AGUSTÍN BARRIOS MANGORÉ (1885 - 1944)
Agustín Pío Barrios was born in southern Paraguay on 5 May 1885, and died on 7 August 1944, in San Salvador, El Salvador. To many, Barrios was the greatest of all guitarist/composers. In view of this, it is curious that his music lay undiscovered and unappreciated for over three decades after his death. In the mid-1970s comprehensive editions of his music appeared, making it possible for guitarists of a younger generation to study his music, augmenting and complementing more traditional repertoire. The revival began in 1977 with a release by John Williams of an entire recording of music by Barrios, bringing overdue recognition to this forgotten Latin American guitarist. Today Barrios’ music is frequently performed by major concert artists and is appreciated by audiences worldwide.
As a young man, Barrios never studied in a formal music conservatory, and completed only two years of high school. He made his living from performing, and had no other professional skills in any other pursuit except playing the guitar and composing music. The exigencies of life as a performer brought constant travel and he never really settled down in one particular country. He spent extended periods of time in Brazil (1915–1919), Uruguay (1912–1915, 1919–1927) and El Salvador (1939–1944). In none of these places did he establish a conservatory, nor did he pursue the systematic publication of his music. He escaped from Latin America only once in 1934, when he visited Europe, staying just fifteen months, but his lifelong goal of reaching the United States never came to fruition. Undoubtedly one of Barrios’ most-performed compositions, La Catedral was written in 1921. Many years later he added the exquisite Preludio, providing a complete work that is an example of his finest writing. Barrios performed this work quite often throughout his career, probably more than any other of his compositions, a reflection of its popularity with the concert public. The Preludio, subtitled Saudade (Nostalgia) was written in Havana in 1938, when Barrios was suffering from a decline in health complicated by a lack of money and the inevitable stress to his marital life that these difficult conditions created. In the Preludio he pours out his heart, yearning for the joy and comfort of former times. He performed La Catedral with the prelude for the first time in San Salvador on 25 July 1938.
Barrios greatly admired Beethoven and early in his career transcribed the well-known Minuet in D, which he included regularly in his concerts. He also performed minuets by Fernando Sor. This affinity he felt with the nineteenth-century masters no doubt served as inspiration for his six minuets.
Barrios discovered the music of the great Spanish guitarist and composer Francisco Tárrega (1852–1909) around 1917, and grew to admire him greatly. Recognizing the importance of the Spanish master’s work in the development of the guitar, Barrios declared: “Without Tárrega, we would not be”. He regularly performed Tárrega´s music in his concerts and recorded Capricho Arabe on two different occasions. In 1939 in Guatemala, Barrios composed a set of six variations on Tárrega’s ever popular student work Lágrima, creating a sophisticated virtuoso display of the theme, using arpeggios, appoggiaturas, tremolo, melodic harmonics, and other devices. Variations on a Theme of Tárrega is one of his most mature compositions, reflecting a lifetime of devotion to and a thorough mastery of the instrument he loved.