Andrés Segovia

AG 215 November 2010 Cover

by Mark Small

Many young guitarists have only a passing awareness of Spanish classical guitar master Andrés Segovia. Appearing in black-and-white pictures or fuzzy YouTube videos as a heavy-set elderly man with thin white hair and thick glasses, he’s a far cry from today’s guitar gods. But in his heyday he was an incredible virtuoso and celebrity musician with millions of fans worldwide, including other top-tier musicians, painters, poets, and even heads of state.

Segovia was a powerful advocate for the guitar. He envisioned himself as “the apostle of the guitar” and undertook to help the instrument he loved attain the respect in the classical world accorded the violin and piano. He was not the only talented guitar virtuoso of the early 20th century, but by touring and concertizing relentlessly in every corner of the world, expanding the repertoire by commissioning new works, taking advantage of the new medium of recording, and publishing hundreds of transcriptions of pieces originally written for other instruments, Segovia’s name became synonymous with classical guitar. 

He not only defined the instrument’s essential repertoire, which is still called the “Segovia Repertoire,” but through his teaching Segovia had a direct influence on three generations of guitarists who continued to carry the torch he lit, further expanding the concept of “classical guitar.” Segovia’s presence is still felt in guitar departments at numerous conservatories and universities. 

Segovia’s proselytizing work for the guitar caused a ground swell of interest in the instrument in general. While he was strictly a classical musician (and was frequently critical of other styles of guitar playing), many great artists in other genres acknowledged his multifaceted contributions to the guitar world. A quote attributed to Beatle George Harrison refers to Segovia as “the father of us all.”

Excerpted from AG 215 November 2010

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