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My memories of A. Segovia



My memories of A. Segovia belong to the time when my musical roots began to blossom and tentatively grow what my musical ideas are now clinging onto.
“Sound”, “expression”, “aesthetic observation”, “belief in what one does”… “When in doubt, ask your inner flame…” he said once to me, who looked or sounded uncertain as to what to do in a certain piece.
“Tradition…” he would often repeat, in the last teaching days I saw him act, trailing his voice toward a meaning you were supposed to understand without specifying its components.
“You see a beautiful woman walking by, near you. Won’t you turn your look and admire her… in a discreet way, of course?”
Women meant a lot in his imageries about playing. A meaningful note, an interesting chord, a sudden change in dynamics or in the general melodic direction, were all “beautiful women” to be admired – always in a discreet way, of course…
An old video-recording of his playing Sor’s Mozart variations describes all these positions at once. He holds all the harmonic and melodic hinges of the theme as long as he thinks right. Of course, in today’s view they sound very long – too long for most, even bad taste for some. But if you analyze their role in the complete picture you’ll see how right they are, in order to underline the essential beauty of the phrases in a way that would surprise not just you, but most who listen to it and aren’t specialists, “as we all are… today”. Something as simple as showing the details in an art book, showing first –or last!– the whole picture, but giving special attention to the details of it.
All this is perfectly all right in a book… but in a concert? The difference, in my opinion, is small: in both cases one wishes to present a work of art so as to make it understandable and –most important– appreciable by as many readers or listeners.
The means to reach this result are personal, you could say – Pinchas Zuckerman once told me to use dynamics instead of rubato, when I wanted to underline a specific solo part in the Schubert –Matiegka’s– quartet. Well, thanks a lot, Pinky! If I had the dynamics your bow allows on your viola or violin, I would probably use them!
But I was playing the guitar… And the ear of the guitar hears –and the instrument speaks of– different things and –why not?– in a different way than the ear of a violin, piano, cello or harpsichord does…
A propos of harpsichord, Louis Couperin in L’ art de toucher le clavecin wrote: “When we want to give the impression of doing what other instruments do when they inflate their sound (note: meaning what was later called ‘crescendo’) we must retain the tempo and gradually slow down the pace. This will sound not the same, but it’s all we can do about it”. He didn’t use exactly the same words – I loaded them up a little, against the common tendency of guitarists to take the harpsichord as the ideal example of style and purity. (Some call the guitarists’ result of this prejudice a “laptop harpsichord”).
All this would seem to put Segovia onto a stage for guitarists and guitar lovers only, but the contrary is true. Claude Debussy heard the guitar and said “C’est un clavecin… mais expressif!” Thank you, Debussy!
Do we really want to be “inexpressive”?
The position of rubato versus correct rhythmic pulse and step is certainly risky and politically dangerous. Karl Marx summed up the revolt of the poor against the rich and the French Revolution had worked on it many years before…
Unite and win! (Says one, “divide and win!” is the strategy, though). “Share what you love most!” are the morals – for all musicians, artists, politicians and simply for people. But first you must love something!
And how did Segovia teach to love music? Not by setting a metronome and forcing you to follow it blindly1.
The hands of the master were waving shapes in the air, while his voice sang the line and his eyes looked into yours, expressing visually, as well as he was doing it tonally, the meaning he “saw” in the music he taught.
As he moved –or as you or I have done it, to our own students– the music was flowing inside him as he had already interpreted it. It was a story-telling: with syntactic divisions, articulation, breaths, dynamics, everything one must do if he wants to keep the other attentively listening.
And as I listened to him, I heard myself. For, in the end, I was the one interpreting his teaching –as we all do to the teachings we receive– till I loved it – or till we love them.
So it’s all a matter of emotions, perception, understanding, and appreciation. Mostly, though, I learned that without freedom I couldn’t appreciate, love or understand anything… I guess it’s the same with you. Right?

Oscar Ghiglia



1. It should be noted that in past times a conductor beat time keeping with a long stick, on the wooden floor of a stage… Oh my God, what a mess it should have been! Perhaps would it have been even worse, if that extreme remedy were not used? But we’re not talking Metropoulos, or the Vienna Philharmonic! And the conductors like Lully belonged to the Court the Revolution ended up beheading. 
They were behaving like shepherd dogs rounding up sheep!

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