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Andrès Segovia - a Portrait
Allegro films: (1) Segovia at Los Olivos (1967); (2) Song of the Guitar (1975)
With music by Bach, Albeniz, Scarlatti, Ponce, Torroba, Rameau, Granados, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and Llobet
Producer: Christopher Nupen (also provides introductory remarks).
OPUS ARTE OA CN 0931 D [196:00]
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The name Andrès Segovia is inextricably connected with the classical guitar. During a lifetime of global concerts, arranging/transcribing, teaching, recording and composing he did more to establish the guitar as a legitimate concert instrument than any other performer in the history of this noble instrument.

Segovia described his mission as rescuing the guitar from the flamencos and establishing it as a recognised classical concert instrument. He also included, as part of that mission, expansion and refinement of the then meagre repertory. During his lifetime he was fortunate to have seen the fulfilment of his dreams and ambitions.

This new DVD release from Opus Arte, “Andrès Segovia - a Portrait” presents two very different documentaries on the life of Segovia. In 1967 when he was 75 years of age, “Segovia at Los Olivos” was filmed at his new home, Los Olivos on the Costa de Sol in Andalucia . In 1976, when the guitarist was 84 years old, “Song of the Guitar” was filmed at the Alhambra in Granada. This won the Prix du Public at the Besançon Festival in 1977. Christopher Nupen produced both these documentaries.

It is regrettable that there is no audio-recorded evidence to confirm the purported magnificence of Francisco Tarrega’s playing but his contribution, albeit mainly in miniature style, to the repertory is unequivocal. Irrespective of Segovia’s relative ability as a guitarist, the enormous advantage that he had over his predecessors was his vision for the guitar as a true concert instrument. Tarrega and his disciples, Llobet et al., viewed the guitar as exclusively a salon instrument. Even when young Segovia, as a budding concert musician, sought recitals in large venues he encountered opposition emanating from the myopia of Llobet.

Segovia was a phenomenon and played the guitar to such high standards that very few were able to compete. He was also a very astute marketer who, over several decades tirelessly gave concerts all over the world and taught and promoted the classical guitar. He became “Mr Classical Guitar” - universally the most famous classical guitarist ever to have lived.

Some would say that Ida Presti (1924-1967) played the guitar every bit as well as or even better than Segovia. But she was not as proactive in promoting and popularising it, nor did she significantly influence composers of the day to write original works guitar and expand its slender repertory. Her career as a solo performer ended in 1952 with the formation of the duo Presti/Lagoya. Today, outside guitar circles, her name is unknown. 

Segovia at Los Olivos

This documentary is very interesting, informative and most enjoyable. Filmed at Segovia’s home in Andalucia, it is full of magnificent scenery, fascinating dialogue and beautiful guitar playing.

The monstrous house is based on one of three plans shown to Segovia when he was living in New York. He chose the one he felt to be the best but in doing so omitted to check the scale!

For those interested in luthiery this documentary contains rare footage from inside the workshop of Ignatio Fleta and sons. Along with Jose Ramirez III, whose instruments he plays exclusively in these documentaries, Segovia also owned and played instruments by Fleta. Ramirez and Fleta were tenacious competitors - a fact which doubtless Segovia used to his advantage.

Several opinions expressed by Segovia are both revealing and surprising. In response to promptings he commented as follows (paraphrased): “To be a composer of music for the guitar you need to also be a good guitar player; those who do not have the ideal combination of strength and flexibility in their fingernails should give up the guitar; it is unfortunate that Albéniz and Granados composed for the piano ... (not the guitar).”

It is challenging to say which aspect of this documentary is the most enjoyable but particularly poignant is the dialogue that Segovia has with the interviewer regarding passing from this mortal existence.

Given the wonderfully long and fulfilling life that Segovia enjoyed, his expressed reluctance to leave it is perfectly normal and understandable. One is reminded of the aphorism “It is harder to die when you are rich and famous”. But with philosophical perspective and good humour Segovia acknowledges the inevitability and says: “Unfortunately I have to submit to the will of our Lord”. He goes on to elaborate:

“I always make this prayer: My Lord, I do not deserve your glory; I do not deserve to be in heaven; I request only from you a big favour- leave me here!”

It was in 1987, twenty years later, that he finally submitted to the will of his Lord and thus ended a long and fruitful life.

Song of the Guitar

Made nine years later when Segovia was 84, “Song of the Guitar” is an important historical documentary.

Oscar Wilde wrote: “The soul is born old and grows young; that is the comedy of life. The body is born young and grows old; that is life’s tragedy.”

Much of what Segovia recorded was done when he was past his prime, confirmed by recordings made early in his career. As one may anticipate, his playing on this occasion, despite the inherent greatness, reflects the passage of time.

The Alhambra in Granada, where the film was made, imparts a magnificent air of tranquillity. The guitar reciprocates, creating an ambience of wonderment; scenes appear as trompe l’oeil.

The film is full of interesting dialogue and Segovia plays numerous pieces from his extensive repertory.

During the film we see an old man with a walking stick, probably of the same age as Segovia, walking down one of the narrow back streets of Granada. I could not help but reflect on the legacy that this man will leave for the world when he also dies; probably it will be the same as for countless other millions who, outside their immediate families, will leave little. It may be, in part, this dearth of legacy that comparatively makes the contributions of men like Segovia appear so monumental.

This DVD is highly recommended. It has wide audience appeal but for aficionados of the classical guitar it is mandatory viewing.

Zane Turner



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