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Segovia’s biography
from Current Biography
June 1964   

back to Segovia index Andres Segovia, Spanish Guitarist
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Now in his seventies, Andrés Segovia, the unchallenged master of the Spanish classical guitar, has enjoyed one of the most successful and rewarding careers in the history of music. His artistry and the persuasive humanity revealed through his playing have enriched the lives of music lovers for five decades. Through his impeccable musicianship and technique he has restored the guitar to a place on the concert stage and at the same time has established as perhaps the most popular instrument for amateurs. Indefatigably he still commits himself to a strenuous concert schedule that takes him to almost all parts of the globe. If his musical frame of reference seems narrower and more subdued, turning away from be passion of former years, the reward is still great. For there remains the serene distillation of his art--the essence of a lifetime devoted to the creation of beauty.

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. lie 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 guiar 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 Ramírez 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 skepticism 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 growing fame brought with it a rising interest in the instrument itself. The rich and vibrant sonority that Segovia produced, the sensations and subtle nuances, and above all, the intimacy of its idiom excited in listeners the desire to learn to play the guitar themselves. During the span of Segovia's career he has seen the guitar, which was on the outskirts of' music when he was a boy, become one of the most popular and studied instruments in the world.

Leading composers too were finally realizing its possibilities and were beginning to compose for it. But there was a problem in that few of them understood the instrument sufficiently so that success often depended on the availability of Segovia's tutelage. As he has said, much of the modern repertoire was composed through him. Among early converts were Mario Castelnuovo- Tedesco and Alfred Casella who wrote concertos for guitar. Through the years since then the instrument has achieved an estimable modern repertoire because of the efforts of such other composers as Turina, Torroba, De Falla, 'I'ansman, Ponce, and Villa-Lobos. In his concert in Paris, in April 1924, Segovia played a solo piece written for the guitar by Albert Roussel and entitled simply Segovia.

On the advice of the noted violinist Fritz Kreisler, the manager Coppicus engaged Andrés Segovia for his first American tour. To the surprise and delight of Segovia, who enjoys giving private performances, he made his first scheduled musical appearance in the home of three devotees in Proctor, Massachusetts. In January 1928 he appeared at Town hall in New York City. On that occasion Olin Downes commented in the New York Times: "he belongs to the very small group of musicians who by transcendent powers of execution and imagination create an art of their own that sometimes seems to transcend the very nature of their medium. He draws the tone colors of a half a dozen instruments from the one he plays. He has extraordinary command of nuances and seems to discover whole planes of sonority."

Segovia’s first concert in New York City was followed by five others there, all of which were sold out, and twenty-five in other cities. Before the tour was over critics were beginning to compare him favorably with Kreisler, Casals, and Paderewski. For the next ten years Segovia toured the United States annually and acquired a devoted following.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War forced Segovia to give up his home in Spain in 1936. After living for a time in Genoa, Italv, he moved to Montevideo, Uruguay. From there he toured extensively in Central and South America. After an absence of five years Segovia returned to the United States, in 1943, under the management of S. Hurok. But the impresario found it less than easy to secure bookings for an artist whom audiences had almost forgotten. Hurok had to start all over again to build the guitarist's popularity, often guaranteeing local managers against loss, and before long he was again at the top. The burgeoning medium of television also helped secure his popularity by introducing him to a wider audience than he could have achieved via the concert circuit. His concert circuit, however, now covers almost every country outside the Communist bloc, and he plans to give 112 concerts during 1964.

For many years the work of Andrés Segovia has been available through his numerous phonograph recordings. The Segovia discography encompasses a large number of carefully programmed recitals that offer a wide variation in periods and composers, from the classical through the romantic to the modern. His records for Musicraft, Victor's British affiliate, and Decca have enjoyed remarkable popularity. He is currently planning a recording of his adaptation, for guitar, orchestra and narrator, of Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s twenty-eight pieces based on Juan Ram6n Jimenez' "Platero and I."

Heavy concert and recording commitments have never kept Segovia from sharing his knowledge and technique with others. He has had many pupils and has taught at Santiago de Compostela in Spain and the Academy Chigi in Siena, among other schools. His interest and influence have aided in establishing the guitar as a serious part of the curriculum at music schools in Madrid, Barcelona, Florence, and London.

Tall and courtly, Andrés Segovia, who usually wears a string tie or flowing ribbon tie, has a charm and graciousness suggestive of a former era. "His manners have the elaborate simplicity of Don Quixote," Samuel Chotzinoff has observed, "though physically he more resembles Sancho Panza." When not on tour, he lives surrounded by fine Spanish antiques in his upper East Side apartment in Manhattan, which he shares with his wife, Amelia Segovia, a former student of his, whom he married in 1962. An earlier marriage ended in divorce. A son from that marriage is a painter now living in France. He also has a daughter, Beatrice.

A disciplined artist, Segovia still practices from five to six hours each day. But his world contains much more than his professional interests. He de lights in art and in reading poetry, history, and philosophy. He also enjoys good food and drink and stimulating conversation. Among his friends in many parts of the world are Queen Elizabeth of Belgium and Prince Chigi of Siena, both of whom he visits annually. For some years he has been working on an autobiography, to be called "The Guitar and Myself."

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