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FOR ANDRÉS SEGOVIA

Looking at an old photograph

I am looking at the famous photograph, which shows him smiling, content, triumphant, enjoying looking at the lens from his wood-carved, velvety, imperial throne, holding his favorite… pastoral rod. I wonder: a cocky Almighty?
My reference to the Spanish guitar reformer has of course to do with the setback of time. Let’s go back (almost) a century, when the young Andres was facing the challenge of overturning the guitar evolution. Is that easy to do? How can someone “remember”, when he hasn’t lived? History, of course, is written not only by those who lived during specific eras, but also by posterity, those who researched and evaluated (each with his/her personal criteria) from the context of personages and their ages.
Nowadays (2007) there are the viewpoints of two worlds which are going to be diffused in order to shed some light on the personality of Andrés Segovia. On one hand, there is the generation which was lucky enough to have had social intercourse with him (Gerasimos Miliaressis, Demetris Fambas, Pantelis Kelias, Evaggelos Asimakopoulos, Lisa Zoe, Evaggelos Boundounis, Giannis Manolidakis, Spyros Diamantis, Kostas Kotsiolis). On the other hand, there is the next generation, who lived in the shadow of his name, even from the very few media citations, even by those who profess to be “dedicated to the culture”, but mostly from the countless tributes to his personality in guitar magazines or websites. All together will shape the portrait of the greatest homo chitaristicus (!) of the 20th century.
Memory, therefore, takes us back to the time when information regarding the classical guitar was non-existent. Greece, a country abstracted from this kind of cultural evolution, had its own burning issues, those of state maintenance, occupation, civil wars, poverty, hunger, violent immigrations etc. This is not the time for this kind of analysis, but the emergence (and course) of Andrés Segovia in Spain, was formed exactly at that time (’30s, ’40s, ’50s, ’60s), when our country was unable to keep up with the progress and the cultural evolution of other countries. Nevertheless, during those dark years, there were a few people who, for inexplicable reasons in my opinion, felt that this Spanish guy was a luminous point that sent forth truths and novelties around the art of the guitar. Even more, they perceived a form of “rebellion” in his techniques and his perception of the reality of the time. The reference to his name from the veterans Ioannou, Kelias, Miliaressis, Ekmetsoglou, Fambas, obtained religious proportions and when I first noticed it, I couldn’t perceive it.

Unstoppable acts
Andrés Segovia was a subverter, a reformer of the instrument’s history. He connected with the whole spiritual world of his time (the names would fill many pages), exhorted the contemporary composers to learn (and write about) an instrument that existed alone and away from the womb of the piano and orchestral thinking which prevailed. He connected the guitar with other instruments and became the backbone of its repertoire, giving a new meaning to that time’s attempt to build a complete “repertoire for guitar”, so that the attitude which wanted this instrument suitable only for accompanying, could be differentiated. Until then, there were only pieces of short melodic line, structured with the materials of the epoch, abundantly pouring from the harmonious romanticism of the time. Substantially, it was him who opened the doors for recording action with his collaboration with Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft and Decca. Those “doors” played an important part to the later popularization of the instrument. Seminars, academies, agents, studios, opened the market to the unprecedented evolution of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. (To all these, we should add the contribution of Julian Bream, Ida Presti, Alexandre Lagoya, John Williams, Alirio Diaz and others, who contributed a lot with their discography).
Segovia wasn’t the only important figure of that time and I won’t overlook, of course, the very important contribution of the Latin-American guitar school (. Barrios, R. Sainz de la Maza, H. Villa-Lobos…), as well as the Spanish . Llobet, F.Tárrega, E. Pujol and others. The predecessors, of course, played an important part in the pre-Segovia era.


Segovia museum (photo by Maria Papadi)

Historic compromise
I won’t write about his many years of work; this is not what I intend to do with this note, for history has already gathered all these and, certainly, better than me. I’m only thinking of these in order to help myself realise how the passing of time alters everything, and captures them in a different outlook for posterity. What we hear today from the Spanish wizard – the recordings of his various publications beginning in the ‘30s, when technology didn’t have the potential of our time – certainly lacks in quality and credibility on the style and era. Listening to one of his records today, with baroque compositions for example, feels strange, indeed. But we should seek the reasons that make all of us listen differently from that time, when everything was different.
Music is an altered landscape. Time can and does differentiate and alter it. It refutes it and leads to transformations that can’t be accounted for in advance. Music, as an art of emotional flow, depends (also) on transmutations of social groups. Especially, the cosmogonic passing from anonymous art to eponymous, from elementary technology to its incredible conquests in a short time, from analogical to digital recordings and to telecommunications and the Internet, indeed, the landscape is fundamentally new and, one would think, unprecedented… The listener is, between you and me, more different than we are able to measure. Depending on the new technologies, the contemporary ways of listening and the way the music is distributed from the record industry, he/she is connected with listening habits other than those of the not-so-distant past. Both the way of listening as that of sensing and accepting the compositions is different and we are asked to apprehend it… Let’s note this part: The performer of today can’t function independently from the listener of today. He/she is obligated to make his/her own “historic compromise” by adjusting his/her art to the new data codes and rules that have been imposed by time and the spiritual changes of the time flow.
Therefore, listening to a recording from the past, requires attention to the criteria. Segovia’s recordings (as well as those of other performers of his time, of other instruments) seem old-fashioned. But we are talking about an instrument taking its first steps, at a time when it was trying to form its repertoire and struggling to survive the recurrent melodrama of the beginning of the 20th century. The Spanish innovator of the time was the one who urged his contemporary composers (from the field of the piano and orchestra) showing the way for new compositions.
Everything was going through that Almighty mentor of the instrument. A new wind in the instrument’s manufacturing, technologically advanced strings, the teaching of classical guitar in higher academies, seminars, concerts, recording publications, music scores, recitals, guitar magazines around the world… Really, how can one not think of all these, looking at him on the throne, with the golden-graven cane, which reflected a contented Emperor, who gave so much, more than we will ever be able to realize? Dedicated to the art of the guitar and only to that, he never saw, never heard, never learned about all the “other” tragic things happening in his country, with death hecatombs from inhuman social systems, when other equally popular musicians, writers, painters etc. had a different attitude. His only concern was guitar and the development of its art. These are our own questions and queries…
I remember him at La Scala in 1973. A theatre crammed with people thronging to listen to the “guitar legend”. The sight of the weak eyes, the fat fingers and the aged body, was a daunting sight. What would we listen to by a seventy-eight year-old (at that time) who needed the assistance of two escorts to walk? Well… we listened to music! And we admired confidence, ease and technical fluency. All our fears were magically overcome. It was then that I realized that in front of me was a timeless, priceless heirloom, a persona, the spirit and the root that gave birth to which can never be lost.
Segovia left us twenty years ago (3/6/1987) and left behind him a whole world with heritage, richer in guitar knowledge. Whichever development might come about today, it owes a piece of it to his restless presence for almost a century. This way, we, the people of 2007, will acknowledge that the old, solid ingredients, are the pillars for the subsequent ones, and the flow of time that will follow forever…

Notis Mavroudis
mavroudis@tar.gr




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