segovia’s quest lead him to America in 1928 for his first concert in New York. Again he overwhelmed the audience with his technique and musicianship, and converted more dissenters to the classical guitar. His rousing success in New York led to offers for more appearances in America and Europe, and a trip to the Orient in 1929. Segovia, and the classical guitar had arrived.
As Segovia travelled the world, he and the guitar became more and more popular. Composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos began to compose original pieces specifically for the guitar. With their dark and melancholy mixture of dissonance and cello-like phrasing, Villa-Lobos’ compositions in particular, seemed to fit the guitar perfectly. Segovia had also begun to transpose the masterpieces for the guitar. In fact his transcription of Bach’s Chaconne, has become one of the most famous and difficult pieces to master. His transcription makes the Chaconne seem as if Bach originally intended it to be played on the guitar instead of the violin. Segovia’s repertoire was increasing, as was the guitar’s. His goal was becoming a reality. All that was left was the third and final part of his mission… to pass on the legacy to a new generation.
Segovia had many students throughout his career. Among the more famous are Christopher Parkening, John Williams, Elliot Fisk and Oscar Ghiglia. These students, along with the many others, carry on Segovia’s tradition, while at the same time expanding the classical guitar’s presence, repertoire, and musical boundaries.
Segovia not only taught students himself, he indirectly taught and influenced thousands and thousands of guitarists world wide. He is truly the father of the classical guitar.