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.
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.
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.
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
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
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!
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.
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).”
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.
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:
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!”
was in 1987, twenty years later, that he finally submitted to
the will of his Lord and thus ended a long and fruitful life.
of the Guitar
nine years later when Segovia
was 84, “Song of the Guitar” is an important historical documentary.
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.”
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.
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.
film is full of interesting dialogue and Segovia plays numerous pieces from his extensive repertory.
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.
DVD is highly recommended. It has wide audience appeal but for
aficionados of the classical guitar it is mandatory viewing.