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Artistic Achievement Award 2012 - Andrés Segovia
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Andrés Segovia was born on 21 February 1893 in Linares, a mining town in the province of Jaén, in northern Andalusia, Spain. (Linares is a small town famous for the quality of its lead production and because in 1947 the great bullfighter, Manolete, was fatally gored there.) Shortly after his birth Segovia’s parents returned with him to their home in Jaén.

Later the infant was given into the care of his childless aunt and uncle who lived in Villacarillo, twenty miles east of Linares. The young child, upset at being taken from the living cradle of his mother’s arms, was soothed by his uncle who strummed an imaginary guitar. As Segovia expressed it in his autobiography, ‘This was the first musical seed to be cast in my soul…’

The boy’s innate musical ability was soon apparent. He was offered violin lessons, which proved unsatisfactory and received a little inadequate guitar tuition from an itinerant flamenco player. Fortunately about 1904 the family moved to the thriving city of Granada to ensure that Andrés would have a proper education. It was here that he acquired his first guitar and, with the help of friends (for he was too poor to afford guitar lessons) was given some theory books and guitar music, His practising of the guitar, despite some family opposition, became ever more intense, whilst the environment of Granada and its Alhambra Palace and beautiful gardens impressed upon him the ‘beauty of life and art’. Thus began a life-long process of self-education in which Segovia was to be ‘both my teacher and my pupil’.

For a while Segovia lived in Cordoba where he enlarged his circle of musical acquaintances, many whom encouraged his latent ambitions. Around 1909/1910 he felt ready to give a recital at the Centro Artístico in Granada, a debut which received a review in the local paper. After this he settled for over a year in Seville, another city where he was able to meet artists of many kinds. According to the recently published official biography by Segovia’s close friend Alberto López Poveda, Segovia played no less than 64 concerts during these two formative years.

From Seville, Segovia went to Madrid, arriving there in 1913. Here it was that Manuel Ramírez presented him with his first guitar of quality and on this instrument he performed his debut in the capital at the Ateneo. From Madrid the young artist set out for Valencia, where he met Miguel Llobet who had studied with Tárrega. Through Llobet, Segovia became acquainted with life in Barcelona and learned valuable additions to his repertoire including works by Granados.

Segovia continued to play recitals throughout Spain throughout the decade, and by 1920 had performed over 500 concerts. From this year onwards he began to fulfil two primary ambitions – to spread the appeal of the guitar to many countries and to build up a worthwhile repertoire for the instrument. In 1920 he toured in Argentina and Uruguay, extending his travels in 1923 to Cuba and Mexico. In 1924 he made his debut in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, followed later by tours of Scandinavia, Great Britain, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Chile, Brazil, Holland and Hungary. The big USA debut came in 1928. He then extended his itinerary to China, Japan, and the Philippines.      A

The task of persuading composers to write original works for the guitar began to bear fruit with compositions forthcoming from Torroba, Turina, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Tansman, Roussel, Castelnuov-Tedesco, etc. Segovia’s editions were published by Schott of Mainz, Germany, among them Segovia’s transcription of the great Bach Chaconne first played on 4 June, 1935 in Paris.

In 1927 Segovia made his first recordings for HMV on 78 rpms. Nowadays the clarity and brilliance of these early recordings, still strike the listener with a breath of the miraculous. Their impact through the world was enormous and, in conjunction with his many recitals, began to establish the guitar as an artistic force to be reckoned with.

The Spanish Civil War and Second World War forced Segovia to be absent from his native country for some sixteen years, and he settled in Montevideo during these fateful years, playing solos and concertos throughout South America, the USA and Canada.

In the post-war era, Segovia’s career flourished as never before. Between 1947 and 1977 he recorded some forty LP albums, premiered new concertos by Rodrigo and Villa-Lobos, and began teaching at summer schools.

As he approached the age of 70, the pace of his artistic life continued unabated. In 1961 he made his first tour of Australia. In 1962 he married Emilia Corral Sancho (his third marriage). Their son, Carlos Andrés, was born in London in 1970.

Segovia’s dedication to the guitar never diminished. He continued to make annual trips throughout  Europe and the USA (including performances at the White House), as well as visiting the Far East. In April 1987 he gave his last recital at Miami Beach, Florida before returning to Spain to die on 2 June, 1987.

Segovia’s impact on the status and esteem of the classical guitar has been inestimable,. He revitalized and revolutionized traditional playing techniques and expanded the repertoire by dozens of worthwhile pieces. Central to his mission were the estimated 5402 recitals he gave between 1909 and 1987. His recordings have reached the widest possible audience and continue to be re-issued.

Perhaps of equal significance is that Segovia was a powerful inspiration to artists such as Bream, Williams, Diaz, Yepes, Presti, etc., who from the 1940s would carry forward his cherished mission, to establish the guitar internationally as a respected concert instrument.


GRAHAM WADE (author of Traditions of the Classical Guitar (1980), Segovia, A Celebration of the Man and His Music (1983), Maestro Segovia (1986), A New Look at Segovia, His Life, His Music (with Gerard Garno, 1997), and Andrés Segovia, The Legend and the Legacy (in preparation, 2012)
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