About this Recording
8.111088 - SEGOVIA, Andres: 1946 New York and the 1949 London Recordings (The) (Segovia, Vol. 2)

Great Guitarists • Andrés Segovia (1893-1987)
Vol. 2: Original 1946-1949 Recordings


Bach's so-called works for lute still provoke debate and controversy. That he loved the sound of the lute cannot be doubted. He may not have played it; as a greatly skilled keyboard player, he would have felt more at home with the Lautenwerk, a hybrid keyboard instrument he is known to have possessed. Strung with gut strings, it sounded like a lute, and it is possible that the 'lute' works were written for this instrument. Certainly the series of low-register spread chords in the Prelude in C minor suggest that Bach at least had the lute in mind. Whatever instrument it was written for, it made an ideal piece for Segovia to take into his repertoire.

Segovia described the impact Bach's music made on him by comparing it to a gigantic tree, so tall that (an Andalusian exaggeration) 'it took two men to look at it'. A well-worked out fugue does indeed have a certain dimension, and the Fugue in G minor is no exception. Bach himself made the transcription from the second movement of his Sonata [No. 1] for unaccompanied violin, BWV 1001, the first of three sonatas for that form and dating from Bach's period at Cöthen, a particularly productive time for his instrumental music.

The sonatas and partitas for unaccompanied violin and the sonatas for unaccompanied cello have proved to be fruitful ground for guitarists who, taking their cue from Bach himself, have not hesitated to transcribe his instrumental works. Segovia's landmark recording of the Chaconne from Bach's D minor Partita [BWV 1004] was a notable example of what could be achieved. The cellist Pablo Casals had already discovered the suites for unaccompanied cello and by performing them with his unique powers of expression had, practically single-handedly, reversed the old custom of playing Bach as a kind of mechanical exercise. This set the scene for the particular emotional qualities of the guitar.

Segovia first performed the Chaconne in Paris in 1935. The public response was enthusiastic, and almost at once it became an essential repertoire work. One of greatest sets of variations ever composed. It remains a perpetual challenge for guitarists and violinists alike.

Only a fraction of the enormous output of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) is ever played. His guitar music is an exception, forming an important and substantial part of the guitarist's repertoire. The twelve Etudes have a historical significance: for the first time, the guitar fingerboard was liberated from the tonal restrictions of music based mainly on the keys of E, A and D (the notes to which the three lowest strings are normally tuned). To play the Etudes of Villa-Lobos requires a mastery of every key, something that a good pianist or violinist takes for granted but a technique that guitarists generally did not get round to until well into the 20th century. Segovia did not play all the Etudes but, as was his custom, selected the ones he liked best. In any case his feelings about Villa-Lobos were ambivalent; he did not embrace his music with the warmth he showed to Ponce, Moreno Torroba and Castelnuovo-Tedesco, even though he recognised its significance in the contemporary scene.

Federico Moreno Torroba (1891-1982) was the first composer to respond to Segovia's request for new guitar music, and the two men remained close friends throughout their long lives. Moreno Torroba already had a reputation as a composer of orchestral music, and was a noted exponent of the zarzuela, the traditional Spanish form of comic opera. Over the years he wrote many works for Segovia's guitar, of which the three-movement Suite Castellana is a fine example: a markedly national style, based on traditional music from central Spain, given a light and lyrical touch by Moreno Torroba's skilful hand. In Arada, the first of the two movements played here, he seems to be looking back in nostalgia to the golden age of Spanish romanticism, as personified by Albéniz and Granados.

Joaquín Turina (1882-1949) was a pianist and conductor besides being a prominent composer. Like Falla, he studied composition in Paris, but a meeting there with his compatriots Falla and Albéniz determined his subsequent career as a composer of national Spanish music. The guitar formed part of that pattern, and he wrote several pieces for it, which he dedicated to Segovia. He was not a guitarist, however, and the great guitarist had to change one or two notes in order to fit his fingerboard. Segovia remained unswerving in his admiration of Turina's musical values, and Fandanguillo, written in 1925, became one of his favourite pieces. Full of instrumental techniques such as pizzicato, harmonics and the particular guitar technique of tambor (a drum effect obtained by striking the strings near the bridge), it manages to compress into less than four minutes the essence of Spanish dance with the dramatic contrasts associated with Andalusian flamenco, memorably tinged with the impressionistic colouring Turina had acquired during his studies in France.

Segovia's first request to Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) for a guitar concerto had not been taken up by the composer, who doubted the guitar's ability to mix with orchestral instruments. Instead, in 1936, he wrote the short Tarantella, a light and rhythmic piece with suggestions of Rossini, something that he knew the guitar could do very well.

The Mexican composer Manuel María Ponce (1886-1948) met Segovia while he was studying with Paul Dukas in Paris. His warm romanticism and a notable gift for melody (his song Estrellita became a world best-seller) attracted Segovia, who encouraged him to write for the guitar. Sonatina Meridional was only partly the 'Spanish' work that Segovia had wanted, its outer movements being distinctly Mexican in flavour. Only the central movement, Copla, can be said to evoke Spain, its essentially vocal content having the feel of Andalusian flamenco.

Castelnuovo-Tedesco began his first Guitar Concerto in a mood of optimism inspired by a visit to Florence by Segovia in 1938. It was a time of political turbulence, and the composer was soon to find himself uprooted from his beloved Italy by Mussolini's anti-Jewish activities. He settled in Hollywood, after being assured by his friend the violinist Jascha Heifetz that he could find work in motion pictures. Segovia too had alleviated his despair, managing to convince him that his creative talent would enable him to start a successful new life in America. He found work in plenty, and in fact became better known for his film music (which he called his 'vegetable garden') than for his 'flower garden', into which category his three guitar concertos fall.

The first movement, written in a single sitting, is in Castelnuovo-Tedesco's neo-classical style, lightly orchestrated and clear almost to the point of simplicity. The classical Italian composer Boccherini was apparently in his mind. The Andantino alla romanza that follows can be interpreted as a touching farewell to the Tuscan countryside that he loved so well and would soon be leaving. The concluding Ritmico e cavalleresco may reflect the composer's Iberian antecedents, but is more likely to be a recognition of the Spanishness of its first performer, Andrés Segovia. The work was first performed in Montevideo in 1939.

In a letter to Manuel Ponce, Segovia paid tribute to Castelnuovo-Tedesco's choice of themes, and his development of them without obscuring the quiet voice of the guitar (Segovia would never have considered electrical amplification: his solution to problems of balance would have been to move the orchestra back). He felt that the guitar part could have had more brilliance, but that did not diminish his praise for the concerto, which he called 'a very ingenious and successful work'.

Colin Cooper

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